José has been painting for over 30 years. During an interview with a reporter, he was referred to as a “painter of the past.” José was very pleased withthat title because he believes that Mexico’s past way of life is shown in its art and so much of that art has disappeared. In his painting, he uses acrylics, gouache, mixed media with silkscreen and embossing. He has had formal training in design but his style is all his own.

José makes his originals on macosel laminado (laminated wood). His work on paper is mixed media and sometimes he will do numbered editions. However, most of his work is sold as artist’s proofs – he will only make 20 from the original. There are hotels that ordered series in 100 but José does not like doing that many paintings of the same design.

He enjoys working with the different ethnic groups of Mexico. His admiration for them and their history inspires many of his designs. His themes are generally indigenous or Mexican rural life.

Born in Tepic, Nayarit, in 1952, José studied communication and graphic design at the university. Eighteen years ago, his work was accepted for exhibit in the Ceramic Museum in Tlaquepaque.
José’s work, which is unique and charming, is sought after by collectors all over the world.

José Manuel Robles
333 614-1622, 331 255-9512 (cell)

Article adapted/reprinted with permission from Feria de Maestros, a Los Amigos-supported program.

A Renaissance Woman
In the 1940s, Canadian artist Gene Byron started traveling to Mexico. Already an accomplished painter, Broadway actor and radio star in the U.S., Gene had Mexico on her horizons. Her first visit to Mexico was to study the great muralists. She traveled throughout Mexico and eventually settled in Guanajuato — where she would turn her talents into a successful career producing mid-century Mexican crafts and furnishings.
Not an attributed Modernist by study or output, Gene took her unique style and vast talents to tin, wood, cantera stone and ceramic tile, creating an aesthetic very much in tune with the times (mid-century Mexico and Mexican Modernism).
Self portrait from the
Museo Gene Byron collection.
She created tin light fixtures, lamps, ceramic tile, tin trivets, ashtrays, tin candleholders, wood carvings and tile murals. Her unique style and vision resulted in iconic works that could be found in numerous shops throughout Mexico and the U.S. Her signature tin candelabras would be copied even decades after her death. You can still find her motifs and icons on Guanajuato majolica tile of today. Gene was a true renaissance woman — living an art-filled life and having a successful career.
Many first came to know of Gene’s legacy on the pages of Verna (Cook) and Warren Shipway’s photographic books on homes and decorative designs of mid-century Mexico.
Gene and her Mexican born husband, Dr. Virgilio Fernandez, created a magical home in Marfil, Guanajuato. They converted the former Hacienda Santa Ana into a casa filled with her custom works of art. Gene lived a full life, passing at the age of 77 in 1987. Ten years later, her house would be turned into a museum and cultural center. Thanks to the tremendous gift of her husband Virgilio, Casa Museo Gene Byron is now home to art exhibitions, live concerts and performances as well a museum dedicated to Gene’s life. A touching tribute and lasting legacy to the renaissance artist that Gene was.
Article by member Kevin Pawlak (AZ), collector of Gene Byron art and owner of Arte de la Vida in Tucson, AZ. Photos by Kevin except where noted.




Enriqueta Cenobio Calixto
Mazahua Textiles and Miniature Embroidery

When she was nine years old, Enriqueta Cenobio Calixto learned embroidery from her mother. She was so interested in it that while the animals under her watch pastured, she spent her time embroidering miniature designs on the rebozo she wore every day. Finally, her mother felt her work was worthy and gave her a piece of cloth measuring 80 x 40 centimeters. Enriqueta spent months working on that cloth!

The embroidery technique that Enriqueta uses is done with two needles. She simultaneously works with two colors of thread, usually black and red or black and blue, which is the typical Mazahua style. Most of the designs come from the patterns that Enriqueta’s family has designed and used for generations. Although Enriqueta often uses her own designs that incorporate various colors of thread.

Over the years, Enriqueta has been awarded numerous prizes. On several occasions, she was awarded the Gran Premio de Arte Popular, one of the main prizes granted to folk artists in Mexico.

The Mazahua are indigenous people inhabiting the northwestern area of the State of Mexico and small parts of Michoacan and Queretaro. They also have a presence in Mexico City, Toluca and Guadalajara. Enriqueta lives in San Felipe Santiago, Mexico.

