Business

Folk art from Guatemala and Mexico finds a home in San Juan Bautista

Claudia Lopez returns to her roots to stock her Guatemala Boutique.
Catrina doll. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Catrina doll. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Tin work. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Tin work. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Lele doll. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Lele doll. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Lele doll. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Lele doll. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Silver work. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Silver work. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Claudia Lopez. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
Claudia Lopez. Photo by Claudia Lopez.

With a carefully curated selection of handmade products, including silver jewelry, textiles, fabrics, wood carvings, and tin work, every piece on display at the Guatemala Boutique breathes authenticity. 

Owner Claudia Lopez works to maintain her products’ high quality by traveling to Mexico and Guatemala several times a year to buy directly from over 150 families, craftspeople she has worked with for almost two decades. For Lopez, the personal touch and her commitment to the artists are what make her shop distinctive.

“I want to be able to tell the story behind the artifacts I am selling,” she said. “I want you to know the talented people behind each piece. I really enjoy immersing myself in the vibrance of the culture and having the chance to travel, learn and shop at the same time. And I get a chance to have firsthand interactions with these incredible artists.”

Lopez’s mother Connie encouraged her to start her first business when she was seven years old and has worked at the shop since it opened in 2004. That was also the year she began her longest relationship with an Indigenous artist, Rodrigo Canil.  

“I met him when he was 13 or 14 years old,” she said. “His father was a woodworker who made masks and he did not want Rodrigo to follow in the trade. He wanted him to go to the university. So he gave him a wooden knife so he could pretend to carve wood. But the son used the wooden knife to learn his father’s craft and when his father passed away, Rodrigo came back from the university and took over the business. He has now been able to expand the business and employ and teach many young people his work.”

Canil is an exception, however. Some of the craft traditions beginning to die out as opportunities for education are luring people from their family trades to schools and careers outside of the small villages.

“As a woman, it is a bittersweet thing,” Lopez said. “I love seeing women getting educated and having the chance to go to universities, and not needing the extra support they used to have needed to get from a male. But at the same time, a lot of the culture is being lost because nobody wants to keep doing those traditional crafts.”

And for Lopez, the continuity of those traditions is worth maintaining and preserving.

“When it comes to textiles,” she said, “there is storytelling to every single piece that a Mayan woman weaves. They are telling you the traditions of their little towns or their ancestors, something they can pass on to their children and they can draw from that. That is irreplaceable and when it is gone, it is gone forever.”

Some of the artists take simple things that others have discarded or have no use for to create their works.

“These artists have unlimited ingenuity and talent,” Lopez said. “They are making art out of almost nothing. They will go and gather up the empty nutshells and will make little animals out of them. They started with turtles and armadillos and now every time I go, they have new ones to show me. They make dinosaurs, skunks, dragons, lizards, and ladybugs—they create entire zoos. Every single one is made the same way but they find a way to make every one distinct and different.”

Lopez continues to seek out craftspeople on her journeys and recently discovered an artist, Carmen Miranda from San Miguel de Allende, making Mexican rag dolls called “Lele dolls” with great detail and a modern spin. 

“She makes traditional dolls in aprons with braids and ribbons in their hair,” Lopez said. “When I met her she had a basket and I could see more dolls. I asked her, ‘What are you hiding from me?’ and she said, ‘I have some dolls I just came up with.’ They are so incredibly made with beautiful lace. Their dresses are so thick they will stand up on their own. And each doll was wearing a face mask!”

While still in Mexico, Lopez contacted some of her regular customers and got orders for the 15 dolls Miranda had with her. After posting photos of Miranda’s work to her Facebook page, she ended up placing an order for another 60 of these unique and colorful dolls.

“I love finding things like these dolls to bring back and share,” she said. “I love the response from people when they see the variety of pieces in my shop. There is culture and color and tradition behind every single one of them and I want people to appreciate these things. I am fully Guatemalan and these works speak to my heart.“

 

 

Posted by Claudia Lopez on Tuesday, May 11, 2021

 

 

Tin work in Mexico

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.