Tag Archives: the folk tree

Fandango de la Folk Tree: Retrato Familiar

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While I wasn’t able to make the annual pilgrimage down to Pasadena for the Folk Tree show’s final reception, I did hear from quite a few of my local folk-les that it was one of the best turnouts in years. It’s a testament to just how important the store has been during it’s glorious lifetime, and how much the efforts of Rocky, Gail, Victor and the whole “FT familia” affect the holiday’s culture, and people’s understanding of it.

It also reminds me as to why I’ve worked exclusively with them, in regards to crafting show pieces for the holidays. I’ve documented my issues with the local “import store” culture in previous postings, but that doesn’t account for the fact that even the best vendors up here in Seattle do little to actually honor the holiday and traditions that have proven to be so profitable for them, over the years. My sister and I made a sojourn to Milagros in Pike Place Market last week, while she was making her annual Halloween visit: the shop’s one of the more prominent purveyors of Oaxacan art and dia de los muertos-related collectibles, and its location gives it an unprecedented degree of tourist flow-through. As such, I naturally expected that they’d do their part to float the true roots of the holiday, or at least offer something in the way of an exhibition-quality ofrenda, or…

something...

… but no.

It was a day just like any other day, with the same stock, the same window dressings, the same general attitude. It’s not really that big an issue–Seattle’s appreciation of the Hispanic heritage that exists at the roots of calacas and Posada prints pretty much begins and ends with people who realize that it’s really easy to whip up some half-assed sugar skull makeup when they haven’t bothered to actually put together a real Halloween costume–but I wandered out of the shop again reminded just how fortunate I am to be able to ply my trade at the Folk Tree, and how fortunate the world is to have the store in the first place.

But all that aside: I had one last consignment at this year’s show, and I think it’s probably one of the best top-to-bottom constructs that I’ve made, this year.

... mi familia, su familia, la familia.

… mi familia, su familia, la familia.

The piece owes its genesis to the very cool “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling (Photographs by Lourdes Grobet),” which I’ve been a proud owner of for about ten years. The book’s a fascinating study of “street-level” lucha culture, but–for me–the main attraction is the colorful portrait-style sittings that Grobet specialized in back in the 1970’s. In it, wrestlers like Solar are photographed with their families: the luchadores are, of course, sporting their masks and some ridiculously swag suits, but their wives and kids are simply dressed in their Sunday best, positioned politely alongside their paterfamilias and his superhero physique.

As I’ve blathered on about endlessly, I’m a fan of wrestling in every one of its 31 flavors: as such, it occurred to me that doing a portrait with all of the family members sporting their masks was a fun wrinkle on this, and it gave me the opportunity to dust off my old “Nippon Sports Mooks” from the early 2000’s as a basis for coming up with custom mascara designs. The pictures in the background are custom versions of Grobet’s actual portraits, which I figured would be a cool homage to a truly unique artist.

fam3

As of 11/1, the piece has sold: I couldn’t be happier, both in terms of the work that I put in for this year’s exhibition, as well as the fact that it brought in some well-deserved consignments for the hosts. Definitely a nice note on which to welcome the next seven months of winter malaise, up here the good ol’ PNW…

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Fandango de la Folk Tree: Destino Final

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In terms of show-friendly pieces, I’ve been making a concerted effort to begin balancing out my free-standing efforts with a diorama-style aesthetic. I’ve always had a fascination with building miniatures, ranging way back to my afternoons spent fuddling around with beeswax sculpture as a kid: the challenge of building a couch, pistol or chessboard in 1/25th scale is just one of those things that runs contrary to the simplistic tenets of bonesmithing (Discounting the work of the Linares family, traditional paper-mache’ artisans usually don’t incorporate such teensy-weensy touches), but that I can’t do without.

Likewise, there’s the consideration that a wall-hanging piece lends itself to display in a much more intuitive fashion than your typical free-standing sculpt. There’s a great deal of ironic evidence for this fact all over Casa del Comrade, as I can’t even fit most of my personal pieces on our numerous shelves or desktops: no such issues plague the various three-dimensional dioramas on our walls, where they enjoy a harmonious little give-and-get with the wife’s paintings. As such, I figured that I’d put this practice into play for my second submission to the Folk Tree’s exhibition, which is as follows:

... take only what you can carry.

