Since falling in love with the art quilting world more than a decade ago, I’ve seen thousands upon thousands of quilts. Despite the fact that each one is unique, I’ve noticed some themes and motifs that attract quilt artists repeatedly: nature, the sea, faces and memories of loved ones, and geometric shapes (especially squares and circles) are some of the most prominent.
Culture is another major inspiration for art quilters, and the culture of one country in particular stands out: Mexico. Rich with color, pattern, texture, and symbolism, Mexican culture is ripe for interpretation by art quilters, especially those with a mixed-media bent who like metal embellishments.
Jane LaFazio, whose talents range from painting and drawing to quilting and mixed media, often uses Mexican colors and motifs in her artwork. Jane is a frequent contributor to Quilting Arts Magazine and Cloth Paper Scissors, and also joined me for two segments in Season 3 of “Quilting Arts TV”. With her upbeat personality and wide range of artistic talents, she always attracts a crowd when she joins our team at Make It University! with Cloth Paper Scissors at International Quilt Festival, too. She readily agreed to share her thoughts on how Mexican culture inspires her artwork.
Q. How did you discover Mexican motifs and culture?
A. In 2000, my husband I visited San Miguel de Allende for the first time. I was captivated with everything I saw! The wooden santos (carved images of saints), the silver and tin Milagros (symbolic charms), the brilliant flowers against the brightly colored walls, embroidered clothing, terracotta pots and sculpture, the ornate beauty of the religious ceremonies and traditional festivities. When I returned home, my art changed. I had to create what I’d seen in Mexico.
Q. What about Mexico attracts you as an artist?
A. I’m very taken with the symbols and icons used in Mexican folk art. The Milagros, especially the heart shapes, the hand imagery, the Tree of Life…I love the warm colors of Mexico; cochinilla (a dye that creates many shades of red), indigo blue, and all the yellows and oranges. The cityscape in the form of colonial architecture, heavy doors with peeling paint and brass door knockers. The colors of the buildings! Turquoise, purple, and green! The woven textiles of rugs and shawls and belts. Love it!
Q. Is there inspiration beyond Frida and Day of the Dead?
A. Oh yeah! Inspiration can be found in the ceramics, sculpture, painted wood carvings, embroidery! Just the variety and style of flowers could provide inspiration for years. I love the pre-Hispanic symbols, from the Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Mayan culture. I’ve created images and carved stamps from the Molenillo (wooden Mexican chocolate stirrers). Oh, and don’t forget papier-mâché!
Q. How do you incorporate these colors and textures into your art?
A. I use all of my tools and techniques to evoke the vibrancy of the culture in my art. I bring in symbols and imagery with carved stamps, hand stitching, and drawing. Color comes primarily from fabric–especially something very bright and tactile like woven textiles and felt–plus fibers and paints. A lot of the texture comes from embroidery, appliqué, beading, and metal embellishments in the form of wire, embossed tin, and charms. Pulling all those elements together in one piece is what brings the vibrancy to life.
Q. How do you keep the Mexican spirit alive when you’re back home in your studio?
A. When I’m working in a Mexican theme, I draw from my journals kept on trips to San Miguel, Michoacán, and Oaxaca. I also have a collection of books featuring Mexican traditions and imagery that inspires and reminds me. Whether I’m creating a Tree of Life on paper with watercolor, collage and stitching or an art quilt made from Mexican-themed fabric and imagery, beads and Milagros, I always have a font of inspiration.
Wow, Jane, now I’m inspired to pull out all the bright fabrics and embellishments in my studio and get busy creating a south-of-the-border-style art quilt. Let’s hoist a margarita to Mexican culture. Happy Cinco de Mayo!