– collaboration with artisans in oaxaca
Oax-i-fornia is a workshop program in Oaxaca, Mexico that pairs art and design students with traditional craft artisans in order to experiment with new applications of their unique skills and special traditions.
Sita Bhaumik and I were paired with Esperanza Martinez, a woman who made jewelry from silk cocoons and scrap silk thread - both leftover materials from her family's production of traditional silk 'rebozos' (shawls).
After staying with Esperanza's family and learning about their artisanal process firsthand, we experimented with her materials, coming up with new ways of attaching the thumbnail sized cocoons together to make larger objects.
Esperanza showed us how many of her own jewelry designs had been knocked off by other local artisans - many of whom could sell them for less money since they weren't producing their own silk cocoons and thread. So we explored other objects - such as lighting - that were more involved to produce, as well as jewelry that capitalized on her amazing visual sensibility, unique crochet skills, and access to weaving and dyeing processes. Lastly, we experimented with the short scraps of thread that are cut off her families' backstrap looms: sandwiching them between sheer mesh to create a contemporary-looking textile with a no-waste story.
Esperanza has since received many more commissions for her work, and was even asked make a dramatic red necklace (a design that emerged during our workshop) for every governor's wife in Mexico.
Sita and I have stayed in touch with Esperanza, and have worked with her on designing a set of rubber stamps that allow her to create her own business cards, tags, and packaging.
It is exciting to see how traditional crafts can be reinvigorated through cross-cultural exchange, and inspiring to see how the design process can create actual positive change for individual makers.