… take only what you can carry.

I wish I could take sole credit for the concept, but it’s actually something that I basically bunkered from the great Sophie Crumb, daughter of comic-maestro emeritus Robert Crumb. Sophie did the illustrations for Enid Coleslaw’s sketchbook in the awesome 2001 filmic adaptation of Dan Clowes’ “Ghost World,” and a similar picture can be seen for about .034 seconds during one the scenes set in Enid’s art class. The illustration depicts a woman lugging her coffin across a desert wasteland (Complete with adorned vulture), which–even seen for the briefest of glimpses–is one of those pretty flippin’ cool (™) concepts that get into an artist’s head. I took that kernel and ran with it, resulting in the first “draft” of the piece.

And then later decided that our wayward traveler needed further evidence of where her mortal coil had taken her, during her years above ground. That was easy enough to supply, courtesy of some nifty clipart “trunk stickers,” that I scaled and applied with a coat of Mod Podge.

... oh, the places you'll go.

… oh, the places you’ll go.

the "road" is also a textured spraypaint, with bassword filling in for the trees.

the “road” is also a textured spraypaint, with bassword filling in for the trees.

The resulting sculpt–entitled “Destino Final’–has, as of 10/31/13, been sold. It’s always particularly awesome to see a piece that you really loved putting together not only be appreciated by so many of the show-goers at Folk Tree, but also taken home.

More to come, but–for now–a very sincere and enthusiastic “Happy All Saint’s Day” to you folks out there, in e-Land!

Fandango de la Folk Tree: El Diabolico

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So, with all due objectivity: this has to be just about the worst case of procrastination to hit this workspace since 2011. It’s one thing to let your bloggery go untended due to real-life issues or a lack of overall productivity, but–unfortunately–I’ve got absolutely nothing in the way of such excuses. I’ve been churning out commissions on a steady basis since August, I enjoyed an absolutely amazing trip to Phoenix, (where I had the pleasure of talking too-brief shop about Hispanic heritage arts with the one and only Aztec Smurf), and–perhaps most importantly, considering the state of the calendar–I was again invited to take part in the Folk Tree’s annual observations of dia de los muertos.

Before I get into that, I’ll take a moment and tip back a cup full of grain-alcohol gratitude to Gail Mishkin for her never-ending encouragement, especially in regards to my well-documented issues with structural stability and shipping woes from last year. I’ve worked hard over the course of the last six months to improve my technique and to get a proper grip on the nuances of paper clay: it’s been a game of tipsy hopscotch (“Two hops forward, one flop back!”) at times, but the end results are some of the best work that I’ve turned out. Period.

Without the support of the fine Folk Tree folks–who are still my only real “must-do” outlet for show pieces–I probably would have let the familiar old weeds of self-doubt set me back on the shelf, stemming from frustration over the previous construction issues: so there’s that.

And there’s this.

Piece number one is something I’ve actually had planned for quite some time, with the most recent go-around being charted for the FT’s “Angels and Demons” show from earlier this year. As I was still slowly killing myself and anybody within a square-mile radius with the judicious use of polymer clay at the time–and making little progress, in terms of getting it to set properly–I missed a chance to get onboard with that exhibition, and instead slated Ol’ Scratch for a future opportunity:

1/6th the size, 6 times the swag.

1/6th the size, 6 times the swag.

Latin culture has some of the finest depictions of El Satanico outside of the Middle Ages, and this piece draws its inspiration from a number of them: a sugar skull-style facial motif, cross-cultured with a touch of “El Pachuco” from Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit.

lil' evil 2

the split wallet chains aren’t entirely era-accurate, but hell (HA) if they don’t look cool.

I briefly toyed with giving this fella a loteria number of “666,” but–as we’re still working our way through the first 25 “cards”–I figured I’d do the right thing and stick with some loose chronology. As of 10/30, this piece has sold, which is great: nothing stokes the coals of latent creativity like having one of your calaveras find a good home.
More to come!

diabolico2

 

Flores, Corazones y Angustia

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I’d had it in my head to put off this update until January 26th, which—as luck and love and all things related to the artistic divide—marked the beginning of The Folk Tree’s annual “Hearts and Flowers” exhibit. Following the well-documented demolition derby that had occurred with my showings back in October, I’d effectively spent the last six weeks working my way through a brand new bag of workbench tricks: the great polymer clay disaster of 2012, the gradual exchange of conventional modeling glues for the molecular bonding power of E6000 epoxy, and figuring out a way to fend off the damp miseries of the Seattle winter-spring stretch for the sake of sealing and priming pieces-in-progress.

