Pale Horse Galleries

Art of the Indians, or Indigenous peoples, of Mexico -- the Zapotec, Mixtec, Olmec, Maya, Aztec (Mexicas), Yaqui and Apache. One might refer to some of the pieces pictured here as "crafts". One would be wrong. The work that you will see represents these peoples' view of their world and everything in it. The making and selling of this art is these peoples' only means of supporting their families. It is all that they know how to do. As you will see, they do it very well.

Oaxaca Pale Horse Galleries art crafts gifts and collectibles from Mexican indigenous artists and artisans alebrijes wood carvings ceramics textiles

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas)

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

Cross posted at Mark in Mexico

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The Pale Horse

Friday, December 22, 2006

Ocotlan de Morelos, Mexico: Steel worked as in 16th century Toledo, Spain

Updated: I've edited the price on the big Bowie shown in the photos twice. I think I've got it right. I reduced the prices a lot . . . a whole lot. Also, I left out the final sharpening step. I should be stropped for that. Please scroll down.

This art of knife and sword making gets pretty complex, so I’m going to break it down into 3 posts. The first will introduce one of Mexico’s finest sword and knife makers and some of the basic rules to remember when buying a fine knife or sword.

One can purchase some of the finest knives and swords made anywhere in the world in Mexico. One can also purchase junk. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.

There are 3 different basic types of knives and swords being sold in the markets in Mexico.

The first and most common blade found in the Mexican markets is the chrome plated blade. These are everywhere. Beware. They are only good for a few years of hanging on your wall or sitting on your desk. They are useless for anything else. The steel is usually junk metal, sometimes only iron. The blades are cut and polished, then given a thin "flash" chrome job. To be fair, some of the knife makers do load on the nickel and chrome a bit heavier, but the knife is still no good for any practical use.

Also, if you know anything about electroplating, chrome plated steel begins to immediately destroy itself, bit by bit, as soon as it comes out of the last rinse tank. The layers of dissimilar metals (copper, nickel and chrome) pass a minute electrical charge between them, just like a battery does, which attacks the layers of metal and eventually will eat holes through each layer. There is no way to stop this electrolytic action.

The second type is the stainless steel knife or sword. These blades are very nice, but because of the cost of stainless steel, much of the cutting and forming of the blades, hilts, handles and pommels is done with machines. This helps to keep the cost down. Also, the stainless steel blades are softer and will not hold an edge like a hand tempered blade.

I have owned a very good Mexican stainless steel blade that was quite serviceable. I had to sharpen it before every use but I was satisfied with its performance - that is until I got my hands on a hand made and hand tempered blade. There is no comparison.

The third, and the very rarest, are the hand worked, hand tempered and hand sharpened and polished steel knives and swords. These are very hard to find. But when found and purchased, they are among the finest and most serviceable cutting blades that money can buy. And when made by an artist with almost 500 years of history behind him, the resultant blade is a keepsake as well as a valuable tool.

These hand formed and hand tempered blades require a minimum of maintenance. After buying one and using it for awhile, I realized that I spent far less time maintaining the hand tempered steel knife than I did in repeatedly sharpening the stainless steel blade.

Angel Aguilar

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar pictured polishing a hand forged and tempered knife blade in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Angel Aguilar

Angel Aguilar is an artist. He works with steel. He makes cutlery, knives and swords. Angel uses the 16th century techniques made famous in Toledo, Spain. These knife and sword making techniques were brought to New Spain in the 1500’s by the Dominican Friars and taught to the Zapotecs. The indigenous Zapotecs then were put to work making knives, swords, tools and implements for the Spaniards.

Angel Aguilar was taught these old processes by his uncle, Ricardo Guzmán, who began learning the Toledo techniques at the age of 8 years from his father. Ricardo Guzmán lived to the age of 110 and Angel says he worked up until his last days. 100 years of sword and knife making from one man.

Angel began to learn the art from his uncle at the age of 10 and now, at the age of 49, has been doing it for 39 years. Angel’s uncle Ricardo was taught the techniques by his father who was taught by his father etc. We are talking about almost 500 years of knife and sword making in one family. And it will continue because Angel is teaching two of his nephews the art.

Angel Aguilar’s Techniques

Angel use 3 different techniques to temper his blades. In this post we’ll examine the technique from Toledo, Spain, which the Dominican Friars taught Angel’s ancestors in the mid 1500’s.

The Materials

Angel makes better blades than his forefathers or the Spanish ever dreamed of making because he starts out with better steel. He uses automotive and truck leaf spring steel. He makes his hilts and pommels out of bronze. Not brass, but bronze. Bronze as in Achilles versus Hector outside the walls of Troy. Bronze as in Alexander the Great hacking through the Gordian Knot. His best handles are made of ironwood. He applies no finish of any kind to the handles. He uses another, flame hardened, piece of ironwood to smooth and polish each handle.

