HISTORY OF THE FERIA
His voice trembled as he spoke, "They are taking all my work . . . everything" . . . They're taking everything!"
Emilio Molinero had agreed to be one of the artisans of the first Feria in 2002. A volunteer was in Michoacán and offered to transport his boxes to the show so that he wouldn't have to carry them on the bus to Chapala from Tzintzuntzan.
My Spanish was pretty bad back then, and I think Emilio panicked at the thought of never seeing his boxes again. I calmed him down as best I could. So, when he arrived at the Feria the next day, he saw all his boxes arranged in his booth space. A wry little smile told me he was grateful. By the end of the weekend, Emilio had sold everything and was over the moon happy. I had made a new friend and this was the beginning of the Feria Maestros del Arte.
The idea for the Feria emerged during a trip I took with a friend to 16 artisan villages between Ajijic, Jalisco and Pátzcuaro, Michoacán in March 2002. I realized that I was meeting artists whose work the average person would never get a chance to see. When asked where they sold their work, most of the artists said in their local tianguis (open-air markets), or in a larger tianguis in other villages, if they could afford to travel there. Sometimes, buyers would come to their homes.
The wheels started turning and I began to think, why not have a Feria at Lake Chapala?
Over the years, the structure of the Feria has changed. At first, I paid for everything and selected the artisans myself. I had no vision of how long the Feria might continue. It took on a life of its own!
After four years, I needed help. I put an ad in the local paper that I was having a meeting asking for volunteers. Eighteen people I had never met before attended and by the end of the meeting, we had several volunteer coordinators to help carry the load. Some of those first volunteers are still with the Feria today.
As we grew up, the Artist Selection Committee was formed and we found three state coordinators who would help select the yearly artisans; Oaxaca (Linda Hanna), Chiapas (Brigitte Ordoquy) and Michoacán (Terry Baumgart).
It is not difficult to keep the show new and different every year, because there are many incredible artists all over Mexico. We have heard from some of the Feria's attendees that "the Feria is the same every year" — NO IT IS NOT. Every year we select at least 40-50 new artists from the total of 85 guests.
Having 85 artisans at the Feria: (1) offers the public the opportunity to see the work of some of Mexico's finest artists, (2) allows each artist a place to exhibit and sell their work, possibly making connections for future sales that will allow them to continue making a living selling their art, (3) gives artists the opportunity to meet each other, develop new friendships and connections, and (4) offers a vehicle to promote the folk art of Mexico, while at the same time educating the public that such art is in danger and on the verge of disappearing forever.
Many hours of research are dedicated to locating the maestros who produce the quality of folk art we seek. It has taken years to locate certain artists — nothing has been written about them in books or on the Internet — when suddenly, a conversation or a new contact will provide the necessary information to contact the artist.
Trips to find artists have taken me through the mountains, the desolate Chihuahuan desert, miles of nothing between isolated villages, and over roads meant for 4-wheel drive. Most artists don't have an address, so it's door-to-door until someone points me in the right direction.
I hope you enjoy the Feria as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you all these years.