!El Maestro! It has got to be the pinnacle of coolness to be greeted as Maestro, Spanish for teacher, master, a title of extreme respect in this case. It seems as though nobody calls famed Mexican artist Francisco Toledo by his name. He is a man of small stature but colossal presence. Toledo walks the streets of Oaxaca in rumpled clothes and well-worn huaraches. On top of his head sits a mass of unruly white hair. He appears to be but an average man, however, he is a man of far from average importance in his home state of Oaxaca. Suffice it to say, he is a BIG deal around these parts. As an artist he is celebrated, as a human being he is respected for his gifts to his community and for his out-spoken defense of human rights. He is a man of significant wealth which he shares with his people via numerous humanitarian works. These include museums, libraries, historical preservation projects, and artists workshops that act as both schools and thriving businesses employing numerous people from the local community.
Today he entered the show room of Studio Xaquixe ( sha-kee-shay) in Magdelena Apasco, Etla to a hush of respect. Only the master glass artist calls a salutation…. !Maestro! None of the other 4 gaffers spoke a word. Toledo was dropping off components for some pate vere metates that he is designing in collaboration with Christian Thornton, a fine art glass maker at Xaquixe. Metates are an ancient stone grinding platform that is still used today to grind corn into masa. They are symbolic of all that is Mexico. These massive pieces of glass are formed using a sand casting method. The sides of the piece are left with a gritty ancient looking surface similar to the volcanic stone originals. However, viewed from above, what would be the grinding surface is polished transparent glass through which curious images can be seen embedded deep within.
What Toledo has brought today is an amazing tablet of glass with graphic colored glass images arranged on top. Above this are carefully laid two magnificently detailed fish each about 6 inches long and made from crystal clear sheets of mica. All of these components will be a part of the cast glass metates. Mica is a favorite material in Toledo’s work. On a prior trip I remember seeing a collection of other shapes in mica done by the artist including a set of foot prints made using a tracing of the bottom of his feet. There were no finished pieces for us to sneak a peek at during this visit to the studio. There were 3 metates that had not yet been polished, the secrets hidden within the glass still to be revealed.
I did not speak to Toledo. We made eye contact for a brief moment in which I could see deep into his black eyes as he looked deep into mine. It seemed as though he had taken a moment to consider me as I had considered him. That was enough, I felt his energy and it was indeed awe inspiring.