He also offers handles in bone, bull horn, antler and ivory. For a working blade that a hunter, fisherman or woodsman would want, the ironwood handles are by far the best. He picked up a finished knife with its ironwood handle, pulled out a smaller knife and then proceed to scuff the just finished knife’s handle. He basically ruined its appearance right before my horrified eyes. He then picked up his flame hardened "polishing stick" and in a couple of minutes had polished out all of the scratches with which he had just marred the handle. Amazin’.

The Forming

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar pictured hammering a hand forged and tempered knife blade in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Angel does not cut the leaf spring steel to shape. He only cuts it to approximate length. He does this with a hacksaw. It takes him about 1 1/2 hours of sawing to cut a piece of leaf spring to length. He then places the steel in his forge and heats it to about 4000ºF. He begins to hammer the blade into the shape he wants. He repeatedly heats and hammers until he has formed the blade that he wants. If you look at his knives and swords, especially the knives, it is hard to imagine how he hammers some of the finer detailed shapes. But he has about 30 different sized hammers and chisels that he uses.

The Tempering

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar's blacksmith forge in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Now comes the tempering. He reheats the blade very slowly to one of three colors which will determine its final temper. When the blade has taken on a golden (dorado) color, he quenches it in oil. This temper is used for knives up to about 30 cm in length, but no more. At this temper, the blade is very hard and will hold the best edge. It will be just flexible enough to withstand heavy use, such as gutting and skinning deer or filleting and de-scaling fish. I also use my big Bowie to split wood, but I’m an idiot.

For swords and machetes, as well as any blade longer than 30 cm, Angel continues to slowly heat the blade until it turns a violet color. After quenching this blade in oil, he has a blade with just a bit more flexibility than with the previous process. That’s because a longer blade must be a bit more flexible so as not to snap during use. This will be a tough blade that will hold an good edge but not as hard as the blades tempered through the “dorado” stage.

For rapiers, sabers and foils, Angel continues to slowly increase the temperature of the blade until it turns a bluish color. Then this blade is oil quenched. This is the most flexible of all the blades. He picked up a thin bladed saber, bent the blade 360º (a full circle) and then released the tip and it snapped back into shape.

The finishing

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar pictured doing the first grinding on a hand forged and tempered knife blade in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.

After the tempering process, Angel goes to work on the finish. He begins to grind out the hammer marks, repeatedly cooling the blade in water to avoid modifying the temper that he just spent a week in getting right. He uses an emery wheel on an electric grinder in place of the granite wheels and hand cranked grinders used by the 16th century Spaniards.

After he is satisfied with the rough finish and convinced that the temper is still good, he moves to the next step. He switches to a cotton wheel which he impregnates with carnauba wax. He sprinkles on a course volcanic pumice and polishes out all of the marks left by the emery wheel. He repeats this process through 5 different sizes, or grits, of volcanic pumice, each time polishing out the marks left by the preceding step.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar pictured doing the preliminary polishing of a hand forged and tempered knife blade in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.

He changes wheels yet again, replacing the cotton wheel with one made of cardboard. He makes these wheels himself and tells me he knows of no other knife and sword makers -- cuchilleros – who follow this step. He impregnates the cardboard wheel with carnauba wax which contains Teflon. Another modern convenience not available to the sword makers in 16th century Toledo, Spain. The wax acts as a carrier which deposits and then holds the Teflon in the microscopic pits on the surface of the steel. This helps to make the blade water resistant.
Note: The blade is not water proof. It is not stainless steel. Some care and maintenance is required but Angel has that worked out pretty well, too. He says that a cotton rag and Brasso will repair any damage to the blade caused by forgetting to oil it once a month. As for the oil, Angel says you can use anything from olive oil from your wife’s kitchen to used motor oil and anything in between.
Angel then forms the bronze hilt and pommel around the tang of the blade, again all by hand. He polishes the bronze in much the same fashion as the blade, although it goes much quicker now because bronze is considerably softer than the tempered steel. That’s how the Greeks lost the Mediterranean to the Romans. Roman steel against Greek bronze.

