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What is a craft? What does an artisan do?

Greetings to all the SUCESO family. We are excited to launch our blog, and what better way to do so than to dedicate our very first article to honour handicrafts and the people behind them.

Let’s start by posing the following questions: What is a handicraft? What does an artisan do? They may seem like two easy questions to answer, but the reality is that if you start looking for these answers, you will discover a new world full of history, culture, tradition, and most importantly, humanity.

The word artesanía (craft in Spanish) comes from merging the Latin words “artis manus”, meaning art and hands respectively. It is known that, despite being developed during the prehistoric era, this art continues to evolve to this day. Without a doubt, the art of crafting is one of the oldest professions in the world and, unlike many other professions, the meaning of craftsmanship goes beyond its ancient origin. Not only is this art about a job well done in terms of production, but also about a cultural heritage that artisans transmit to society by offering their knowledge, experiences, and passion through millenarian and unique objects and creations.

Tejido telar de cintura

Tzotzil woman from Zinacantán, Chiapas weaving a shawl on a backstrap loom with cotton threads.
Non-profit civil organization "El Camino de los Altos".
Photo by @anadelcamino

In addition to being beautiful and loaded with tradition and effort, craftsmanship is a story explained through a handmade object. As the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1990, Octavio Paz, defines: 

“Made by hands, the craft object keeps its maker’s fingerprints, either physically or metaphorically speaking. Those fingerprints dignify the almost invisible scar that celebrates the original sense of brotherhood. This object is both made and admired by hands. Contrary to other works of art that are consumed solely by sight, craft objects are not only meant to be seen but also touched”. 

Craftsmanship, and craft objects in particular, can be regarded as a way to bring us closer to the roots of its creator and tell a unique story from an exceptionally intimate perspective. 

Now that we know a little bit more about what handicrafts mean, there is still much to be said about the person behind these creations; the protagonist who plays an essential part in the production of an object with such a particular story. Let us introduce the role of the artisan.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word ‘artisan’ can mean

  1. adj. Made in a traditional way by someone who is skilled with their hands; or
  2. n.  Someone who does skilled work with their hands.

At first glance and in the most general sense, an artisan may be oblivious to the field of craftsmanship and the real tasks performed by a true artisan.

Bordado de cadenilla

Detail of hands embroidered on a blouse from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec Mixe, Oaxaca.
Embroidered by hand with a sewing machine with the chain technique.
Photo by @anadelcamino

At SUCESO, we strive to find the object’s source and we are devoted to products that showcase authenticity and quality, which is why we like to highlight the artisans’ work and testimonies, and to show their creations with the intention of emphasising the profession’s most human and real side. The artisan is someone who has inherited a culture, a tradition that has continued over the years, a precise handmade technique, and a way of being or, ultimately, a way of living. Nevertheless, an artisan not only inherits all of the aforementioned elements, but is constantly rediscovering and practicing them, as well as passing them onto objects by means of his or her own hands. It undoubtedly seems incredible for a person to be able to convey such an intimate story through a handcrafted object.

We must therefore recognise the astonishing work of this community and also the enormous dedication of all its authors. It is for this reason that we support and encourage all of you to stick to fair trade in handicrafts. That way we can avoid falling into haggling with quality, handcrafted products made with ancestral techniques, and to which lots of time and dedication are devoted.

Alfarera de comales

Alberta Mateo, Zapotec potter from the cooperative "Women of the Red Clay" holding a comal made by hand with red clay.
San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca
Picture by @anadelcamino

Browsing the internet, we have come across this video of a Mexican artisan telling her story in a very short and interesting way! Watch it here: 

Mini Documentales - Artesanos Mexicanos en Vimeo

We hope you enjoyed today's topic! For SUCESO, craftsmanship is an art where stories are translated into (imperfect) objects made with real dedication and passion. To put it in a few words, craftsmanship is a legacy and an invaluable lesson of culture, traditions and manners.

Bordadora Cuetzalan

Nahua woman hand embroidering a ribbon for a blouse.
Cuetzalan, mountain range north of Puebla.
Photo by @anadelcamino

See you in our next post, thanks for being here! And remember, if you liked it, don't forget to share!

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