Carmella Padilla is the author of The Work of Art: Folk Artists of the 21st Century, a breathtakingly beautiful tribute to the first decade of the International Folk Art Market, to all of the artists whose long journeys brought them to Santa Fe, and to the ways that folk art honors, changes, and brings economic and cultural renewal to people around the world. I sat down with Carmella at the Market last month to talk with her about the challenges and rewards of researching and communicating these stories, including profiles of many artists who are part of the ClothRoads online marketplace and community.
The Work of Art Project
The Work of Art project was initiated by IFAM co-founder and creative director Judith Espinar, and Padilla’s ten years of experience with the market as a volunteer and publicist, along with an accomplished career writing about the arts and culture of New Mexico, made her an ideal candidate to work with a formidable catalog of artists, background material, and photographs. The result, published by IFAA Media in conjunction with IFAM, is an oversized volume that takes the reader on a global journey filled with intimate stories of artists and culminating in a stunning 60-page gallery of folk art masterworks. But the book is far more than eye candy and human interest; Padilla uses the context of the market and its artists and sponsors to make a powerful case for folk art as an important vehicle for sustainability, education, women’s empowerment, economic improvement, and preserving cultural heritage.
That heritage has enormous value, Padilla says. “There’s a quote in the book from Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest, where he talks about the loss of languages at an alarming rate. When you lose language, you lose a central way that a community communicates their cultural and spiritual values and the way that they identify themselves. In this book I look at folk art not as a substitute for language but another communications tool. I call it a visual language. Through this we learn about cultures and societies that have been expressed for generations. If we lose them we lose a huge part of the world’s cultural heritage, the intangible cultural heritage that talks about ritual and value systems. We like to talk about diversity a lot but this is real diversity in terms of this market and the expressions of these folk artists. You can’t get any more diverse in handmade traditions or cultural history.”
To write the book, Padilla explored the market’s archives of ten years of detailed applications and statements from artists, conducted personal and email interviews, and reviewed thousands of images with the book’s photo editor to select about 200 for the final cut. While both men and women are well represented among the book’s artist profiles, some of the most moving stories for Padilla are those of women transcending rigid cultural limitations and extreme poverty by using their creative skills and traditions. “For women living in societies where they’ve endured a lot of gender inequity for their whole lives, the opportunities that this kind of work gives for creating economic independence, personal affirmation, and growth is extraordinary.”
A Few Profiles
Rangina Hamidi, an Afghanistan-born woman who grew up in the United States and returned to Afghanistan to form Kandahar Treasure, a cooperative of more than 350 embroiderers, is one of these stories. Though not an embroiderer herself, Rangina leads by promoting and developing markets for the women’s exquisite work. Even after losing her father to a suicide bomber, Rangina continues to work for the betterment of Afghan women through craft. “Rangina’s project is just one example of women making their way as they can in a society that doesn’t always acknowledge them as providers,” Padilla says. “And she’s an example of what happens a lot in this market – there are folk artists in the marketplace but not all have the skills to be entrepreneurs. Partnerships with people who have those skills are pretty vital.”
Another profile in the book will be familiar to ClothRoads fans – that of Nilda Callañaupa Álvarez, founder and director of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in Peru.
“Aside from directing the center, Callañaupa is internationally known as a textile scholar, lecturer, and author of two books on Andean weaving traditions,” Padilla writes. “At home, she is a beloved cultural warrior whose artistry and advocacy have knit new meaning into the lives of some six hundred weavers, including young Peruvians who are returning to tradition and benefiting from her dream.”
The Folk Art Market Bridge
In all, The Work of Art is a truly remarkable, elegant, and comprehensive celebration of the makers of beautiful handmade objects and the timeless, priceless values that they encompass. As a tribute to what began as a one-time event and is now the world’s largest folk art market, it shares the market’s commitment to excellence, community, and beauty.
For Padilla, a native Santa Fean, the book is opening doors that expand her reach as a writer and explorer from New Mexico to international art forms and cultures. “It’s been an incredible educational journey,” she says, “and I’ve made incredible friends.” The book’s lovely dedication speaks to those profound friendships:
For all the world’s folk artists
In whose hands beauty speaks
In whose hearts history beats
In whose minds the ancestors meet
Through whose eyes the whole world sees.
Note: Currently, The Work of Art is available only from folkartmarket.org. Other retailers will follow.
Contributor Elaine Lipson is a writer, editor, artist, textilian, and cultural omnivore who developed and writes about the concept of Slow Cloth.