“I read about Don Eleno’s obsidian workshop on your web page (Ranchopint.com) and would like to visit it next month. I’m a U.S.-based industrial designer, originally from Belarus.”
This is the sort of email I love to receive. It was from Yauheniya Villarreal, whose husband Alejandro has roots in Guadalajara.
It’s been some time since I visited Las Navajas, a tiny pueblo located 22 kilometers west of Guadalajara. I was delighted to call Don Eleno Espinoza and tell him I’d be bringing visitors.
Once we were on our way to Navajas, Yauheniya told me about her interest in Mexican artisans.
“I am planning to launch a new business focused on accessories for pets using environmentally friendly products and innovations from the United States, such as leather substitutes made of pineapple or fungi, for example,” she said.
“Every time I travel to Mexico people are so nice and I find so many highly skilled artisans who are struggling in their lives, so I want to see if I can find ways to help them. They have wonderful skills but sometimes they need ideas for how to apply their talents in a more profitable way. Because they can’t make money, many artisans give up and the younger generation doesn’t want to learn these crafts anymore. They’d rather get a job in a supermarket or go out and sell something in the street.”
Yauheniya explained how she wants to combine new technology and materials with crafts that Mexican people are good at.
“Some people think crafts should either be innovative or traditional, but I think we can put the two together and benefit each other. I am here to find artisans whose creations I can implement in my designs. For example, Mexican silver, precious or semi-precious stones or even creations made of horsetails.”
Yauheniya would like to incorporate Mexican handicrafts in her designs for “Gentleman’s Sets,” which means luggage for dogs, “in which you can put their vitamins, their leash and their bowl.”
At this point, we pulled up in front of the obsidian workshop in Navajas. We walked to the door, but heard not a sound. Inside, we found Don Eleno all alone.
“Everyone else went off for breakfast,” he said, “but I knew you were coming, so I didn’t lock up.”
Without the whirring of grinding wheels and the flap-flap-flap of belts, Eleno gave us an update on the latest projects of his little group of artisans.
“Some of our latest creations are these beautiful and pleasantly plump figurines, which we copied from clay models that were brought to us by Guadalajara sculptor Diego Martínez Negrete. Some of these are his and some were done by his students.”
It was good to hear that Mexican artists continue to bring their works to Navajas to be rendered in obsidian. Each time I come here, I am amazed at what humble folk (with talent) can do when given half a chance.
While Yauheniya prepares to launch her new business early next year, you can drive to Navajas any work day, perhaps to present the artisans with a design, a model, a photograph or an idea of your own which they can transform into a Christmas present quite unlike any other.
How to get there
Ask Google Maps to take you to “Las Navajas, Jalisco.” When you get there, follow the cobblestone road into Navajas. When you come to a big Y, take the left fork, which puts you on Calle Hidalgo. Follow this southeast 200 meters and turn left at the very first street you come to. Go east on this street only two blocks and turn right. You’ll see the workshop just ahead of you, on the left side of the street. If you somehow miss it, just ask anyone in town for “el taller de obsidiana.” Driving time from Guadalajara is less than an hour. From Chapala it may take about 90 minutes.