The word Mazahua is of Náhuatl origin and means “the owners of the deer” — probably referring to the fauna found in the mountainous region inhabited by the Mazahua. The Mazahua people refer to themselves as Hñatho. The basic economic activity is agriculture with corn, beans, squash, maguey and fruit being the principal crops. The Mazahua also keep common farm animal such as goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, horses and oxen.

Contact information: San Felipe Santiago, Villa del Allende, Mexico, 552.753.8700

Article adapted/reprinted with permission from Feria de Maestros a Los Amigos-supported program.


Manuel Jimenez
Wood Carver
Arrazola, Oaxaca

Manuel Jimenez Ramirez (1919-2005) was born and died in Arrazola, Oaxaca, Mexico, in the shadow of the ruins of the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban. He is credited with the creation of alebrijes, the colorful wooden carvings one sees all over Oaxaca City.

Manuel grew up in very difficult circumstances. His parents were elderly and infirm and he had to fend for himself from an early age. He spent a lot of his early youth herding goats, burros and lambs. As a child, while looking after the animals, he copied them in clay, as a pastime. Later he began to carve them out of pieces of wood. Eventually he found other work but continued to carve. “This was my joy, carving wood, nothing else. And I began to appreciate the pleasure and delight the carvings could give to others. But still nobody bought my pieces, nobody came to my house for carvings. Only later did I take them to the markets,” he said in a 1981 interview with my friend Don Terpstra. The interview, which is long, was done in preparation for a huge show of his work at The Charles Lewis Company in Austin, Texas.

From Vivan los Artesanos!
(Mingei International Museum)

For some time Manuel was addicted to alcohol. Two of his brothers died from alcohol and eventually Manuel stopped drinking entirely. One day he had his fortune told by the little birds in cages who pick a folded piece of paper with a fortune written inside from the top of the cage. From this fortune Manuel began to understand that his art was the answer to his predicament of poverty and hardship. Art was his destiny. “From that moment I felt the spirit of God descend upon me. I was able to go on with life, with hope. I would say my work took root in around 1950. I had gained the right to work wood. The public began to take notice and buy my carvings. The request for my work gradually increased. Now everyone wants something,” said Manuel in the same 1981 interview. Manuel’s works are mostly in tsompancle and copalillo wood which is often brought from a distance. His tools were machetes and kitchen knives. His art became a family craft with his two sons working with him and

From private collection

Now his grandsons do carvings as well. Originally, of course, like all true folk art, Manuel did not sign his work. In the huge show of his work at The Charles Lewis Company in 1981 none of his work was signed. Some time after that, though I am not sure when, signatures started to appear. What did not change over time, though the types of paint used and the intricacy of the carvings did, was the personality which has always oozed from his carvings. It is as if his animals are alive. I have never seen this in any of the other wood carvers’ works. This is the true signature of Manuel’s pieces.
Manuel was a complicated man. He believed his art was a miracle of God, he was a curandero, he was filled with himself but he had, indeed, come a long way. He was now the biggest landholder in Arrazola. He was also very interested in the history of his country for, after all, he was born in 1919, the year that Emiliano Zapata died for the agrarian reform cause. Politics, ancient civilizations, the church and the land are all strong themes in his work as a wood carver. Again from Don’s 1981 interview Manuel said “I traveled far, working, suffering. But I have arrived at the hour of my glory.” It was 1981, and so he had.

(1)From Oaxacan Woodcarving
by Shepard Babash

(2)From Tyler Art Museum Exhibition

(3)From Oaxacan Woodcarving
by Shepard Babash

Article by member Deirdre McKee (TX).




Tenancingo, Mexico
Photo by member Norma Schafer
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Born in Tenancingo, State of Mexico, on October 14, 1950, Fito, as his friends and family know him, is a third-generation rebozo weaver known for his colorful and innovative designs. He specializes in what he calls the “palmeado” (palm leaf) design. It is very similar to a diagonal herringbone pattern as shown in the photos below. He uses the warp ikat technique — known locally as jasper or labor. It is a method of binding and dyeing the warp threads before the cloth is woven.

Fito’s apprenticeship began at the age of 8 and included doing simple tasks. By the age of 15 he was on the loom and at 17 he bought his first treadle-loom. Twenty years ago, he realized his dream of having his own workshop.

