Julio Laja Chichicaxtla &
Leobardo Espiritu Rocha
Amate - Handmade Paper
Julio Laja Chichicastla and Leobardo Espiritu Rocha are Otomí Indians. The Otomí are the fifth largest ethnic group in Mexico, and are dispersed over a five state area. Some Otomí pueblos are located deep in a remote region know as the Hausteca. These villages still retain a strong sense of traditional beliefs and customs. Their world is filled with a pantheon of invisible spirits, good and evil, which affect every aspect of life.
Many events from building a house, death, arguments with neighbors, successful harvests or even love, are explained by the presence of the spirits. The shaman use beautiful paper dolls (Dahi) cut from handmade amate paper to represent and manipulate these forces. They conduct cleansings, healings and "costumbres" (ritual ceremonies) with the "Dahi" to protect the villagers.
Although they keep alive the art of making amate, Julio and Leobardo have taken this art form to a new level. How they manage to twist and mold the paper into fantastic patterns is nothing short of amazing. Strips of the paper are braided, twisted and inserted into the design seemlessly. I have never seen anything like his work before.
The paper is, in fact, the bark of the Jonote tree that is soaked in a hot water bath with natural dyes such as flowers, ash, etc. Later the pulp strips are placed on a board in a grid form and hammered with a flat stone until the paper holds its form. Julio has developed several very interesting methods to decorate the paper with natural found objects such as seeds. He also embroiders the paper by hand and elaborately records designs representing the different Otomí gods.
In 1998, the most outstanding craftsmen of México participated in the 23rd Mexican Folk Art Show. 2017 craftsmen from 23 groups around México, including the presence of 24 indigenous groups, came together for this show. Contemporaries of Julio and Leobardo won the Grand Prize for their work in amate. This show and others like it, such as Feria Maestros del Arte in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico, attempt to preserve the cultural expressions of Mexico's heritage by developing new venues where artists might sell their work and educate the public as to the complexities involved in making it.
Four ladies involved in the Feria took a trip to Puebla and were invited to stay with Julio in his "new" house. Judy Dkystra-Brown writes of our adventure "In Search of the Maestros: A Visit to A Hidden Village of Paper Artists". We will all treasure the memories from this remarkable trip the rest of our lives. (Our thanks to Mexico Insights Magazine for allowing us access to this story.)
Watch a video about amate - just click here.
Leobardo Espiritu Rocha
If you are having problems contacting the artist, you can contact Marianne Carlson at 376 765 7485 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, however, Marianne does NOT sell the artist's work.