He uses this stage to help balance the knife. He’ll add or subtract as much heavy bronze as is necessary to balance the knife. Some of his knives have interesting eagles heads or other animal heads hand cut into the pommels. He did this because he had to add so much bronze to get the balance he wanted that he had to decorate the extra bronze. If I hadn’t told you that, you would think it was all planned in advance.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar pictured demonstrating the finished balance of a hand forged and tempered 15.5 inch Classic Bowie knife in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.
The balance of my 15.5" Bowie

Then he hand carves and polishes the handle. He does not use any adhesives to attach the handle to the tang. It is a force fit, whether the handle be of wood, bone, antler or ivory.
Note: I don’t know where he gets his ivory and I’m not going to ask. It is, however, ivory and not mother-of-pearl. I would not recommend trying to import an ivory handled knife or sword. There are some very strict laws governing the international ivory trade and if you cannot prove that the ivory on your knife or sword came from Inuit who hunted down walrus or from old piano keys or billiard balls, US Customs will confiscate said blade. Then they’ll come looking for me. Besides, ivory turns yellow with age, especially if exposed to sunlight.
Now he finish polishes the blade, again using the cardboard wheel with the carnauba wax and Teflon.

UPDATE I: Angel then strops the blade edge using a leather strop, just like a barber does, or at least used to do, before shaving someone. And the blade is finished.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, A completed hand forged and tempered 15.5 inch Classic Bowie knife by Angel Aguilar in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Mark in Mexico's 15.5" Bowie knife
10" blade, overall length 15 1/2" - $350
9" blade, overall length 14 1/2" - $325
8" blade, overall length 13 1/2" - $300
1.5 to 2 weeks

Etching and Decorating

While I was there today, a Mexican Army general waltzed in with his four bodyguards. He bought an antler handled knife with a 10 7/8 inch blade. It was the first knife Angel had sold all week. I was looked upon with great favor later as having brought him good luck. The general then paid Angel $75 US extra to do some artwork on the blade. The Mexican Army general had more US currency in his pocket than did I. Hmmm.

Angel makes what I would call a “masking paint”. It’s a mixture of tar, gasoline, paint thinner and some other secret ingredients that he would not divulge. Probably a little kryptonite. He free hand draws on the blade with an old style ink pen. He can put just about anything on the blade that you would want. For the general he wrote the date, the general’s army group, the generals name and rank on one side of the blade. On the other he drew a miniature military fort and a soldier firing a rifle. Then he added some flowery curlicues that he thought the general would like.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, Angel Aguilar pictured free-hand lettering a hand forged and tempered knife blade with masking paint, prior to etcheing, in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Masking the General's design

While he did all this the general helped himself to a couple of cans of Modelo that Angel’s wife had raced to the store to buy. When the general was satisfied with the accuracy of the data and the other decorations painted on the knife, he left with his entourage, promising to return tomorrow to pick up his knife. Angel then painted the cutting edges and the back of the knife to protect them. Angel proceeded to hang the blade in a container of muriatic acid which will etch the surface of the blade, everywhere except the painted areas. When the blade is finished, it will have all of Angel’s design in relief.

I have seen this technique used by other knife and sword makers. What is much more common, however, is the use of high speed grinding tools, like the Dremel, to grind a design into the steel. Also used are pantographs or other duplicating type machines. If you’re going to want lettering done on your knife or sword, it would be best to opt for script or maybe something very Gothic. If you want near perfect Times New Roman font, Angel is not your man.

Also, grinding on a knife blade can mess up the temper. The muriatic acid that Angel uses is hydrochloric acid watered down to about 30%. Angel cuts it another half, to about 15%. With all cutting surfaces masked as well as the back of the blade, the acid etching process has no effect on the temper or the fine edge that has been left on the blade.

Tomorrow, when the background, or relief, around his design is etched into the steel, Angel will polish the masking paint away, again using the carnauba wax/Teflon combination with the cardboard polishing wheels.

And that is the Toledo, Spain process for hammering and tempering a knife or sword. Tomorrow, I’ll write another post explaining the Japanese technique for putting a crystallized edge on daito and shoto (long and short) Japanese swords. This technique was taught to Angel’s uncle Ricardo Guzmán by a Japanese sword maker who came to Mexico back in the 30’s. Angel does not know why the man was here or what became of him.

Hold onto your socks because this technique is extremely expensive. It takes Angel about 6 weeks to make a daito and he’ll throw away as many as half a dozen blades before he gets the one he wants.

There is yet another technique known as Damascus steel. I’ll try to write about it tomorrow, also. Here’s a hint. This process is so expensive and time consuming that it requires 2 months of work. It was so expensive even back in the days when the Arabs used slaves and the Spaniards used unpaid Zapotecs that only Arab royalty, the King of Spain and the Viceroy of New Spain could afford such a blade.

But that’s for tomorrow.

Thanks for the votes. I really appreciate it!

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

Cross posted at Mark in Mexico

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The Pale Horse

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Puebla, Mexico: Some facts that you absolutely, positively have to know.

Reader Ricardo Hernández from Puebla sends an Email with some facts that you absolutely, positively have to know. Please memorize these facts before you turn in tonight. There will be a quiz (of the pop type).
1. A cow can ascend stairsteps, but cannot descend them.

