In May of this year, 12 Master of Industrial Design (MID) candidates from the Pratt Institute led by Professor Rebecca Welz, had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the town of Malinalco, Mexico, where they collaborated with 13 local artisans to design and fabricate their projects. Each artisan/student pair spent full working days brainstorming, conceptualizing, designing, sourcing and finally fabricating a variety of products, from tabletop to furniture pieces.
Challenging in many ways, it became an incredibly enriching and educational experience for everyone involved. It was a simultaneous exchange of thoughts, knowledge and interests and a walk through the creative process, with two points of view, hand in hand. It was a human experience, which situates the designer in a very humbling and real place—one that is long way, both geographically and figuratively, from a Brooklyn classroom.
Text by Etty Beke
Malinalco is a small town located two hours southwest of Mexico City. It is a charming tourist destination, which features the only monolithic Pre-Columbian structure in Central America, the Cuauhtinchan sanctuary complex. As you enter the archaeological site on a typical bustling weekend (weekdays are incredibly quiet in this town), you will run into dozens of little stands selling local crafts. This is how the artisans make a living: Selling leather bracelets, small woodcarvings of mushrooms and humming birds, and handmade books, among various other things. Many of the artisans also join the annual local wood carving competition, where they make larger scale sculptures and sculpted traditional musical instruments. They are incredibly talented and love their craft, even if it often means barely making a living.
Most of the artisans who participated in the Malinalco Project are master woodcarvers, but the locals also included carpenters, weavers and jewelers. The wealth of knowledge and respect towards their craft, marked with a deep sense of humility, was evident from the very moment we met. The particular wisdom and sensibility, a rich inheritance from their Aztec traditions, was also present in their interests and thought process. Through their work, the artisans represent and interpret the natural world surrounding them, with layers of meanings and a system of symbols that has been passed down through generations. As we, designers and artisans, brainstormed on product ideas, we looked for new applications, in form and function, of each artisan's craft. Our path involved working with both abstraction and representation, with surface treatments and variation in scale, as well as new uses of materials and techniques.
The products that we created illustrate the mix of concepts, cultures, materials and traditions that make each piece so unique. Looking ahead, the Malinalco Project hopes to promote the livelihood of these artisans and their traditions through this newly established collaboration. From the very beginning, the mission of the project was not only to build a relationship over the course of the immersive two-week experience but also to provide an opportunity for artisans to reach new markets and establish a new source of income.
1.) Etty Beke & Mauricio Rodríguez - Light Artifact (Cedar wood, volcanic rock, steel & bone)
2.) Lisa Dudley & Oscar Cabrera - Imatlapalsi (Fresno wood)
3.) Bradley Ferrada & Gary - Templo (Pine wood)
4.) Aldana Ferrer Garcia & Carlos Saánchez González - Especieros (Cedar wood & bone)
5.) Sean Fogarty & Marleny & Camelia Reynoso - Cuna (Steel, hand woven rebozo)
6.) Nadine Foik, Angel García & Daniel - LOMA modu (Cedar wood, istle natural fiber)
7.) Desiree Guedez & Rosa Martínez Inclan - Panal (Istle natural fiber & pine wood)
8.) LiLi Jackson & Santiago Miguel Salamanca - The Malinalli table (Steel, cedar wood, gold leaf & glass)
9.) Keith Kirkland & María Acosta Torres - El Contorno (Steel & polyester nudos fabric)
10.) Asli Ozcivelek & Sergio Vázquez - Fruit Boat (Cedar wood)
11.) Carolina Pabon Escobar & Juvencio Beltraán - Tenabari (Cedar wood)
12.) Anthony Villanacci & Enrique Landeros Hernaández - Bonbon (Fresno wood)
13.) Rebecca Welz & Claudia Nieto. Floating Spheres (Steel)
We would like to thank the artisans, Malinalco's townspeople, Casa de Cultura and Proyecto el Rincón for their kindness and hospitality. This project wouldn't have happened without all of you.