Bev Schmidt and Steve Morrell
Our love affair with folk art began in 1977 during our first trip to Mexico as a couple. We were in Mexico City in one of the government sponsored craft stores where we saw these fantastic natural clay dolls. They were three feet tall and covered with clay flowers and small animals. The salesperson told us they were made in Oaxaca City. We were heading to Oaxaca so now we were on a mission to find these dolls. The owner of the hotel in Oaxaca told us they were made by Teodora Blanco in Atzompa. We took the local bus and arrived in this town of adobe homes on unpaved roads. We found the Blanco home and we were greeted by this tiny woman with her hair wound around her head in a braid wearing a clay covered apron. She spoke no English and we spoke very minimal Spanish but we managed to spend the whole afternoon sitting on her steps “talking” away. We purchased 8 small “dolls” and vowed to return sometime in the future in hopes of purchasing one of her larger dolls. We did return a few years later and she remembered us and greeted us with hugs. When we told her we hoped to purchase a large clay lady she told us she didn’t have any. She led us to this dark storage room where there were 8-10 ladies on the floor. She told us they were going to a museum in Texas. When she saw the obvious disappointment on my face she tiptoed through the collection, picked one up and said “this one is for you”. She proceeded to wrap it in chicken feed bags and off we went. We travelled with that 3ft doll through Mexico and Guatemala. Miraculously it arrived home without a nick.
Several years later we saw an article in National Geographic about Nelson Rockefeller and his love of folk art. There was a photo of our friend Teodora! He loved her work and was an avid collector. The article also stated that Teodora had recently died. We did not return to Atzompa for about 15 years. We went back to see if her family was still living in the same house and continuing her work in clay. We met her son Luis, who was now a grown man with a family of his own. We told him of our experiences with his mom. His young daughter was intently looking at me the whole time. She disappeared and returned with a tattered family photo album and flipped through the pages and stopped saying ” is this you” and lo and behold there was the photo of my young self with my waist long braid standing on the steps with Abuela Teodora and our large clay lady. We had sent the photo to Teodora by mail after our visit many years ago and often wondered if she received it. So now we were” family” and we have remained so over the years. We have spent many Dia de los Muertos with the family helping them decorate Theodora’s grave. We feel privileged to be part of their family
We continue to travel to Mexico and other countries gathering folk art along the way. We have many cherished pieces from the elite of Mexican folk art. We display everything throughout our home in Connecticut. We change our displays frequently while we dust everything off and remember all the wonderful experiences we have had collecting all our wonderful pieces.
We have been to the Folk Art Market in Santa Fe several times and have met several of the artists that we purchased art from in the past. Visiting the market in July is a wonderful experience not to be missed. Thank you for all you do to keep folk art alive.