Colectivo Cuanari (Luceros de la Mañana)
Textiles and Utilitarian Ceramic Objects
The Colectivo Cuanari (Luceros de la Mañana), which in Purépecha means “Morning Stars”, is led by their president, María Elvia Silva Bartolo. The artisans reside in a tiny pueblo, Zipiajo, in the state of Michoacán. Cuanari has 56 full-time artisans and 8 part-time workers. All the textile workers are women and the majority of the potters are women as well.
The colectivo (cooperative) produces well-made cross-stitch blouses and shirts as well as primitive pottery, both utilitarian and decorative. These traditions go back many generations, and they continue to work in much the same way as was done by their great, great grandparents. Elvia, the president, understands the importance of continuing to recruit younger artisans and she has been successful, particularly with women. She says that the pottery work is hard and dirty, thus making it difficult to recruit the younger generation. However, she has made the commitment to try to find additional ways to earn money, so that it is more attractive to the younger members of the tiny community to choose working as artisans.
About 30 years ago, Elvia promised 80 of her elders to continue with the traditional technique of firing in the earth and thus, the do not use kilns. They make simple, but very popular pots for cooking as well as decorative pots in the form of deer, rabbits, turtles, armadillos, squirrels, etc. Their work in clay is simple and lovely, yet inexpensive and accessible to all buyers.
The textile designs often come from nature —wildflowers for example. The blouses and shirts are embroidered on cotton muslin (manta), primarily off-white, but also in colors. The quality of the work is exquisite and the men’s shirts are very handsome.
For the pottery, members of the collective find their clay in the ground at a local ranch and use sand also found nearby. They used wood to fire their clay, but due to deforestation, have gone back to an old tradition of using cow dung which, as Elvia explained, provides many “surprises” in color and texture in the finished product. They fire their pieces in the ground.
The Colectivo Cuanari is unique in their ability to remain unified in purpose, and to work cooperatively over the years. Although each artisan works in their own home, they meet twice a month to ensure progress and to discuss issues. Also extraordinary and unique is that collectively they have decided that any time one of their members wins a prize, the money is shared — 50% of the prize goes to the artisan who made the piece and the other 50% goes to the entire cooperative. They also have a store to sell their items in Zipiajo. Again, profits are shared. They have an excellent reputation with government entities due to their ability to work in harmony.
The cooperative’s work has won national, regional and local awards. In Michoacán, at the festivals during Easter week and Day of the Dead, their work sells quickly. The Feria is honored and thrilled to invite this tiny community to share their lovely traditional work