In this story I’m switching gears to Central Mexico. Two months ago while traveling through Pátzcuaro region in the state of Michoacán I visited a magic little town called Santa Clara del Cobre. Since the Pátzcuaro region is mostly populated by the Tarascan or P’urhépecha people whose ancestors originally settled here in the 12th century, even during pre-Hispanic times many small towns in the area have been known for specific traditional trades functional to this day. Santa Clara del Cobre is one such municipality famous since pre-Columbian era for its masters of copper craftsmanship, with P’urhépecha coppersmithing skills superior even to Zapotec people of Oaxaca, the only other indigenous Mexican group that excelled in metallurgy. After the Spanish arrived, local people had adapted some European coppersmithing techniques and further advanced their industry, diligently passing down their skills to new generations. Dominating in copper crafts during colonial times, the town of Santa Clara del Cobre continued to thrive well into the 19th century at which point the industry almost collapsed due to major economic slumps in the region. It was revived again in the 20th century and especially in 1970’s thanks to the efforts of an American artist and sculptor James Metcalf and his Mexican wife Ana Pellicer who opened and operated a studio there. Today once again most of the population of Santa Clara del Cobre is employed by coppersmith trade with 250 registered workshops around town producing about 450 tons of copper each year. For this photo-story I photographed the workshop and techniques of the wonderful master coppersmith Rafael Zarco Soto and his workers. These guys can really create any item from copper imaginable – from bathtubs, sinks, and kitchen utensils to furniture and even delicate jewelry.
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