Original Friends, a line of unique dolls produced by creative hands right here at lakeside, is included among the select group of folk art and quality handicraft exhibitors from all over Mexico that will be showcased at this weekend’s Feria Maestros del Arte.
The enchanting one-of-a-kind dolls — individually dressed, decorated and tagged with a name, number and artist’s signature — are made by members of a newly formed women’s cooperative spearheaded by Rebecca Roth under the brand name Originals Friends: the Next Generation. It is an offshoot of the doll-making workshop Roth founded in 2008 as an inmate at the Puente Grande Women’s Prison outside Guadalajara.
Roth is an U.S. citizen who spent four years behind bars while battling trumped up criminal charges related to her connection to a Canadian scoundrel who ran a notorious Ponzi scam out of Puerto Vallarta. Sewing became a creative outlet to take her mind off her troubles until the case against her was eventually dropped.
Not long after making her first doll as a gift for the infant daughter of another prisoner, she obtained permission to start up an occupational workshop in the Puente Grande women’s wing. After her release from the facility in 2010, Roth handled marketing and external coordination of the Original Friends project, while fellow prisoner Esmeralda Hernández José managed production on the inside.
Both women lost their privileges to work inside Puente Grande after Hernández was set free last fall. Without the impetus of the inmates, the doll-making workshop began to falter. Under the current prison director, the project has been suspended indefinitely. Roth hopes it can be reinstated once the new state government takes office in December.
Meanwhile, in the face of changing circumstances, Roth decided to take advantage of the supply of fabrics, scrap materials and sewing tools she has acquired through donations, putting them to use in a new women-helping-women venture.
With support of the Spanish-speaking congregation at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, she began outreach to underprivileged and unemployed women in the north shore area. Through the revival of Original Friends, participants are learning new ways to make an income to support their families. Their handiwork and interaction with other women likewise helps build self-esteem.
Roth started out in May with five ladies attending weekly workshops at the church. The group has since grown to 35 beginners and experienced sewers, and picked up pace to prepare for the Feria, with additional daily sessions held since September at Roth’s Ajijic apartment. The women have finished around 100 Original Friends for the show.
Look for Original Friends: Next Generation at Stand 56 at the Chapala Yacht Club fairgrounds, open Friday, November 9 and Saturday, November 10, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 11, 9.30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.