Chapala

I have blogged about some interesting colonial cities we have visited but decided that it is probably just as important to focus on some of the colorful villages just outside our back door, Chapala being one of them.

Chapala is the village just east of us, being the municipal seat of the Lake Chapala region and the largest village, I believe, around the lake.  Chapala is more than 500 years old and was probably named for the last chief of the Nahuati-speaking indigenous people of the region – Chapalac.  Murals leading into the village provide a visual depiction of various events that defined its colorful history.

Like many villages and cities in Mexico, a main plaza with gazebo, church and marketplace are the focal points, and Chapala is no exception.

Gazebo in the Chapala Plaza

The church between the plaza and the malecon is not as grand as some that we have seen, but is a beautiful tribute to Saint Francis of Assisi.

Templo de San Francisco de Assisi
Church Interior

The Chapala marketplace is a colorful, bustling daily affair, which offers fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and flowers, just to name a few.

Native Preparing Nopales from the Prickly Pear Cactus
A Favored Restaurant for Tacos - Muy Delicioso!

One of the most prodigious features of Chapala has to be the malecon (waterfront), where folks can be seen wandering at any time of the day.  The villages that we have seen thus far around Lake Chapala all have their version of a malecon, but none as grand as that of Chapala.

Mariachis Walking the Malecon
Tribute to the Chapala Fishermen
Southeastern View of the Malecon, with Scorpion Island in the Distance

Scorpion Island (Isla de los Alacranes) is a small island that can reached by way of tour boats anchored on the Chapala shore.  Due to its name, it does not sound like a desirable place to visit, but we are told that its name arose from the shape of the island and is not based on the number of critters residing there.

Tour Boats

Lake Chapala is the largest natural lake in Mexico and the third largest in Latin America, with a length of approximately 48 miles and a width of 22 miles.

One day soon we hope to take a week-long tour around the lake, exploring many of the other villages.  There is so much to see and do in this country.  It is a wonder that I have time to blog!

Feria Maestros del Arte

We attended the Feria Maestros del Arte festival this weekend at the Club De Yates De Chapala (Chapala Yacht Club).  This is the ninth year for this event and was the inspiration of Marianne Carlson, a local Lakeside resident.  She originally decided upon this forum after she had visited 17 artisan villages in Mexico several years ago.  Many of the indigenous artists did their craft in their homes so it soon became apparent to Marianne that the average person would never be able to witness the beauty of this folk art.  As Marianne has expressed on her website, the feria “offers a vehicle to promote the indigenous and folk art of Mexico, while at the same time educating the public that such art is on the brink of becoming endangered and disappearing forever”.

The Feria is a non-profit and the true beauty of this organization is that it provides an avenue where the artists are provided transportation to this event; are housed with local Lakeside residents for the three days that the show occurs; and they take home 100% of their sales.  Although many items were clearly out of our price range, for collectors and with those who have deeper pockets than ours, one-of-a-kind pieces can be obtained for a fraction of the price one would pay for them in a gallery.  Many art pieces are well within the average consumer’s budget and when you see the detail and the countless hours that have gone into the creation of their beautiful, expressive artwork, you would never begrudge them one centavo.

Marianne hand-picks the artists, traveling to their homes to gain a better understanding of the familial history of their craft.  Because of the painstaking efforts by her and a number of volunteers that coordinate this event, as expressed on her website, the feria “is a “heart” show – not just another “art” show”.

Artwork displayed by the Castilla Orta family from Puebla, Mexico stood out as some of the most spectacular at the show.  For the past 40 years, this family of clay potters has created stunning and whimsical pieces.  In 2009, Alfonso, the patriarch of this family, passed away but his entire family still carries on his tradition.

Below is just a sample of their amazing artwork.

There were some amazing rebozos (shawls) on display at the show and a special presentation for women on the many ways to wear this artwork.  Don Isaac Ramos Padilla was another artisan who passed away this past year and was a true maestro of Mexican weaving, having struggled to hone his trade since the early age of 10.  This patriarch of Mexican weaving worked 12 hour days, 7 days per week to produce an average of 2 rebozos per week.  He received numerous awards for his work, the most noted being the Grand Prize at the National Arte Popular Judged Art Show in 2008.  Few weavers in Mexico have achieved this type of tribute.

His family endeavors to continue his unique form of weaving, in which he did all the processes himself:  mixing the dyes, dyeing the cotton, setting up the loom with the thousands of strands, painting on the pattern, and finally the weaving.  The level of detail and the heart and soul put into each rebozo are reflected in the price tag but well worth every peso when you watch this family at work on the loom.

So many talented artisans stood out at this festival, to include those gifted in obsidian artwork, hand-woven rugs, pottery, fused glass, hand painted gourds and huipiles (hand-woven women’s blouses), to name a few.

Pottery from Cocucho, Michoacan
$500 Pesos, not Dollars - Quite a Bargain!
Mexico's Famous Pineapple Pottery from Michoacan
Intricate Embroidery
Huichol Indian Artisan in Native Costume

Isabel Mendoza of Guadalajara is carrying on the tradition of straw art begun by her grandfather.  We felt that it was some of the most magnificent artwork on display at the feria.  This is just one example of what she is able to do with dyed, very small pieces of straw collected in the mountains by the locals, attached to a beeswax background.

Mexican Straw Art

Last but not least is the infamous Mexican catrina, beautiful and intriguing.

La Catrina
Life Size Catrina Overlooking Lake Chapala

Had it not been 10:00 in the morning, we may have ventured over to the Tequila Tasting Bar but opted instead to view the Ballet de Chapala performing some regional Mexican dance steps.  The colorful costumes and enthusiastic smiles were a joy to watch!

For anyone wanting to learn more about Mexican indigenous art, there is a landmark book entitled “Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art”, published by Fomento Cultural Banamex, that you may enjoy.