He now has 5 looms — each one specializing in one of the 10 designs he uses with specific color combinations. Fito’s son, Luis García, aged 27, is also a proud jaspe rebozo weaver. And Carmen Lopez Sanchez, Fito’s wife, works with women in outlying villages who do the fringe knotting. Fito has received a number of awards including first place in a FONART contest and awards in various concursos in Tenancingo. His son Luis follows in his footsteps and has also been recognized for his work.


NOTE: Los Amigos will be visiting Tenancingo in July. See trip notice in this newsletter.
Registration is now open.

Contact information:

Calle Sonora 108
Barrio de la Ciénega
Tenancingo, Mexico
714 142 4537

Article adapted/reprinted with permission from Feria de Maestros, a Los Amigos-supported program.

ARTISAN PROFILE: Heron Martinez Mendoza

After trying various lines of work, Heron Martinez Mendoza (1918-1990) reluctantly joined his family’s pottery business and began by creating utilitarian pieces. The story goes that one of his early pieces, a water vessel with handles designed to minimize breaking off, was so popular that the townspeople lined up at the kiln to buy them.

This success led him to make pots and planters which, over time, became more and more creative. Martínez created unique trees of life, whimsical zoomorphic pieces, elaborate churches, wall plaques and more. His designs incorporated animals, mermaids and circus performers. He went through several phases where he focused on a particular type of medium — black pottery, white painted pottery and burnished brown pottery. As interest in his work grew and folk art dealers and collectors sought it out, he made more detailed pieces — some intricately decorated on both sides and some up to 8 feet tall! With time he became a prolific, talented potter and quite the entrepreneur.

(Photo by Lenore Hoag Mulryan, 1979 from Ceramic Trees of Life)

In an interview given in the 1970s, Martinez said that he wanted his legacy to be that he had left “a great seed for the pueblo and he wanted the art not to perish.”  Martínez died in November 1990 and, just as he had hoped, his legacy continues:  potters in his town emulate his work, his pieces are featured in many Mexican folk art books, museums exhibit his art, and collectors from many countries continue to happily add his work to their collections.For more information on Martinez, visit
The website includes lots of photos and a helpful bibliography. The site was established and is maintained by LADAP member Lee Arellano.

Heron Martinez Mendoza
Heron Martinez Mendoza
Heron Martinez Mendoza

ARTISAN PROFILE: Magdiel García Hernández

Magdiel García Hernández was born in and lives in Mexico City. He studied to be a dental surgeon, but found his true calling in engraving glass (grabado) and other materials, an art form in which he is self-taught.

His specialty, and what he regards as the distinctive mark of his work, is the recovery of old, typically Mexican designs and shapes that he finds by examining old objects, scrutinizing photographs in books, and by visiting buildings and places of historical importance. He uses these motifs as his inspiration in crafting his work.

Magdiel uses abrading tools, burins, grinding implements, and a small turbo motor (Dremel) with carbide burrs and diamond points. For certain special finishes, Magdiel creates his own tools and saws. Diamond-point engraving requires keen skill and sensitivity and Magdiel masterfully dominates his craft. First, he draws the image on the glass with a tool resembling a pencil that has a diamond point and that he also uses to abrade the material by applying delicate pressure and forming fine grooves on the outlines.

Magdiel is featured in the landmark book “Great Masters of Latin American Art”. He has consistently won prizes for his work and in 2006 he won the Premio Grandes Obras Maestros del Arte Popular in the “leyendas vivientes” – mayor pieza de rescate de diseño tradicional. (Grand Prize for Living Legends – a major piece of rescued traditional design).

Contact information:
Lote 12 Mz 26 Av. del Rosal
Col. Los Angeles,
Iztapalapa, Mexico, DF
555 612 3202 home
551 536 1666 cellphone
Reprinted with permission from Feria Maestros del Arte.



Huichol Yarn Paintings and Seedbead Jewelry

Born in San Andrés-Cohamiata, Jalisco in 1979, Kena Bautista learned her art at a very young age. Her first award came at nine years old when she appeared in “Masks of Mexico” published by the National Fund for the Development of Arts and Crafts (FONART).

Kena has developed a style that exudes originality and representation of the most important elements of the Wixarika (Huichol) culture. Her artwork stands out for its delicacy and technical quality of chaquireado (use of seed beads pushed into beeswax). In conjunction with her father Francisco Bautista, she designed “Vochol” – a VW bug completely covered in seed beads. It exhibited widely and is now permanently housed in the Museum of Popular Arts (MAP) in Mexico City.

