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Los Hermanos
 
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Campesinos, Atitlan, by Mariano Gonzalez Chavajay
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Up ] Healer ] Curandero ] Operation of a Death Squad ] Operaciones de una Esquadron de Muerte ] Village Life ] Vida de un Pueblo ] Sibling Rivalry ] Rivalidad entre Hermanos ] Calendar Round ] Long Count 2012 ] Edgar's Story ] Anthropolgist & Weaver ] Ixtamer ] Ixtamer Español ] Lorenzo ] Lorenzo Español ] Mariano & Matias ] Mariano & Matias Español ] [ Mario ] Pedro Rafael ] Pedro Rafael Español ] Victor Vasquez ] Victor Vasquez Español ]
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  Text of the booklet that accompanied the exhibition Maya Traditions in San Francisco: summer of 2011
   
In 1988, on my third trip to San Pedro la Laguna, a Maya town on the shore of Lake Atitlán, I asked a woodcarver friend to take me to visit some of the Maya artists who lived there. One of the five artists that I met that day was Mario Gonzalez Chavajay. Earlier that day, he’d taken his paintings across the lake to Santiago Atitlán to sell to one of the galleries that cater to tourists who arrive daily by boat from Panajachel. So he had no finished paintings available to show me, but he’d started a couple of small canvases. I wasn’t particularly taken with any of them, but he seemed so intent on selling me something that I finally bought one for 25 quetzales (about five US dollars). It was incomplete, but he promised to finish it in time for it to dry before my departure from San Pedro.


For Mario this was a momentous occasion – his first direct sale to a tourist, and for nearly five times the amount the galleries paid him. Mario’s father often went on drinking binges, spending most of the money he earned as a house builder, leaving the family to live on what was left over. So, like most poor campesino families, they subsisted on tortillas, rice, and beans. It wasn’t until nearly twenty years later that, with tears in his eyes, Mario would tell me how my purchase that day had allowed him for the first time to go to the market and buy an orange and a small piece of meat for his mother. Mario now knew that he could earn a living through his painting.


It took me much longer to realize how significant our meeting had been, and that ultimately Mario would become a leading Maya artist. At the time I bought the painting, I had no intention of becoming a promoter of Tz’utuhil painting. That would come later. After I’d collected about sixty paintings, I decided to have an exhibition and, as an afterthought, I sold a few of them. This started me on the road to promoting the Tz’utuhil Maya artists.


Every year when I returned to San Pedro, I would visit Mario and, to encourage him, I’d sometimes buy a painting. But his colors looked muddy and he wasn’t as careful an artist as his brother, Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay, whose work I loved. This rather distant relationship with Mario continued for about fifteen years.


By then I’d become close friends with Pedro Rafael, always staying at his house when I was in town, and Mario would often come to visit his brother. One time, Mario complained to me that the galleries in Santiago wouldn’t pay him enough to do anything original. Creating an original painting would take him three times longer than simply copying a canvas he’d already done, but the galleries wouldn’t pay him any more for it. Worse, within a few weeks, other artists would have copied his composition, and it would be selling in all the galleries. So Mario was reduced to repeating the same dozen pictures that galleries demanded – steady tourist merchandise. Still, after years of painting for the galleries, his colors had become pure and brilliant, so I offered to buy any original themes he wanted to paint, and at a far better price than the galleries paid. Thus began a close relationship between the two of us.

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  Campesinos, Atitlan, by Mariano Gonzalez Chavajay
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. The galleries cared little about quality; they paid according to size and sales appeal. This caused somewhat of a problem between the two of us. Every month Mario would calculate how many paintings of each size he needed to paint for me in order to support his family. What I cared most about were originality of subject matter and painterly quality, but I couldn’t get him to slow down and improve his brushwork. At one point, we stopped working together for about six months, but we soon worked out a better arrangement: I’d pay him a monthly salary, and he could paint however many paintings he wanted. This way he could devote more time to each canvas, and the quality of the paintings would improve. With enough money for his family, he can pursue his themes and imagery as they unfold.


This relationship only works because of a trust level between the two of us. I know that Mario works hard, painting for maybe ten hours every day. For his part, Mario knows that when his paintings command a higher price, his salary will increase. His output is impressive: in 2009 Mario completed over forty paintings.
Feeling that he was ready for the next step, I encouraged him to spend more time doing larger paintings rather than the small- and medium-sized canvases. This show is a result, featuring some of his finest work to date. As an artist, Mario Gonzalez Chavajay continues to grow in mastery and imagination, dedicated to his craft and to his culture.

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LINKS TO SECTION PAGES
Up ] Healer ] Curandero ] Operation of a Death Squad ] Operaciones de una Esquadron de Muerte ] Village Life ] Vida de un Pueblo ] Sibling Rivalry ] Rivalidad entre Hermanos ] Calendar Round ] Long Count 2012 ] Edgar's Story ] Anthropolgist & Weaver ] Ixtamer ] Ixtamer Español ] Lorenzo ] Lorenzo Español ] Mariano & Matias ] Mariano & Matias Español ] [ Mario ] Pedro Rafael ] Pedro Rafael Español ] Victor Vasquez ] Victor Vasquez Español ]

To contact us write: Arte Maya Tz'utuhil, P.O. Box 40391, San Francisco, CA 94140.  Telephone: (415) 282-7654. Email me at

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