Listening to Anne Damon of Lynnhurst's describe the results of her regular buying trips south of the border, you're liable to find yourself lost in descriptions of splendid Mexican cities and art emerging from hidden campesino houses like so much buried treasure.
See photos (at right) of some of the folk art Damon found on her recent buying trip to Mexico.
She may bracket her tales with comments like "really, I can't think of interesting things that happened," as she did in a recent interview with Patch, but Damon's tales of silversmiths hammering away in whitewashed, hillside cities like Taxco de Alarcon sound like the stuff of great adventures.
A Folk Art Bloodhound
Perhaps one reason Damon is so modest about the content of her trips is that she's . At this point, Damon said. it's just part of the job to trek through the hills around, say, Morelia, jumping from tip to tip until she finds a particular maker of catrins, the skeletal figures associated with Day of the Dead.
In Mexico, folk artists and traditional art forms have deep, deep roots. It's not too unusual, Damon said, to find artists whose grandparents and great-grandparents were in the same trade, perhaps even making the same kinds of ceramics or sculptures. Some, Damon said, she finds at art fairs, but many she'll visit in their homes after hearing snippets of information about a particular artist's work.
"I've spent maybe half a day looking for someone," Damon said, laughing. "A lot of Mexican towns—these are in small towns—don't have paved roads, and they're in the mountains, so it takes a long time to get anywhere. Then somebody says 'Go straight and turn right,' then someone else says 'Don't to turn right, turn left.'"
When she finally arrives, though, the reception is always the same.
"The people are very friendly everywhere—it's always 'Would you like some coffee? Do you want to sit down?' It's like doing business anywhere, I suppose," she said.
Each visit can be very different from the last, with Damon's suppliers coming from all walks of life.
"I never know what I'm going to walk into"
Some artists' homes, like those around Morelia, are relatively affluent. Others can live in neighborhoods and regions of the country that are shockingly poor.
"I didn't go to Chiapas on this trip," Damon said, referring to a region in Mexico near the Yucatan Peninsula known for its textile art. "But there, it's really amazing how people can live and create these beautiful textiles in an environment that's beautiful physically—it's up in mountains, the clouds are low, everything is green and lush—but the homes are not like homes we have in the us. They're very, very modest. The people are poor."
As a former public health nurse, Damon said that she has to sometimes rein in old instincts when she finds herself in a situation like that.
"Humanitarian aid is a really complex issue. You know, are we doing the right thing when we go in and do things for poorer people in another country and "help them" from our perspective? I try not to get into that," she said. "This is a business for me, I'm trying to purchase things that people in Minnesota will love, and that will benefit the people of Mexico because I'm purchasing from them directly. There's no middleman between me and the artist, and I pay the prices they ask."