(The Work Team)
35" x 57", oil on canvas.
Mariano Gonzalez Chavajay
Theme—common; Execution—original and exceptional.
Three themes stand out as being the most popular themes by the Tz’utuhil artists—picking coffee, picking cotton and the night market. Artists produce these themes by the thousands in small quickly painted versions for the tourist market in Santiago Atitlán. Picking coffee is the most popular theme of these themes, and Mariano González Chavajay creates its largest and most beautiful representations. This particular painting is significant because it was likely the first where Mariano pioneered a technique of making the coffee berries raised. This gives the paintings a textural feel which almost demands that you touch them. Although coffee plantations look like the painting with the coffee plants often grown as an under-story of other trees, the plants grow in a gangly manner rather than in the decorative manner in which Mariano and other Tz’utuhil artists depict them.
Coffee is the crop which (until recently when the bottom fell out of the market) provides the Mayan campesino families with most of the cash they earn during the year. Any campesino who has a little extra land beyond what it takes to grow their corn for the year, probably has it planted in coffee. The coffee plants are grown for several years in a protected environment before they are planted out. The coffee harvest begins in December and January during the vacation time for the schools so whole families pick the ripe coffee berries. Although in the painting there is a man with red pants from Todos Santos and a woman with a black corte [skirt] from San Antonio Palopó, the traje [dress] of rest of the people in the cuadrilla indicate that they are from Santiago Atitlán. We can therefore assume this coffee plantation is near Santiago Atitlán. Picking remains the same as the time depicted in this painting, but woven plastic rice bags are now universally used in place of the burlap bags and the baskets worn around the waist. A bag full of coffee will weigh more than one hundred pounds and the trip to town can involve a walk of several miles over mountainous terrain. The buyers in town now have a machine which looks like the drum of a large music box which revolves to mechanically remove the fruit from the outside of the coffee berry.