2. Walt Disney was afraid of mice.

3. Johann Sebastian Bach once walked 200 miles to arrive at an organ recital in Buxtehude.

4. Wrigley's chewing gum was the first product in the world to carry a label with a bar code.

5. Frogs have teeth.

6. The 3 industries that are, far and away, the worst contaminators of air are the steel, iron and cement industries.

7. In the Spanish card deck called a "baraja", roughly equivalent to our 52 card poker deck, only the King of Hearts has no moustache.

8. The majority of the Chinese cannot see the color purple.

9. A snail can sleep for as long as 3 years.

10. Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots.
Now, I don't like to be hyper-critical, but I do have just one small bone to pick with this list, Ricardo. The Spanish card deck, the baraja, has four suits. But they are "oros" (gold coins), "copas" (gold goblets), "bastos" (clubs) and "espadas" (swords -- or spades). There is no King of Hearts because there is no heart suit. However, the King of Copas is the only one of the four who is moustache free.

Thanks for the votes. I really appreciate it!

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

Cross posted at Pale Horse Galleries

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The Pale Horse

Oaxaca, Mexico: APPO gets the bill. "Your prompt payment is appreciated."

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, APPO gets a bill from the state of Oaxaca for 1.3 million pesos.
The Oaxacan state government has prepared and served some 121 APPO members with judicial proceedings demanding 100 million pesos in reparations for damages to property during the recent "troubles". The demands were issued by judges in Etla, Tlacolula y Miahuatlán.

Read the rest at Mark in Mexico

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

Cross posted at Pale Horse Galleries

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The Pale Horse

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mexico City: Do you wonder where the children's education funds are going? They've been washed out to sea.

If you can recall this post in which I state that the Mexican government spends 93.6% of all funding for basic and intermediate education on teachers' salaries and benefits, here is where some of that money is going.

The SNTE (national teachers union) leadership and their families, as well as past SNTE directors and their families, are all in Hawaii. And they got there on the cruise ship "Pride of Hawaii".

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, The Pride of Hawaii which sailed to Hawaii with about 100 national teachers union officials for a weeks stay.
The "Pride of Hawaii"

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, The Bistro on board The Pride of Hawaii, which sailed to Hawaii with about 100 national teachers union officials for a weeks stay.
The "Bistro" on board the "Pride of Hawaii"

While the exact number of SNTE brass, ex-brass and families on the cruise has not yet been published, you've got to figure that there are about a hundred of them, or so. At $3000 to $5000 each, that's $300,000 to $500,000 dollars, 3.3 to 5.5 million pesos. The SNTE spokesman claims that all of the money was "financed" and that the SNTE brass, ex-brass and their families have, "just like any human being, the right" to take an all expenses paid cruise to Hawaii.

Here is a group of Americans who are also taking a little respite from their daily cares. Only they are in Mexico building a school for the deaf in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas. This group is from, I think, Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, A group of American volunteers who did not take a vacation to Hawaii. They volunteered to build a school for the deaf in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, A group of American volunteers who did not take a vacation to Hawaii. They volunteered to build a school for the deaf in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, A group of American volunteers who did not take a vacation to Hawaii. They volunteered to build a school for the deaf in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
Just cruisin' along.

I wonder if these good folks could have used a little of that 300,000-500,000 dollars.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, The main classroom building at the school for the deaf, built be American volunteers, in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
The "Bistro" at Rio Bravo school for the deaf.

They finally had their own school! The excited children emerged from the school bus and dashed to the new classrooms. Their eyes lit up and smiles spread across their faces as they darted in and out of the three rooms. They discovered walls decorated with posters and pictures. There were desks and blackboards, cabinets stocked with school supplies and cubicles with a new set of school supplies for each student. This building even had an indoor toilet and a teacher's lounge.
An indoor toilet and a teachers lounge? That was surely a waste of money better spent in Waikiki.

The SNTE issued a press release attacking Reforma for divulging the Hawaii cruise, accusing the newspaper of "a long and intense campaign against the teachers union, its leadership and their families" for which "there is no good reason whatsoever."

It just never stops down here, does it?

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

Cross posted at Mark in Mexico

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The Pale Horse

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mexico City: Calderón to the narcotraficantes: "We make war, not love."

After a just a couple of weeks of work, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has sent some pretty strong messages to rioters, kidnappers, arsonists and now to the drug traffickers. He launched a combined assault on the state of Michoacan, which was in danger of falling completely under the influence of the narcotraficantes (no pun intended).