Ultimately, it was time well spent. The constant start-stop was sometimes agonizing (with our townhome playing host to a toxic soup of plasticky stenches on an almost weekly basis), and I wound up paring down my list of potential submissions to H+F from three candidates to one single, focal diorama; I busted out my jigsaw and wood-forms for the first time in a good seven years. It was by far and away the slowest preparation of a show-quality calaca that I’ve ever engaged in, but—when the fumes cleared and the paint dried—I was really proud of the end result.

tunel1

tunel3

tunel4

tunel2

 

Or, I was. Or would have been. Riding a wingding high of accomplishment—and receiving news that our coffin-riding love-monkeys had arrived in California with a minimum of USPS-provoked damage—I took a week off, cracked that ’26 Krug and began to entertain notions of the next deluxe undertaking, back-patting like my name had been legally changed to Barry Horowitz and fencing off sugarplum visions of what I’d be banging out for an encore.

Or, again, was. Or, again, would have been. Up until the point wherein I got an e-mail from the lovely Gail Mishkin—show-runner and linchpin of The Folk Tree’s exhibition schedule—which regretted to inform me that the Tunel del Amor Eterno had apparently begun to spontaneously disintegrate while being kept in pre-exhibition storage.  Whether by some unforeseen cocktail of disagreeing chemicals or the presence of a goddamned pissed-off poltergeist, the piece’s paint had actually started to lift off of its polymer clay bones, and a bunch of cracks were now visible in the characters’ limbs and the coffin construction.

Why? How? I have absolutely no clue. Which is ultimately why the whole thing is so heartsickening. I can deal with the postman using a box for punting practice or a calaca losing its head due to poor packing techniques, but to go so far and to fall so fast for no apparent reason at all… man-oh-man.

Despite six weeks of meticulous attention and experimentation, despite apparently making it to Pasadena without having imploded in transit, and despite the bloody vow I made after witnessing the totally crap state of the submissions that I turned into the Dia de los Muertos exhibit three-some months ago, it wound up being totally junked. So much so that I just tossed in the rag and informed Gail that my sister would be coming by to pick up the piece; an essential mercy-killing of the ego, and an effort to spare her and her awesome compatriots from having to show off another high-concept, shit-execution mess of a show piece.

So, what’s following now is the usual six-chamber routine that we artists tend to go through, at times like these:

Boom! Anger. Because it’s not fair.

Pow! Humiliation. Because this sucks.

Zap! Self-Loathing. Because I suck.

Bort! Phony optimism. Because tomorrow is another day!!!!!!!!!!

Shablow! Blogging about it. Because my wife and sister are awesome at talking me down off of the ledge, but sometimes a man needs to run naked and furious around his own e-yard.

I wouldn’t qualify this as being a swandive into steely resolve just yet, but as the day winds down and the knots starts to untie themselves, I’m at least at a point where I can mask the frustration with a bit of bush-league philosophy: to boot, that being that one of the greatest trespasses that an artist can make against themselves is the notion that one’s ever really in control of their art.

Buying into that undermines the whole purpose, really. We do this because it’s irrational and chaotic: we thrive on taking two steps forward, then promptly face-planting the next time we’re given a chance to push at our own edges and boundaries. It’s that thrill of spitting mud and blood and then trumping what tripped us that makes us—kettle drum roll, please—artists.

So, there’s that. I’m reneging on my earlier pledges to never set my hands to sculpting (nobody was around to hear it—though with the profanity cleaned up, it really wasn’t much of a sentence or coherent vow), and will be back at the bench by tomorrow afternoon: not because I want to be—at least not at the moment—but because it’s where I gotta be.