Kena shares her knowledge and teaches art workshops in the Wixarika tradition to children. She also participates in events promoted by institutions such as the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI), the Cabañas Cultural Institute and the Tecnologico de Monterrey.

In 2010, at the Feria del Maíz de Zapopan, she was awarded the El Chamán del Maíz by the Ministry of Culture for Jalisco — a recognition for outstanding work with youth for keeping the seed of tradition alive. She has also been invited to speak at academic meetings related to indigenous peoples and languages and is a pioneer in furthering recognition for the Huichol people.

Born in San Andrés-Cohamiata, Jalisco in 1962, Francisco is Kena’s father. He, too, began his art at a very young age. He works mainly in sculptures and decorates the sculptures with beads and yarn on beeswax.

Over time, he has developed his own style and gained prestige for his innovation, quality and expression of his work. He has inspired many young people and adults to follow their traditional art and find their own styles. Francisco’s sensitivity to his work stems from his desire to express his culture with enthusiasm and passion. He has exhibited all over the world.

Contact Information:

Kena Bautista
Manuel Doblado 334, Col. La Perla, Guadalajara, Jalisco
331 944 8502 or 331 025 4545 cellphone

Francisco Bautista Carrillo
Francisco del Ayza 245, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
331 544 1710

Article adapted/reprinted with permission from Feria de Maestros, a Los Amigos-supported program.


Sadly, Great Master Gorky Gonzalez (born in Morelia, Mexico in 1939) passed away on January 13, 2017. Gorky began his career in the arts by following after his father, sculptor Rodolfo González. Gorky worked as a painter and sculptor but was primarily known for his committed efforts to revive Mexican Majolica pottery. He considered
traditional Majolica a lost craft and was very interested in its cultural and historical value.

In 1965, Gorky traveled to Japan to study under Tsuji Seimei and Kei Fijiwara. While there, he met his wife Toshiko. They returned to Guanajuato where they opened their very successful ceramic workshop specializing in the double-glaze technique of traditional Majolica.

Gorky created beautiful, highly-collectible pottery and received many awards throughout his life including the National Award of Sciences and Arts in the field of Popular Art and Traditions in 1992 and the Premio Fomento Cultural Banamex in 1996. His work has been exhibited both in Mexico and abroad. Gorky Pottery in Guanajuato is considered one of the most important Majolica studios in Mexico. Los Amigos visited the Gorky studio in 2015 and were welcomed by his son, Gorky, Jr. (known as Gogo), who runs the family business.

Groupo Ben TsanSimona Gómez López was raised and taught her art by her famous
aunt, the late Doña Juliana. Doña Juliana was the well-known creator of the famous Paloma (dove) of Amatenango del Valle and was the first woman who successfully departed from the traditional vessels made in that pueblo.

Doña Juliana passed away in 2015 at the age of 82, leaving her daughter and niece, Simona, to continue her tradition. Dona Juliana was honored with a statue at the entrance of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.

Simona continues the tradition started by her aunt and is known for her elegant traditional water jars and other vessels from Amatenango, Chiapas, as well as her palomas. She also makes planters in the shape of the pre-Hispanic Maya incense burners but with a contemporary twist.

Simona is working with a group called Ben Tsam (translation: Very Good) formed of women from her extended family and friends. When buying from Simona you are also helping 35 families earn a better living for themselves. The group makes palomas, jaguars and whatever other designs Simona teaches and has orders for.

Simona is quite a celebrity in her own right and was chosen to go to the Vatican Christmas 2015 with a group of other artisans to represent Chiapas. She and Governor Manuel Velasco Coello traveled there to present artesanía.

In 2016, thanks to the help of the Directorof Instituto Casa de las Artesanias de Chiapas and Fonart, a teacher and researcher from Mexico City, David Zimbrón, was invited to Amatenango to study the clay-sand mixture used by the group and make recommendations on how to improve the quality of the local ceramics.

At the same time, another teacher was teaching new designs–such as whimsical jaguars and pots and the use of acrylic and natural paints. How wonderful that these women have learned new techniques to improve the quality of their work. These items will be for sale at the Feria to benefit the women of the Ben Tsam group. Come to the Feria!

Contact Information:
20 de Noviembre S/N
Esquina con Calle Las Casas, El Centro
Amatenango del Valle, Chiapas

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