At a news conference yesterday, his military men who are spearheading this offensive gave an update on their progress. In fact, they've been so busy that they didn't mention everything they've accomplished and I'm not sure I can keep track of it all, but I'll try. Here goes:
2160 marijuana plants destroyed
6.7 tons of marijuana seized and destroyed
300 pounds of marijuana seeds seized and destroyed
8.8 ponds of poppy seeds seized and destroyed
500 acres of marijuana fields destroyed
107 illegal weapons seized
19 vehicles confiscated
3yachtss confiscated
2.2 ponds of gold bullion confiscated
33 complete military and police uniforms seized
54 arrested
At least $1.8 million US in cash
At least 1.8 million pesos in, well, pesos
Now for some fine detail: The police and military uniforms included everything from bullet resistant vests down to military and police issued T-shirts.

The 4 kilos of poppy seeds alone represented about 9 acres of plantings which would have yielded 32 kilos of opium gum - 4 kilos of heroin - value 1,482,400 pesos ($136,000 US)

The sum total of all the plants, harvested crop, seeds and acreage destroyed is, so far, 6,749,826,400 pesos (620 million dollars).

The arrested so far include:
Alfonso Barajas Figueroa, "Poncho el Feo" (Poncho the Ugly One), head of the "Zetas" in Michoacan. The Zetas are ex-military, many trained in the US, who have left the Mexican Army, most through desertion. The Zetas under The Ugly One also included 3 ex-members of the Guatemalan special forces, the Kaibil, trained in the US. The narcotraficantes pay better . . . a whole lot better.

Armando Valencia Cornelio, leader of theMillenniumm cartel.

Elí­as Valencia Valencia, son of Armando Valencia Cornelio.

Jesús Raúl Beltrán Uriarte, a lieutenant in the Sinaloa cartel, along with just about his whole family. His wife, his brother, his lawyer and 6 others were also arrested.
In addition to the actions in Michoacan, the feds seized 2 houses and a ranch in Jalisco (Guadalahara) along with 6 vehicles, 3 motorcycles, arms, ammunition and cash. In Guerrero the feds siezed 3 more properties and hauled in arms, ammo, military and police uniforms and 4 more vehicles.

I think I'll open a used car lot featuring late model pre-owned vehicles. I'll advertise "Had your vehicle confiscated lately? Never fear, Mark in Mexico is here. Next time, don't risk a new car. Let the government confiscate the crap I sell."

This is just a thought, and if any of you have an idea as to the whys and wherefores, please let me know. While operations of this type take months, if not years, of planning, why didn't Fox's administration make any of these moves? Just askin'.

Cross posted at Mark in Mexico

Please visit the
Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

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The Pale Horse

Monday, December 18, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: Thanks from some Zapotec artists and Mark in Mexico

I'd like to thank some people here without divulging too much info. Thanks to gcblues, who sent out Emails to about, oh, 5000 of his closest friends.

Thanks to Scott who is sleepless in Seattle and placed an order. Fidencio and Marisol will also be appreciative to hear about this.

And you should all stop by this gallery's website unless you live in the Atlanta area, in which case you should stop by the gallery.

Thanks for the votes. I really appreciate it!

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

Cross posted at Mark in Mexico.

TAGS: , , , ,

The Pale Horse

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: We need some help down here.

This is a long and detailed post, so get a cup of coffee or pop a beer before you start. This was cross posted at Mark in Mexico.

Mark in Mexico, Pale Horse Galleries for gifts, collectibles, Mexican arts and crafts, The empty and closed up Barro Negro market in San Bartlolo Coyotepec, Mexico.
Barro negro market at San Bartolo Coyotepec

Please take a close look at the photo above. It is the Barro Negro (black clay ceramics) market at San Bartolo Coyotepec. There are about 100 stalls or booths in this market. This photo was taken at midday on a holiday. The joint should have been jumpin’. As you can see, it’s closed up tight. I found one, and only one, ceramics store open.

Only one.

The situation is just about the same all over. The artists, carvers, knife and sword makers, potters, tin artists, leather crafts makers and weavers are in terrible shape. They have begun to scatter to the four winds making them difficult to find. In an effort to sell something, many of the artists have packed up their arts and crafts, loaded them on a bus, and headed out to other states throughout Mexico chasing the tourists and gift, arts and crafts buyers who no longer come to Oaxaca.

I talked to a potter, Eloy Gómez León, in San Bartolo who told me he didn’t expect to again start seeing tourists and selling his Barro Negro until the next Guelaguetza Festival which is next July. I asked him how he expected to survive for 8½ more months and he just shrugged his shoulders. His little store is in the government market on the main highway. That’s the area where the museum, park and hotel are located, if you’ve ever been here. The museum was closed and the hotel appeared to empty. Roughly one in five of the Barro Negro stores were open in that market but I was the only visitor there.

