On my recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, another extraordinary woodcarver, Zeny Fuentes and his wife Reyna welcomed us to their studio in San Martin Tilcajete. About 80% of the 1500 villagers are woodcarvers. The tradition began years ago when poor people made toys for their children out of wood. Zeny is a fourth generation carver and very well respected for his work.
Most carvings are made of several pieces of copal wood that are joined with small finishing nails and glue. Carving and assembling a small figure can take several hours to days to complete. Then it is sanded. Painting the piece is the final step and most time consuming. Acrylic paints in bright contrasting colors are typical. Reyna paints Zeny’s larger pieces with designs rich in symbolism. She represents the elements of nature: sun, moon, earth, water, fire and wind.