Friday, June 1, 2012
Very slowly but oh so very surely the window at Pop Craft is being filled with paper flowers by local artist Lucreccia Quintanilla.
For the Popcraft window she is going back to the first creative objects that she ever made. They are paper flowers for wreaths - a craft that she learnt from her grandmother in El Salvador where she spent most of her childhood.
Here is the beautiful story behind the piece:
We watched telenovelas* (mexican soapies) and furiously wrapped the delicate wires with thin strips of crepe paper and home made glue scooped out of a tin with a paddle pop stick, my grandmothers long and strong nails colored in a glaze of green. Shallow and large baskets full of long reams of carefully hand dyed paper cut into long streamers of rounded petals to one side, stems to the other. During long and warm afternoons we would sit there and work surrounded by free roaming chickens who would naughtily often stray towards us from the courtyard and shit inside. The atmosphere infused with the smell of cheese sold at the front of the house by my enterprising grandmother as well.
This is how I learnt that my grandmother and grandfather had met at the village church as my grandmother sang in the choir and my grandfather Papa Manuel played the organ. Mama Salva dressed in mourning surrounded by baskets of colour all round. The single flowers were woven together to make small crowns for first communions and arrangements for weddings.
But mostly I remember people came to my grandmother after a family member had passed away and they left with beautiful, large and colourful arrangements. For these wreaths each flower was dipped in paraffin wax. My grandmother never saw this aspect of her line of work as being morbid or dark. It’s a cultural thing, I guess. It was more a matter of decoration, of remembering, of honouring. Natural flowers died and plain paper ones dissolved into soggy papier mache. My grandmothers’ paraffin wax coated flowers lost colour but the rain never dissolved them. They lasted a while and faded slowly in the most dignified of fashions. In the margins of all this romance lurked my Tia Lupita, the youngest and last child remaining in the family home family of six children. She was feisty, and contemporary. A teacher, a cumbia singer and single mother. Glamorous and bejeweled. Tia Lupita’s youth and rebellion around the home manifested itself in an almost obsessive preference for plastic flowers. They crept up all over the house like weeds reminding my grandmother that her business may well become obsolete soon. Robot produced roses with thick and shiny plastic petals and polyester tulips and daisies. So much colour and variation, such durability. Moulded perfection.
About 20 years later my friend Hana Shimada turns up at my door from Sydney with an enormous plastic flower hanging arrangement. One of a series of hanging sculptures Hana had created herself. To me they were so reminiscent of my grandmothers more triangular creations. In Hana’s sculpture the flowers carried with them a certain sassiness, the sexual aspects of the flowers swelling right out for all to blush. Hana had never know about Jocoro the small town in El Salvador and my grandmothers flowers. It blew me away and I took it as an omen. I could even smell the cheese.
Back to my grandmother though. The thing about any craft is that it becomes a testament to a certain kind of intimate relationship. One has to have learnt from someone and more often than not this someone is a family member... and quite often a grandmother. In my case the passing down for me has, over the years, become tangible evidence that there was a life before this place where I now live. I often stumble across people who don’t understand how a place or a culture so far away can still resonate to the here and now. But as I sit here making these flowers finding the skills coming back so naturally, with my own take on the paper version of the craft, in Carlton in 2012 listening to music and checking to see if its time to pick up my son from school I cannot see how it can be otherwise.
Thankyou Lucreccia. It is such a pleasure having you at the studio. Looking forward to having you in again next week for some more flower power.
See also an interview with Lucreccia over at the Pop Craft blog.