Symposium Artisans

Miguel Uc Delgado, shown in the shop attached to the restaurant owned by Miguel and his wife, Estela. He holds a circular carving based on an ancient ballcourt marker from La Esperanza, Chiapas. Photograph by Jeff Kowalski.

Miguel Uc Delgado

Miguel Uc Delgado of Santa Elena (Figure 9) works for the local municipal government as a council member and served as an elected officer for the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) as the Secretary General of Workers of Yucatán.  In the past, this office has only been occupied by those living in Mérida, so Miguel is very proud to be the first person from the interior elected to this position. Furthermore, between his grandfather, his father and his own 26 years of work, the Uc family collectively has over 100 years working for INAH, which is a source of family pride. Miguel owns and operates the Chacmool restaurant and hotel in Santa Elena with his wife, Estela.  The hotel has a full-service restaurant and currently has 8 double rooms. There is also a small artesanía shop attached to the restaurant where Miguel sells not just his woodcarvings, but also Jaina-style ceramic figurines, mold-made figures, and leather drawings by other artisans (generally members of his extended family).  He also sells hammocks and embroidered huipils made by Estela, as well as postcards, decorative ceramic boxes, and beaded jewelry.  Miguel is also one of several guardians or caretakers (a position like a park warden) at the Puuc archaeological site of Sayil, where he sells a few of his pieces.  The majority of the woodcarvings for sale at Sayil, however, are made by his nephew, Edwin Mas Uc who lives in Muna.  Due to these other professional commitments, Miguel hasn’t had much time make woodcarvings for a number of years, but has beun carving more regularly now that his elected post with the Workers of Yucatán ended in 2008.

Angel Ruíz Novelo in the work area at his home in Oxkutzcab, Yucatán. He is displaying the partly-finished circular carving, based on the “Resurrection Plate,” that is one of the pieces included in this exhibition. Photograph supplied by Angel Ruíz Novelo, 2009.

Angel Ruiz Novelo

Angel Ruiz Novelo of Oxcutzcab is the guardian, or caretaker, at the Puuc archaeological site of Labná, where he also has a small hut that serves as his on-site workshop (Figure 8). As a self-taught artist, his carvings often take on a more rudimentary character in terms of the proportions of his figures, yet this, coupled with his rustic carving style are part of his carvings’ charm. Angel considers being able to make a living off of his woodcarvings is a great blessing. He feels honored to be carrying on the tradition started by Antonio Salazar, the first modern carver in the Puuc area, and have the opportunity to perpetuate the sacred iconography of his distant ancestors.

Jesús Marcos Delgado Kú, in the early stages of creating a carving. Some of his tools and other pieces are seen on a table where he works next to the thatch roof palapa where he displays his sculptures at the archaeological site of Kabah, Yucatán. Photograph by Wilbert Vázquez, 2009.

Jesús Marcos Delgado

Jesús Marcos Delgado Kú is Miguel’s first cousin. He lives in Muna, a mid-sized town northeast of the Puuc archaeological zone, where he owns a parcela (parcel of land that is irrigated) that he uses to grow cedar trees and limes for extra income.  At Kabah he gives tours to Spanish-speaking visitors, and when not employing his services as a guide, he attends to his woodcarvings, as he is the only artisan on-site. Jesús is very interested in his Maya heritage and the ways of his ancestors, and so has done his best to learn about the historical background of the subjects he carves, both in terms of their ancient history as well as interpretations by modern Mesoamerican scholars.  Jesús, like the other Puuc artisans, enjoys the fact that he has more or less free access to the various scholars and archaeologists who work at the Puuc sites throughout the year, a relationship that he has taken full advantage of while working at Kabah. 

Wilbert Vázquez, also known by his nickname, Shibata, shown at the work area at the rear of his home in Muna, Yucatán. Photograph by Nadia Vázquez, 2009.

Wilbert Vasquez

Wilbert Vázquez, also of Muna, is the brother of Juan Vázquez, a tour guide based in Mérida who is also a principal informant to this study.  Wilbert, who is known locally by his nickname “Shibata” (after the famous Japanese wrestler) for his trademark haircut, is also a tour guide and like his brother, speaks German, Italian and English in addition to his native Spanish and Yucatec Maya. Wilbert is a fine woodcarver who has produced pieces based closely on ancient prototypes, but also likes to completely reinvent Maya imagery by deconstructing the ancient Maya forms.  Due to his busy tour schedule, Wilbert has less time for his own creations these days and has taken to acting as a kind of handicraft dealer for other artisans in Muna.  He doesn’t have a formal shop, but rather sells out of his home by word of mouth.  Nowadays, Wilbert also makes wooden frames for the works of the other artisans he represents, though the frames themselves are beautifully carved and depict the geometric and symbolic design elements visible on many Puuc architectural monuments.

Presenters will present a series of talks on these themes, accompanied by periods for questions and discussion.

The symposium is free and open to the public.

We encourage attendees to contact Connie Rhoton (crhoton@niu.edu, or 815-753-1474) to give us an idea of the audience size. Those who would like to purchase an on-site lunch, which will cost  $8.00, must pre-register by contacting Connie Rhoton.

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