Dia de los Perros: Back in the Lab

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With the cliff in full effect–and the readership for both this blog and the CCFBHQ effectively dropping somewhere in the collective neighborhood of 98.9% in the last four days–I’m getting my shoulder back into the ol’ grindstone, and fighting of the murky malaise of Seattle’s impending winter by going full-tilt boogie into a new set of sculpts. The short-term is to keep my hands busy and my brain in some state of forward movement, while the big picture motives stem from the fact that I’ve been invited to take part in The Folk Tree’s “Hearts and Flowers” show, coming up in February. I really couldn’t have asked for a better kick in the ol’ culo proper than being included in another of their exhibitions, though it once again puts the impetus on hitting the ol’ slab and going back to work on improving the tensile strengths of my materials.

Of and by themselves, the sculpts are built solid enough: my armatures have give, but aren’t too flexible. The figures generally stay put, even years after being run off the line. They’re showroom safe, but–as proven by the USPS’s absolute demolition of my submissions for the FT show in October–are prone to cracks, bending and other unpleasantries while in any kind of extended transit. To frame it with fuzzy math: the more detailed, the more likely they are to get busted up. And as I’m planning some double-wide deluxe stuff for the V-Day jamboree, this is definitely priority one for the foreseeable future.

So, today was all about trying my hand at using polymer clay. Traditionally, I’ve avoided the stuff: it smells, it’s unwieldy, and the prohibitive curing process busts up my sculpting rhythm and “keep both hands a-movin’!” working aesthetic. However, as the work of some of my contemporary bonesmiths can attest to, it’s also fifty times stronger than even the sturdiest air-dry fare, which brings us to… this.

One part Premo Sculpey. One part Sculpey Original. Wended and mashed together with a pasta presser, applied to a standard CC-custom armature and baked for the prerequisite 15 minutes at 275 degrees, proper:

um.

 

So, aside from this being my initial reaction…

… it appears that I’m going to have a busy weekend NOT burning the flippin’ house down. The one upside is that I intended for this body to be nothing but a glorified test case, but–after this little happenstance–I think I know exactly what I’m going to turn it into. Inspiration, even amidst the asphyxiating napalm-stink of fried plastic fibers!

 

How I Spent My Day of the Dead: ddlm ’12.

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If there’s one great tragedy to my life as an artist, then it would have to be the fact that I was born and raised in the quiet shadows that preceded today’s digital filmmaking revolution. I don’t languish too heavily on what never was, but coming from a family of hearty industry folks was a primo motivator to delve awkwardly into the world of film at an early age: an enthusiastic full-bore charge that was squashed neatly by the dueling realities of cost and the steep learning curve that came with fumbling over yards and yards of 8mm celluloid.

In the consequent years, I hopped in and out of the medium through film school, scriptwriting projects and the occasional embarrassing no-budget gambit, but always wound up getting ram-rodded into the same sticking points and hurdles. Cost. Time. Energy. A dyed-in-the-black-wool case of chronic misanthropy that made recruiting actors and ruthless self-promotion a constant uphill battle. In the end, the biggest problem with making a genuine go as a filmmaker was entirely personal in nature—I’m a viciously inhibited person, and that just doesn’t click with the required vernacular—but I still find myself lapsing into the soggy arena of the “what-wouldas,” from time to time.

Anyway, the whole point of this unspooling confessional does have something to do with calacas, though that connection requires six steps back before actually pushing forward. The short of it is that in my civilian life, I teach video production and visual narrative to high schoolers, among other academic dalliances; as such, I’m blessed with a constant whit of inspiration from seeing these kids taking flight with their own creative compulsions, while being frequently laid flat on my ass by how worthless and antiquated my years of “technical experience” are, in comparison to what sort of weapons these students have at their disposal.

For a sobering—if not entirely self-indicting—idea of how this dynamic has worked: I’ve been teaching this stuff for three years, and wound up making my first all-digital short six weeks ago. It took a Herculean effort on the part of my new class (and plenty of verbal noosing, courtesy of how often I’m prone to prattling on about how “good they’ve got it, what with their HD and their smartyphones and their whatnots…”) to get me to even give it a shot, but the end result was… educational, on quite a few levels.

So: when it came to summarizing the three days I spent circulating between muertos-related events in California, I decided to throw my back out with another swing at the same fences. The practicum for this month’s exercise was “motion,” which—as the film below demonstrates—I did what I could with.

