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AMAZING SKILLS, ANONYMOUS ARTISTS WORK OF MEXICAN MASTERS ON VIEW AT NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM.

Byline: Jennifer Errico Staff Writer

Folk artists are often overlooked in the established art world, but when you see the magnificent clay jaguars by Alberto Bautista Gomez or the intricate silver designs of Ignacio Punzo Angel, you might wonder why. The eye-popping works of Angel, Gomez and more than 100 other Mexican artists are now being showcased in ``Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art From the Collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex,'' a rich and colorful exhibition at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

``Say 'grand masters' to an English speaker whose family lineage is European and it evokes Da Vinci, Rembrandt,'' said Bill Wood, assistant curator of anthropology at the museum. ``In Mexico, it is different. When we learn about fine arts, we look to Europe; in Mexico, the artistic tradition is in their indigenous people and culture.

``Why are these people great masters?'' Wood said. ``They are the soul of tradition, yet they are everyday people. They come from all walks of life. From the desert to shantytown, they show their middle-class dress or their ingenious dress. These are people who wear their identity.''

But these everyday people are also gloriously gifted and among the greatest living folk artists, as evidenced by the 400 works on display. Each piece - whether it be in clay, leather, stone, metal, fibers, paper or ``found'' objects - reflects the region and heritage of its creator, providing insight into rituals and festivals, work and home life.

One technique that turns heads in the gallery is the feather work of Gabriel Olay of Michoacan. Olay creates what look like paintings but are instead sculptures made from feathers. Olay learned the centuries-old craft, which dates from pre-Columbian Mexico when it was used as adornment, from his grandfather and is one of the few ``feather painters'' left in Mexico.

Equally wonderful are the wood carvings of Leandro Espinosa Gutierrez of Papantla, Veracruz. He employs different woods to sculpt everything from flowers to animals to nativity scenes.

``The Skeleton Bread Vendor,'' by Mauricio Hernandez Colmenero of Guanajuato, is made of paper that is cut, pasted, molded and painted into the shapes of a skeleton, a devil and an angel riding a bicycle together.

This may not be a typical ``great masters'' exhibition, yet the art on display seems familiar, especially with the serapes, papier-mache skulls and clay pots.

``At the exhibition, people can really see a mix of Mexican folk art,'' said Maggie Galton, coordinator of Fomento Cultural Banamex. ``What you see in hotel lobbies is not a true craft of Mexico. We want to show them the true artists.''

GRANDES MAESTROS: MEXICAN FOLK ART

Where: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through Jan. 4.

Tickets: $9. (213) 763-3466 or www.nhm.org.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) ``Cat'' (1997) by Manuel Jimenez Ramirez of Arrazola, Oaxaca, in wood.

(2 -- color) ``Fridas'' (1995-98) by Guillermina Aguilar Alcantra of Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, in clay.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 23, 2003
Words:518
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