Some 15 km above the city of Patzcauro, where we are based in central Michoacan, lies the much smaller and quieter village of Santa Clara del Cobre. A village with a long, not always easy, history with the production of artisanal copper vessels and ornament production.
In 1536, our earlier friend Don Velasco, realised that the use by indigenous peoples of a nearby supply of copper ore could be the basis of wealth creation for the community that the Spanish, in good conquestidor fashion called Santa Clara, after the Clair nuns to whom he gave the income from any copper production in lieu of a stipend.
Presumably this became an early form of value added as local skills were enhanced and items were produced that could displace the need for imports from Spain. During the following years of independence, revolution, land reform and booms and depressions the village fortunes have ebbed and flowed. Today there are artesans producing fine items of copper over fires, but many of the cheap copper items for sale in the nearly endless stalls and shops might well be made in Guadalajara.
There is a most excellent museum with jaw dropping displays of copper art, see also top banner:
At times the difference between what could be purchased and what skilled artists had made was especially striking.
It was also hard to imagine where all the customers are to support the small stores, as one does many times in Mexico. In a discussion with our cook at lunch time we expressed surprise at the number of help wanted signs outside stores. She pointed out that the wages are often just too low to attract anyone – between perhaps 100 and 140 pesos per day [$8 to 10]. The sheer competition tends I suppose, to depress prices that can be asked and hence wages – quiet apart from street vendor competition with even lower overheads. Various national holidays and fiestas must be important drivers of tourism, but Michoacan does has a reputation for cartel violence that contributes to keeping tourist visitors low. One young sales clerk did comment that their year had been low and even la dia de los muertos weekend had not been as good as they had hoped.
We especially enjoyed this sign on a decent sized walled church yard:
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