Formed by three friends with the mission to celebrate and draw attention to Mexico's artisan craft and culture, Collectivo sources beautiful handmade goods directly from Mexico's metropolitan hubs to remote indigenous villages. Together, Vail Fletcher, a professor of gender and environmental studies, interior designer Jessica Helgerson, and Cristina Niculescu, a travel-loving Spanish professor, are passionate about sharing the traditions and stories behind these one-of-a-kind handmade crafts and bringing them to a wider global audience.
This season, we excitedly welcomed Collectivo in to our Schoolhouse Art Studio series with our first ever limited-run light fixture: The Bartolo Pendant. Meticulously made by hand, the stunning clay shades are crafted in the San Bartolo Coyotepec town of Oaxaca, Mexico by a single family of artisans. Thrown on a potter's wheel and then cut by hand, the pattern projects an ethereal dance of light and shadow. Each clay shade has been polished by hand with a smooth stone to create its distinctive black sheen, an aftereffect of a unique wood-firing process developed in the 1950’s by Oaxacan potter Doña Rosa. Read our interview below with the women behind Collectivo and see an exclusive video of how the Bartolo pendants are made.
Tell us about the concept of Collectivo. How did it start and what are the hopes for the company?
“A love for Mexico, its culture, and adventure: that’s what drew the three of us together. We’d heard some negative ideas about our neighbors to the south and decided to head down there, look for some of the most talented artisans and share their beautiful work with our communities here in the US in hopes of building a deeper respect and appreciation for Mexicans.”
What kinds of wares does Collectivo offer?
“Woven home textiles, upcycled jean jackets, hammered copper, pottery, market bags, we’ve fallen in love with all of it! The richness of Mexican art is really incredible and indigenous people have been mastering their craft for centuries, handing it down from generation to generation. Collectivo joins the slow fashion revolution and we want to grow the market for exceptional handmade pieces.”
What makes the Bartolo pendants special? What might the average eye not see about the art, time, and design that went into creating them?
“One unique thing about Bartolo is the special black sheen it takes on after being hand-polished with a smooth stone or piece of metal. It looks like a glaze, but is just a natural process of wood-firing. A potter named Doña Rosa developed this technique in the 1950s in Oaxaca and artisans have been perfecting it ever since. These pieces are made by a father, mother and daughter team in their studio in San Bartolo Coyotepec and it’s inspiring to see them work side by side.”
What space do you envision the Bartolo pendants living in?
“These pieces feel modern and traditional at the same time, so they could really shine in so many different settings. The meticulously cut designs cast such fine shadows on the walls and ceiling when lit! This whimsical light/shadow dance could work beautifully in a small bathroom, nestled in a sweet reading nook or a cluster of pieces would be lovely over a kitchen island. These pendants are exquisitely one-of-a-kind.”
What’s been the most fulfilling part about the cross-cultural collaboration that’s taken place through Collectivo?
“Getting to know so many families of artisans and building relationships with them has truly been amazing. We want to support indigenous women, so we make an effort to work with collectives of artisans who are doing incredible work in their local communities: things like mobile libraries, water catchment systems, textile recycling and so many other projects that they’re driving independently. We learn a lot from these communities and are excited to continue our collaborative relationships, sharing some of that experience with folks here in the US in ways that hopefully deepen the connection that binds us.”