 

 

The second half of the video was spent at the ofrenda and birthday celebration for my dearly departed and always-remembered compatriot, Nick Michael Papac. It’s been seven years since his untimely passing, and his parents have held this event dutifully ever since; my sister and I—who were closest to Nick in our pre-teen and teenage years, and who only kept in spotty contact afterward—have been intending to go for quite some time, and finally decided that it was “here and now or never,” in making the trip.

I can’t really convey how happy I am that we were able to attend. To see someone celebrated not only by the people they knew at the time of their unexpected passing—but to also have those in attendance from five, ten, twenty years prior—puts a lot into perspective. This was the first time that I’ve ever contributed to the ofrenda of someone that I knew personally, but it really meant more than simple words can do justice to.

It’s also tough to type about, at the moment. So I’ll leave it here, and spell out the rest on a sunnier day.

Comrade’s Commentary: The Who of It (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I actually wrote this piece about a month ago–while sifting through the mush of what was left of my brain and preparing to book my tickets to California for The Folk Tree’s exhibition–and then promptly forgot about it, in the midst of the hubbubbery of the weeks that followed.

As I don’t really have much profundity left in the tank for today–but would like to light my candles for the occasion, all the same–I’m going to go ahead and let loose with it, sans further revision. I think the point it makes is a sage one, and after having been heartwarmed by the wonderfully invested and encouraging reception in Pasadena (Including the sales of at least three of my featured pieces!), its basic premise ring-a-ding-dongs with a taste of truth. 

Mr. Lou and I have recently been kicking around the great question of artistic identity and credibility in relation to the “muerte arts” in the comments section of this fine blog, with one of the primary nuggets of discussion relating to my recent struggles to find a “resting place” for my work, especially in light of the upcoming holiday. I thought I’d take his kind offer to run with editorial talking-stick and expand on that experience a bit, as well as a few other related scattershot thoughts that I’ve scraped together on the topic.

As I’ve mentioned in my own blog, I’ve been graced with the chance to exhibit my work at The Folk Tree in Pasadena this year, which—for me—is equal parts homecoming, as well as the fulfillment of an artistic mission. For my dollar, there exists no other folk art entity so devoted to the betterment not only of international practitioners of the “dia de los muertos” art form and its numerous peer genres (Oaxacan sculpture, tinsmithing and native Mexican woodworking, for example), and my own interest in the craft can be traced back to the many afternoons that I spent there, wandering the aisles and staring, slack-jawed, at the curios on display*.

So with that duly noted, it may be a bit shocking that The Folk Tree was NOT my first choice, in terms of display queries… though not for the reasons that might immediately come stampeding forth. The blunt fact is that I didn’t think my work was good enough to sit alongside shelves reserved for the ofrendas of actual native artisans, jockeying for attention alongside the works of the contemporary Linares clan; this wasn’t due to some lapse in artistic confidence—not this week, anyhow—but rather the ongoing, craw-boning issue that I find myself facing as a self-identified Russian-American white guy who happens to be deeply and personally invested in what is, objectively speaking, an wholly “repurposed” form of international art.

It’s tough to talk turkey on this issue without feeling like I’m somehow struggling towards qualifiers**, honestly. It isn’t something that sits heavily on my conscience or which I try to infuse into my works; I love calacas because of what they represent in their most essential form (and because they’re one of the few forms of raw artistic expression that I’ve ever been truly good at), not because I’m deeply invested in the related trappings of sociopolitical stances and commentary. For me, the act of creation is a self-contained one: I sculpt for the sake of sculpting, and—more often than not—leave the conclusions to be drawn by the people who stop to take a look at the resulting work, be in in realtime or in the virtual arena.

