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Artisan accents at Aztlan Home Décor
Artisan accents at Aztlan Home Décor
by John Griffin - SGN Contributing Writer

Aztlan Home Décor, at 1427 Western Avenue, in downtown Seattle is named for the mythic paradise from which the Aztecs were expelled when they started their wanderings, and it is a reminder of that perfect place that has been created here. Far from the souvenirs familiar to tourists found in the traditional market places, the inventory is nevertheless reminiscent of those handicrafts for the traditional themes and techniques that are represented in the superlative quality items to be found in this store. The artisans who create these works have transcended that status to become true artists.

The owner, Antonio López, was born in Mexico City but grew up in the Gulf Coast State of Veracruz, where he lived mostly in the capital city of Xalapa (or Jalapa, famous for the Jalapeño pepper named after it). Although his life is here, he feels quite close to his family - which is now divided by great distances - and is grateful for their supportive attitude. While his father ignores the fact that he is Gay, their relationship remains good. His brothers in New Jersey accept him for who he is, but his sister (a physician in Mexico City) and his mother keep the warmth of the family relationship a vital part of his life. He also maintains a close friendship with a cousin with whom he attended primary and secondary school, through e-mail and telephone communication as well as occasional visits.

It was in Xalapa that he attended the university, earning a degree in economics.

During that time, Antonio was able to pursue an outside interest while he fulfilled his language requirement by studying German in high school and college and taking Russian at the university. The latter he has found useful here because of the influx of Russian immigrants in recent years. He had studied English while growing up, being a requirement for all students in Mexico through high school, but never acquired conversational skills. In college, there is a long waiting list for English classes, and his interests were well satisfied by enrolling in other programs. Because of the numerous texts in English that were required for his major curriculum, he felt well enough prepared in English.

During his first year in the United States, Antonio learned how very different the spoken language is from what he expected, but living in southern California, the option to speak Spanish was always there. Quickly enough he gained a proficiency in the language, which allowed him to put his economics degree to work and continue in the banking industry, which began at Banamex, and later Banco Bilbao Viscaya in Mexico. Starting as a teller, Antonio succeeded, working his way through the ranks to become a branch manager for Bank of America. He eventually became a securities broker, and was the head of a Bilingual Investment Center in Fresno, California.

It was while he was working in the banking industry that Antonio came to Seattle and attended the Banking Management College. He was looking for a change and a friend from Seattle, who he had met in Mexico City, invited him to come here. That friend, Eric, was a wallpaper designer, and he ignited the spark of interest in the arts that eventually would culminate in establishing Aztlan Home Décor.

Antonio's friend Eric later died from complications from AIDS, a factor that strengthened his community involvement. Among other things he has participated in the Lifelong AIDS Alliance 5K Run. Whenever he can support the Gay and Lesbian community he is anxious to do so, often he donates items to charity auctions, and hopes he will be able to do more. "Helping them will be like thanking Eric for inviting me to come here," Antonio said. He is also very active in the Hispanic community, supporting numerous community and cultural events, and he teaches Spanish at the Lucy Lòpez Center in Kent.

It's easy to be impressed by Aztlan Home Décor. Only opened in July, it has the look and feel of a well-thought-out endeavor. "I am very proud of & the GSBA recognition that I got as New Business of the Year," Antonio states. The store's website (www.aztlanhomedecor.com) explains what it is about as well as anyone could:

"Aztlan Home Décor, a Latino company, works directly with a Federal Fund created through The Office of Social Development, to promote human social and economic development in the artisan community by bringing the finest handcrafted home décor products to the Pacific Northwest from all regions of Mexico.

"The shared mission of the fund and Aztlan Home Décor is to support the artisan community of Mexico, contribute to the improvement of their living standards, stimulate production, preserve the values of their traditional culture, techniques and designs, link the artisan's creativity with the consumer and secure the position of quality artisan products in the national and international markets.

"Each purchase is a far-reaching transaction that provides sources of self-employment at a higher income for the traditional artisans who often live at poverty levels, generates consistent economic resources, helps to develop new designs and promote efficient trade strategies that stimulate the artistic and cultural sense of the traditional handicrafts as a fundamental element of the national identity.

"The shared mission of the fund and Aztlan Home Décor is to support the artisan community of Mexico, contribute to the improvement of their living standards, stimulate production, preserve the values of their traditional culture, techniques and designs, link the artisan's creativity with the consumer and secure the position of quality artisan products in the national and international markets."

Thinking of the fund established by the Mexican government's Office of Social Development. Antonio says, "We would like & to participate in different programs throughout all of South America, for example. [And] be part of that & commitment to help the artisans continue to work."

The shop is filled with exquisite, unique works of art from all over Mexico, and those who visit the website's catalogue must remember that they may only be able to purchase similar pieces. The items are all of excellent quality and begin in price at under $20, though they can run into the thousands of dollars. There is a wide variety of crafts represented by the best examples of their individual techniques. There are tapestries from Hidalgo that portray native motifs and ceramics from Chihuahua that use traditional design elements to create completely new works of art. In some of the tilework, one can see an influence of colonial Spain and the earlier influence from Islamic Spain. The highest artistry from Tonalá and Oaxaca is found in pieces that will be recognized by any tourist that has visited those areas. Gigantic urns from Cucuchucho, intricate lacquerware from Morelia, and enormous pineapple-form lanterns from Zinapécuaro are among the many things that represent what I consider my "home" state of Michoacán. The array is very impressive. Even more impressive to me is the fact that instead of emphasizing greater commercial production and ignoring the impact on the culture and environment, the government in Mexico is trying to perpetuate the traditional crafts and culture and protect the environment by encouraging processes that use natural ingredients. At the same time, the artisans are being encouraged to develop as artists, without necessarily producing exactly what their ancestors did.

You don't need to wander for generations like the Aztecs did. Aztlan can be found just below the Pike Place Market, on Western Avenue.

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