I met Juan Garcia Alfaro almost two months ago. I turned around one day to see that there was a new jewelry artist setting up shop along Calle Guanajuato. I had never seen this artist and walked up to introduce myself. Juan held out his hand in mutual respect and we shared the universal handshake of friendship. He introduced me to his son who was helping in his booth. Geronimo, his high school aged son, sat enjoying the comradery of the Ashland street artisans. What struck me instantly, beside the kindness in this man, was the excellence of workmanship shown in the jewelry under the glass display cases. The words that instantly came to my mind were authentic, classic, and hand-wrought. “This guy”, I said to myself, “is a real pro”. Juan, his wife Rachelle, their son Geronimo, and the newest, baby Esperanza, are new to the Ashland area and excited to make the Rogue Valley their new home. Welcome, Juan and family, to the Lithia Artisans Market! Here is the interview…
Marcus… You grew up in Mexico City. Can you tell us how living in the city influenced you as an artisan?
Juan… Mexico City is a cosmopolitan city—it receives such a mixture of people from different cultures and traditions. There is a rich variety of art work there. The traditional artisans have always come to Mexico City to sell their work—until the first generations of urban artists began… These first generations of urban artists—of which I consider myself a part — began to create traditionally using modern materials that the city offered to us. We created ‘urban art,’ as a concept.
I was born in the semi-rural outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico. At the age of 13, I knew I wanted to be an artisan, and began to pursue a path as a jeweler. As art school was out of reach for me I studied under Mexican “Popular”, or “Folk”, artists. These traditional artisans and their art are what first inspired me.
Marcus… Describe for us the traditional process you are talking about?
Juan… I consider myself an Artisan Silver and Goldsmith. My pieces are completely handcrafted, the only purchased item is raw silver and gold. From there, I melt the metal, deciding as I go whether to shape it into wire, sheets, half rounds, bezel, etc.. Like this I begin see where the piece will take me. From start to end, all is hand-crafted—the chain work, the clasps, the filigree, the earring backings, the leaves, the wire applications, the granulation—without machines, using very basic tools. My style of work has to do with the place where he grew up—where access to tools was very limited. I was constantly pushing the limits of my imagination to create.
Marcus… How long have you been creating your art-form?
Juan… More than 25 years.
Marcus… Your pieces are very unique. How would you describe your style?
Juan… Wow! I work in a lot of different styles. Traditional Mexican/Pre-Colombian, Contemporary, and my own version of Art Nouveau. I work with semi-precious and precious stones and I am always integrating new elements into my designs. I never make molds — each piece of jewelry is a one-of-a-kind.
My intention is to make a connection between my work and the customer—offering honest work and sincerity. I want everyone to be able to enjoy my work. The forms and designs I see in the world call upon me to give life and expression of that beauty through my jewelry.
Marcus… Can you tell me about the experience of apprenticing on the streets of Mexico?
Juan… At a very young age—like 9 or 10 years old—we were required to do artwork at my school. I had a really exceptional teacher at this time who taught us techniques for working with textile. At that moment I was trapped in a love for creating things with my hands. When I was 13 years old I decided that I wanted to be a jeweler—I did not have any idea of how to begin because there didn’t exist places nearby where I could buy tools or materials. I had to use the materials that I had around me, mostly ‘leftovers’ from the work my Dad did as a carpenter and construction worker and craftsman.
With time I decided to begin to sell the things I was making.
At this time I begin to meet ‘old school’ artists who did not share openly their wisdom and knowledge of their crafts. The only form to learn was by watching them work. I could not ask. I could only watch. After much time, they would give me some ‘tips’—not ‘classes’ but tips…of how to begin to make earrings that would sell. After these ‘street apprenticeships’, I taught myself.
Marcus… You are new to the Ashland area. Why did you choose this area to move?
Juan… We moved to Ashland because of the necessities of my family. We also believe that Ashland can be a place for us to preserve the tradition of my work.
Marcus… Where did you move from?
Juan… We moved from a place called Chalmita, in the state of Mexico, Mexico. We then spent one year in Los Angeles with my wife’s family before moving to Ashland.
Marcus… What is different about living here and doing the Lithia Artisans Market as opposed to selling your wares in Mexico City?
Juan… There is a big difference between selling my work at Lithia Market in Ashland or in Mexico City. Here at Litihia Artisans Market the process to sell is so easy, so formal, and so ‘correct’—you apply, your art is juried, you are accepted, and you can sell at the artisans market. In Mexico City, selling your work at a street market is looked down upon, especially by the government. The urban artist is violently repressed and limited in spaces for the exposition and sale of their own work. There is no ‘formal’ application process to sell your work in Mexico City. Artisans selling at markets all have to deal with corruption throughout the different spheres of government—specifically the branch of the government that is dedicated to traditional artisans.
Marcus… What inspires you when you are making your jewelry?
Juan… When I am making my jewelry, inspiration simply arrives.
Marcus… All of your jewelry are truly one of a kind pieces. What are the techniques you use when creating your jewelry?
Juan… I use no molds in my work. The techniques I use when creating my jewelry are: Filigree, Granulation, soldering, wire-wrapping, and metal texturing.
Marcus… What does your family mean to you? Is your son or wife involved in the business?
Juan… My family is the main reason that I believe in my work, they are the reason that I continue my work. My wife is my ‘quality control,’ and the ‘critic of my designs’. My son is the ‘refection of my example.’ My baby girl is my Hope.
Marcus… One of the common misperceptions in our country these days is that everyone from Mexico is here illegally. You went through the proper steps to come here legally. Can you tell us briefly what that was like and how long it took?
Juan… Our immigration process was really long and hard and costly and really created a tremendous amount of stress — not just for our immediate family, but our entire extended family. It took us about 3 years to get our green cards…and this is ‘short’ in comparison to the families we met along our ‘immigration’ journey.
Marcus… Why should people buy your art?
Juan… I offer jewelry that is tastefully created, with the feel of something made entirely by hand…very different from jewelry manufactured by companies. The people have the opportunity to see what is behind a ring, what is behind a necklace—an honest person, upholding a long tradition.
I am available to take custom orders like wedding bands. I am at the Lithia Artisans Market most Saturdays.
For more information go to … www.garciaalfaroartjewelry.com