So, what can we do?

Well, we don’t need "donations". That’s not what these people want and it’s not what they need. They need to sell their arts and crafts, gifts and collectibles. The donation business is being pretty well tapped by APPO. They’ve hit Catholic churches in Southern California, the northeast and Canada. They have received cash support from colleges and universities as well as unions, especially teachers’ unions. And they have raked in some money.

That money came in the form of cash donations. That money was used to pay transportation costs, hotel and meal expenses for their representatives who were collecting the money. Those donations were used to pay transportation and meal costs to move people from other states into Oaxaca to march, riot and burn, except where that transportation was provided free of charge.

Those donations were used to buy ski masks, rockets and bombs, slingshots, pay a 200 peso per day stipend to outsiders manning barricades all over the state, and to buy weapons and ammunition for the various guerrilla groups associated with APPO.

The artists with whom I cooperate have no such necessities. Their wants and wishes are far more banal. They need food, rent, clothing, raw materials for their arts and crafts, school supplies, uniforms and shoes for their kids and transportation to the markets where they would hope to find some paying customers.

They are not looking for charity. They must sell their arts and crafts to buyers of gifts and collectibles.

Mark in Mexico does not accept donations, either. That’s why you don’t see the Pay Pal button anywhere on my blogs nor will you see the ubiquitous "Please Donate" message that you see in so many other blogs. I'm uncomfortable with all that.

What can you do?

Visit the Pale Horse Galleries website. Meet the artists and their families. See the photos of some of their work. I should be kicked, punched, bitten, eye-gouged and nose-twisted for neglecting that website. This, or any website, for that matter, needs something published in it every day. I haven’t published anything there for months. We start today.

Then visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store. The store is far from complete. Right now, the store includes alebrijes, wood carvings and some other hand made and hand painted items that should be of some interest. I have photos of some barro negro, the black clay ceramics, as well as photos of Mexico’s leading knife and sword maker at work which are not yet in the store. I’ll try to get all that done this weekend. I’ll also try to get to Ocotlan to get photos of the knife and sword maker’s work and get those into the store tomorrow night.

I’ve still got to get photos of the weavers, the ceramics makers, at least two other knife and sword makers (there are 3 different levels of knives and swords being made and 4 different levels being sold so you’ve got to watch your step), and many, many more ceramics makers. You get the idea. I need thousands more photos and then to set up the items in the store. A thousand hours of work that, in reality, will never be completed.

Let’s talk about the store and Mark in Mexico’s interest therein.

I had to race through the store (twice) last week to raise prices. I was losing money on every sale. There is now a fuel surcharge being added to shipping costs because the federal government raised the price of Pemex fuels 1 peso per liter – about $0.35 per gallon US. In addition, packaging costs for boxes, foam, blister pack etc. have shot up somewhere around 20%. I don’t know if this is due all or in part to the Christmas season or not. Nevertheless, it has happened.

Here is exactly how the store’s pricing is formulated. I take the purchase price of any item and then double it. That pays my expenses and, hopefully, leaves a bit left over. San Martín Telcajete is a 45 minute drive away, 1 ½ hour round trip, and $10 US in fuel and about the same in maintenance and insurance costs for the car.

Pale Horse Galleries also needs a lot of things. We’ll talk about that in a moment. Then, depending on the item, I add 30 to 50 percent for packaging and shipping. Some items may need more.

Pay Pal

Pay Pal is great for buyers but is a very unfriendly system for sellers. That’s because of Pay Pal’s disastrous launch. When Pay Pal first launched back in the 90’s, they took a bath. Every scam artist and fraudster from Moscow to Beijing and all points in between ripped off Pay Pal and/or its clients for millions of dollars. Pay Pal almost sunk like the Titanic. As a consequence, in addition to much polishing of its software codes, Pay Pal became just a bit harsh to deal with, from a seller's point of view.

There is still a scam going on using Pay Pal but Pay Pal has managed to protect buyers and extricate itself from responsibility to sellers (i.e.: Pale Horse Galleries). The scam is called "not as represented", among other names, most not printable. A "buyer" will order a product, pay for it through Pay Pal, wait for its delivery, then send a complaint to Pay Pal claiming that the item received was "not as represented" by the seller. When the complaint cannot be resolved between the two parties, Pay Pal will freeze the seller’s account until the dispute is resolved between both parties.

For an online business, this is a disaster. Any and all money in the seller’s account and all money entering the account are frozen. The dispute could be over a $100 item but tens of thousands of dollars could be frozen. Unless the seller has deep pockets and can afford to continue manufacturing and shipping during the dispute resolution phase, the seller is out of business. The dispute resolution phase can last up to 9 months.