This sense of autonomy is a luxury, though I’m prone to forgetting that… until reminded otherwise. This was the proverbial “tale of the tape” through late August and early September, as I went through the motions of contacting five or six local, Seattle-area folk art shops, and inquiring as to whether or not they would have any interest in including my calaveras with their dia de los muertos displays***.  In every case (Save for two whose business licenses require that they only sell legitimate import work), the initial contacts resulted in an expression of interest, all of which quickly dried up the moment that it was revealed that I was not only local, but not Hispanic. This wasn’t overtly or explicitly stated at any point (Hell, most of them just stopped responding to e-mails the moment that the cat was out of the bag), but the general feeling had a familiar kind of weight to it. In a sense of summary:

“Good for you, but that’s not really our thing…”

Now, let me take a moment to get the nines straight, in terms of this thinking. I don’t actually have any sort of issue with it, in bare principle; if the modus operandi of an individual who runs such a business is to exclusively show the work—whether based on appreciation of certain aesthetics, or a sense of investment in the international artistic community—of Hispanic artists, then that’s exactly what they should be doing. The highest possible function of an art gallery or folk arts importer is to expand their customers’ exposure to—and understanding of—outsider forms of expression, whether indigenous in nature or simply alternative in their creative aesthetic. And given the unparalleled amount of investment that this region provides for its Native artists, it’d be a qualified oversight to imply that the gallery culture, as a whole, was somehow lacking…

… but that doesn’t really do much to address the fact that the majority of the calaca-related pieces that are offered by these dealers have the care and craft of a deep-fried cerote****. I’d have absolutely nothing to get wound up about if the shelf space reserved for ofrendas and calaveras were being put to proper use, showcasing the creative fruits of legitimate bonesmiths: instead, they’re clogged up with dime-quality sweatshop garbage, overpriced and sloppy “worry-men” style skeletons, and the prerequisite liquid clay-injected catrinas, all obscenely “marked up” due to the fact that they’re “imported,” ostensibly from somewhere that’s, you know, not within driving distance. That’s worth at least a 35% gouge, right?

So, I don’t know. What this is all wending towards is the big question of what really constitutes a “legitimate” practitioner of dia de los muertes-related crafts. To look around Seattle, one can’t help but to come away with the overbearing sense that the city’s “profile” for a legitimate muerte artist—at least in terms of gallery and show cred—requires an appropriately exotic pedigree (or at least an address near Sonora), in order to make the cut… while in Southern California—the cradle of Chicano creativity, the greatest diaspora of Latino culture in this entire country and the epicenter of the Mexican-American rights movement—it’s the quality of the work that wins out, rather than the color of the artisan’s skin.

The brushstrokes being applied here are naturally broad, but it makes me thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been provided with. I love my city of endless rain and glorious gloom, but I won’t weep for the fact that there’s no support for what I do here: I’ll simply kick on like a tumbleweed, and send my little bonemen and bonewomen off to a sunny place where who I am is of less importance than the love I put into my work*****.

 

 

*This year’s show did not disappoint, in that regard: if you were to artfully smash up the eccentric fun of the Honeyduke’s candy shoppe from the Harry Potter flicks with some of the finest alebrijes and ofrendas imaginable, you’d get a good sense of just how cool this exhibition was. A huge nod of gratitude and mild awe to Gail Mishkin for what must have been an absolutely exhausting organization process.
**Much like some whiskey-tanned Arizonian who sports plenty of tarnished silver and turquoise and talks about the Latinos and Res folks that he’s “friends with” while casually voting Republican. It’s an absurd #whitepersonproblem, but is–nevertheless–something I find myself tussling with, routinely.
***The majority of which are basically the same displays that are up for the duration of the calendar year, with the addition of some slap-assed, poster-paint “DIA DE LOS MUERTOS!” sign tacked up over them. Having spent the recent holiday weekend cruising the Olympic Peninsula–and being staggered by the beauty of the tribal art galleries that are peppered along the main inroads between Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks–this bit becomes even more mortifying.
****There were only two exceptions to this apparent rule, both of which are nestled within the confines of the Pike’s Market sprawl (and both of which deal in quality goods, regardless of the season). At the very least, I can nose up all this highfallutin disgust by noting that Seattle’s most high-profile purveyors of Oaxacan goods saw fit to rise to the occasion in an appropriately festive fashion.
*****Which, in another note of ironic hindsight, may include at least one high-profile outlet on Olvera Street. In keeping with the unspoken trend of this trip, a casual conversation about las calaveras with the shop’s owner turned into a potential consignment opportunity. If there was an issue with my lumbering around the joint looking like an un-sunned sasquatch who happened to have Mexican folk arts on his resume’, then it certainly didn’t rear its head as an issue du jour.