Arrazola, La UniÃ³n Tejalapan, and San MartÃn Tilcajete are all known for their wood-carvers, yet La UniÃ³n is by far the prettiest, as well as the most remote. A collection of adobe houses sparingly dot the hillside, separated by milpas (corn and bean fields). Nestled in foothills of the Oaxaca valley, La UniÃ³n is culturally different than the other carving villages.
Most woodcarvers who come from La UniÃ³n are farmers who maintain a self-subsistence, made possible by good rainfall. Following the customs of the region, carvers still grow their own food, carry their own water, and herd animals as did the previous generations. Since the area does not usually get any tourists, carvers must take their wares to into Oaxaca, a one-hour bus trip that entails fording a wide, shallow river.
Reynaldo Santiago and his three brothers are part of an older generation that maintains a traditional and unique style of wood-carving. AlthoughÂ he has kept his authentic style, Reynaldo Santiago has only recently traded the charm of aniline dyes (traditionally used) to paint with acrylic paints that offer long-lasting durability.
Reynaldo’s pieces are wonderfully expressive, and have a delightful primitive quality about them. The basic shape of each figure is carved from Copal wood in a few days and then hand-sanded and meticulously painted in great detail to give each piece a personality that shines through its wooden visage. Reynaldo himself is of the land, and his figures seem evoke the same quality. They are of the land itself — nothing commercial about them — they simply are what they are: earthy, raw and beautiful.