So what does the seller ultimately have to do to get his money released from Pay Pal? You guessed it. Return the buyer’s money on the promise that the buyer will return the unwanted product. This, of course, never happens. So the buyer ends up with free merchandise at the expense of the seller. The only option for the seller is a criminal complaint against the buyer if the buyer can be identified and then found, a usually impossible task.

This scam got so big that a group of online sellers sued Pay Pal over it a few years ago. Pay Pal, having been burned for so many millions and having built a reputation with buyers for protecting them against unscrupulous sellers (at the expense of thousands of legitimate sellers), paid a 9.5 million dollar settlement to that group of victimized sellers rather than admit any responsibility or agree to changing any of its procedures.

Pay Pal scares me to death but, for a buyer, it’s the only game in town. And if online buyers consider it the only game in town, sellers are forced to go along.

All money transferred through Pay Pal costs me about 5%. Plus, I have discovered to my chagrin that the exchange rates used by Pay Pal and/or my bank (HSBC and Scotia Bank) here in Oaxaca are below the local exchange rate by about .35 pesos per dollar. That is, for every thousand dollars that eventually ends up in the Pale Horse Galleries bank account from Pay Pal, I lose about 350 pesos ($30+ US). The bank also charges me 20 pesos for every transfer.

So, Pale Horse Galleries takes the total price calculated in pesos, adds the 20 pesos, divides by 10.5 to calculate the US dollar value (thereby protecting itself from the lower-than-market exchange rate) and then divides this total by 0.95 to recover the Pay Pal costs.

I hope.

Pale Horse Galleries Pricing

Those of you who live here or visit here regularly may be surprised at the prices. Don’t be. If you live here, you aren’t going to buy from the online store in any event. You’ll make your way to the city markets and galleries or visit the artists in their towns and buy from them directly. Please do so, and often.

If you visit here, you know that it costs a minimum of $1000 to come here, much more if wife/significant other/kiddies come along. Then you’ve got to rent a vehicle or hire a tour driver to get you to the artists. Then you have to be able to differentiate the artists’ work from the cheap Chinese rip-offs. Then you’ve got to have your item(s) packaged and shipped home. If an item arrives damaged, you’re on your own with UPS, FedEx or whomever.

Pale Horse Galleries

Pale Horse Galleries needs a lot of investment to make it function as an attractive outlet for Zapotec and other indigenous art. We need a decent digital movie camera. We need a tripod and portable lighting for the existing still camera. We need a tough little 4WD pickup for traversing the less-than-smooth-as-glass highways and byways searching out the artists. My car is taking a beating.

Pale Horse Galleries does not buy from distributors or any type of middleman, including the Mexican government and "artisans unions". If I cannot meet and photograph the artists at work in their homes and workshops as well as buy directly from them, I won’t feature them in the store. They are all aware of this and are more than happy to accommodate. But I have to be able to get there and back in one piece, preferably not on foot.

The Pale Horse Galleries online store, as well as the website, needs a minimum of $5000 invested ASAP. We’ve got to buy the name and our own website rather than use a host like the good folks at Blogger. We’ll stay with Vstore because storefront software is expensive. We really should consider buying a storefront at Ebay, however. And finding an engineer or design firm to do this for us would be prohibitively expensive, at least at this time. We need to buy and place advertisements. We need to buy our way towards the front of the search engines.

We need to buy a premium account at Flickr. Right now we’re constrained to 200 photos and I long ago hit that limit. We need to buy the premium storefront (actually called a "shopping cart") from Vstore so that I can include more than one photo with many of the items offered. Some items deserve a front-side-rear view and right now I'm not allowed to do that.

Now for the really expensive part: Pale Horse Galleries needs a brick and mortar gallery here in Oaxaca. The area of the downtown where the gallery needs to be is expensive. 15ft x 20ft "locales" rent for 25,000 pesos per month. Pale Horse Galleries needs a much bigger area.

We have already talked to several artists who are willing to come to the gallery to work. That way, visitors can meet the artists in person and watch them create without having to venture into the mountains to do so. There is a perfectly located building for rent across the street from the Camino Real Hotel. But Pale Horse Galleries will not be in a position to rent, let alone refurbish (rebuild would be a better word) this building before a bank or airlines or other large and well-heeled business eventually rents it.

For the knife and sword makers, I’ll have to install and maintain a small forge, an anvil and grinding, polishing and burnishing wheels. That’s going to be expensive. For the ceramics makers, I’ll need a potter’s wheel and a kiln. For the weavers we’ll need an old hand loom. We’ll have to pay for the artists’ meals and travel expenses as well as hotel expenses if they have to stay overnight.

I know of no other gallery or market in the city, either private or government subsidized, that offers such a thing.

