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History


Introduction

From ghost town, Santa Ana Zegache converted itself into a town that struggles against its own reality. Every inhabitant has three to four relatives who, faced with daily tragedy, work in northern soil in search of the American dream or, if possible, human dignity. Today, Zegache is one of many Oaxacan towns in which the few who remain wait and all who leave take risks.

As a society, Zegache continues to be rooted in its traditions and customs. It is fortunate to have a seventeenth-century Dominican church holding an artistic and historic legacy of incommensurable value in its interior. Mural paintings from different eras cross over its walls, twelve Baroque altarpieces from the eighteenth century, two holy-water fonts held by majestic angels of gold- and silver-covered stone, a collection of mirrors with estofado frames, antique manuscripts from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, a large number of highly aesthetic religious paintings and sculptures.

 

The master painter, Rodolfo Morales, saw Zegache as being invaluable. He dedicated the last part of his life to recuperating and restoring its church. However, he never saw all of the ideas motivating his philanthropic vision — to preserve its artistic heritage and revive the region’s former vocations — completed.

Nevertheless, he created the Zegache Community Workshops to benefit its villagers. At the project’s initial stages, he was able to provide the townswomen (those who wait) with a vocation which would make them responsible for taking care of the town’s legacy. By saving architectural elements and artistic surfaces, they also participated in restoring the town’s essence, its function as spiritual, social and cultural center.

 

Despite many obstacles, the Zegache Community Workshops were reactivated in 2004. With help from the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, La Curtiduría and Mr. and Mrs. Sandretto, we were able to increase its membership.

Nowadays, both men and women form part of the work team, responding to a migrant town’s reality. Regardless of sex or age, entire families now decide to “opt for” the obligation to go north.

The Community Workshops attempt to sensitize Zegache’s inhabitants to the love of and care for what is theirs. In the face of changing governments and power abuse, they have recuperated the richness lost over the years and conserved the cultural worth they have always possessed.

 

Through master painter Morales’ spirit and Professor Manuel Serrano’s valuable assessment, we have restored three Baroque altarpieces from the eighteenth century belonging to Zegache’s town church, but there are still nine altarpieces to rescue. In order to achieve that, ten different frame designs, based on the eighteenth-century originals belonging to the church, have been reproduced and are available for purchase. Around 50 of these pieces were found totally abandoned and in a deplorable state of conservation in the church’s storage rooms, but which have now been stored properly to preserve them.

In 2000 — the last year of Morales’ life — the restoration work done on these mirrors inaugurated the physical space of the workshops, located in one of the church buildings, which was previously rehabilitated by the artist’s foundation.

 

It is said that the mirrors were hung up high, between each altarpiece, all along the church’s nave for the practical purpose of illuminating it. Nowadays, the Zegache mirrors are used to adorn the traditional December altar dedicated to the Nativity.

The mirror, which is very significant in our culture, originates during pre-Hispanic times with Tezcatlipoca (smoking mirror). The god of night used a mirror to look at men’s hearts; later, the Christian tradition deemed the mirror a symbol of spirituality. In Catholicism, the mirror is also related to a divinity which reflects humans’ imperfection. One can still appreciate reminiscences of this double culture in the mural painting dating from the seventeenth century in the Santa Ana Zegache church.

 

Thanks to this project, many vocational skills are being recovered: mural and easel painting restoration, wood carving, carpentry, application of gold and silver leaf, as well as hand embroidery (by local craftswomen). In this last category, the older women of the village participate enthusiastically, working from their homes, where they create cushions with the figure of these beautiful mirrors.

In 2004, The Zegache Community Workshops obtained a grant from the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, with which we were able to restore the Virgen del Carmen altarpiece. In 2006, we received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, in order to restore the Virgen de Guadalupe altarpiece, while simultaneously completing 100 reproductions of 18th century mirrors. This gave work to 12 of the community's young people, who were trained in carpentry, application of gold-leaf and restoration. These mirrors were exhibited at Mexico City's "El Atrio".

 

In 2007, thanks to another Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation grant, we were able to restore the Dulce Nombre Jesús altarpiece. The same year, the artist Demián Flores joined the project, and put together three groups of well-known artists — 70 in total — who performed an "Intervention" on the original design of the 18th century mirrors' frames. In addition, two other groups performed "Interventions" — 15 young Oaxacan artists and eight graphic designers — and each artist contributed a small-format mirror.

The original collection was acquired by the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation in 2008: with these resources we were able to restore the fourth altarpiece, La Crucifixión. We were able to establish a monthly payment scheme for 20 employees over the course of a three-year contract.

 

The mirror collection has been exhibited three times at Galería Casa Lamm, as well as at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, Museo Regional de Colima, Galería de Arte Mexicano, as well as at our own Espacio Zegache formerly located in the Taller Gráfica Actual in Oaxaca. Other exhibitions have been held at Museo de Arte de Querétaro, Museo Regional de Guadalajara and Galería de Arte Contemporáneo de Xalapa.

We have also started a program called "Adopte un Migrante que Rescata una Obra de Arte" (Adopt a migrant worker, Rescue an art work) with the help of grants from the Sandretto family, Dr. Germaine Gómez Haro and the actor Pedro Armendáriz.

Georgina Saldaña Wonchee
Director
Zegache Community Workshops

Translation by Rowena Galavitz