I’m guessing we’ll need somewhere between 1,100,000 and 1,300,000 pesos to get a gallery and the workshops installed and running and the rent paid for 6-8 months. Ouch! And all of this would be done on the somewhat risky proposition that the tourists would return by next July.

The reason for the somewhat long-winded explanations is so that no one leaves this post thinking that Mark in Mexico plans to use the backs of Zapotecs to finance his annual 3 month-long vacations to Greenland.

What else can you do?

Obviously, the easiest and quickest thing is for everyone who reads this post to haul out the old Visa or Amex cards and plunk down $2000-$3000 or so, repeating the process every 3 months, give or take, as well as arm-twisting your family, friends, neighbors and business associates to do the same. I realize that’s not possible. But there are lots of other things you can do.

Take, for example, gcblues, contributor and commenter to this blog, from Costa Rica. He may not be too interested in buying Mexican indigenous art. He buys Costa Rican indigenous art. But he knows lots of people in Eugene, Oregon. Gc could put the arm on his buddies.

If you have a blog or a website, link to the Pale Horse Galleries website and online store whenever you can. Traffic breeds more traffic. More traffic breeds occasional sales.

If you belong to a church or social club or fraternal order of some kind, talk to the powers-that-be to see if a bulk purchase would be possible. Talk to your friends and fellow members to see if anyone else might be interested in buying something. If Pale Horse Galleries can ship several pieces in one package to one location, the savings will be significant. Also, Pale Horse Galleries could consider such a purchase as a single purchase and offer a volume discount.

If you really want a volume discount, buy everything from a single artist. Every item in the online store is identified by the artist(s) who created it. If I cruise into a village and offer to buy 4-6-8 different pieces from one artist, that artist will offer Pale Horse Galleries a discount and I won’t have to ask for one.

Mark in Mexico has been there and seen how they are living right now. Mark in Mexico cannot and will not beat them down anymore on their prices. I listen as a price of, say, 2000 pesos for an alebrije is quoted, and then I take a long look at it. I see a week’s work by the carver and his assistants and another week’s work by the painter(s). That’s a minimum of two man-weeks work, or 80 man-hours, probably more, for 200 dollars. That’s not exactly price gouging, at least to my mind’s eye.

That does, however, bring up another problem. Mark in Mexico knows that some artists are in more trouble than others. Some are really suffering. But would it be fair to point that out to prospective buyers? That would mean that I would be steering a buyer to a particular artist, to the detriment of others. I’m not sure that’s fair. I’m still pondering how to handle that and be fair to every one of our artists. Hmmm.

All of your many different groups up there have charities, either public charities to which they contribute or they operate their own. Here is an opportunity to use money to help people while receiving something other than tax deductions and/or a warm and fuzzy. And if a charitable tax deduction is your thing, donate the purchased pieces to the bazaars, public galleries, museums, charity auctions or to the Smithsonian. If you need an invoice, one can be provided.

Charity bazaars can be used. If you participate in or know of such bazaars, think about using money to buy some of these pieces and then resell them at a profit for the charity.

And here’s something else you can do. You may be shocked, shocked to learn that Mark in Mexico is not the be-all and end-all in marketing Mexican indigenous art. If you have ideas on other ways to market these arts and crafts, Mark in Mexico will be all ears.

What to Buy

Obviously, you can order anything you see. You also can commission a custom made work. If you can send a sketch or a photo as well as the dimensions of something you’d like to see created just for you, I’ll send back a quote. I also will pledge not to ever put a photo of that piece in the catalog so you can be assured it remains exclusive.

It might be something as simple as a custom decorated piece. "I’d like the $500 Crouching Leopard, PHG010203, by Pedro Perez and his Zippin’ Zapotecs, painted with purple spots, pink ears and shamrock green tail. How much?" And I’ll reply, "$25,000, and cheap at twice the price. When may I expect your deposit?" Or something like that. You get the idea.

How to Order

If you want to buy just one item, I’m afraid you’re pretty much stuck with the prices in the catalog at the online store.

If you want to buy 2 or more items DO NOT PLACE THE ORDER AT THE STORE.

Email me first, either at the Mark in Mexico Yahoo address or the Pale Horse Galleries Gmail address. Tell me the item names, the SKU numbers (PHG000XXX . . .) and the artist’s name(s). I’ll send back a cost with any savings in shipping cost and any discounts offered by the artist(s). You can make your decision then.

After we have agreed on a total price, then and only then should you go to the store, order the items through the store’s ordering process and make your Pay Pal deposit of the incredibly low price that you have just beaten out of me.

Much more to come.

Thanks for the votes. I really appreciate it!

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store
for art, gifts and collectibles -- all hand made
by Mexican indigenous artists.

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The Pale Horse