/About Viva Oaxaca Folk Art

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About Viva Oaxaca Folk Art

Viva Oaxaca Folk Art is based in Boston, MA, owned by Phil Saviano -- importer, traveler, photographer, web designer. It is a sole proprietorship registered in the City of Boston, MA. USA. Our credit card charges are certified and processed by Authorize.net. Our Merchant Account is with Bank of America.

A 15-Year Venture With Oaxaca's Folk Artists

Phil Saviano started his Viva Oaxaca online sales business following a trip to Oaxaca in March 1999. Previous visits in 1986 for the Christmas week Radish Festival and a return in the early 1990s for the Day of the Dead celebration left him captivated with the city. He found there an intoxicating combination of historic, Spanish colonial architecture, a cultural life that celebrated the music, dance, and food of many generations before, and the exuberant creativity of the region's folk artists. He was smitten with Oaxaca.

May 2001: Phil Saviano with dragon woodcarving by Arsenio Morales from village of Arrazola.

Phil’s sense of adventure, and the fact that travel through Mexico could be so inexpensive, led to several other trips through southern Mexico. In Merida, former hemp capital of the world, he bought a tight-weave, all-cotton hammock that served as both mattress and hotel room on the (then) undeveloped beaches along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

He slept on several of the sugar-sand beaches south of Cancun. At Playa del Carmen, he remembers waking at sunrise to see the horizon glowing with pinks and orange, as a mother pig and her piglets splashed in the foamy surf. This was when Playa consisted of not much more than a cluster of oval-shaped thatched roof houses, a stone Mayan ruin protruding from the sand, and the boat dock for Cozumel. The arrival of the fancy hotels and sleek, white cruise ships was still a decade away.

He slung his hammock on Oaxaca state’s Pacific coast, too. At Zipolite, where the 1960's beach bum, hippie scene lasted far into the 1990s, the surf was too rough for safe swimming. But at nighttime, the moon and stars were bright enough to cast sharp shadows on the sand. The rhythmic whoosh and crashing of the waves made a soothing lullaby powered by the heavens. For safer swimming and a more secluded setting, he eventually worked his way up the coast to Mazunte, which quickly became his favorite of all Mexico beaches.

April 2006: Phil Saviano with Tribus Mixes artist Neftali Martinez, at the artist's compound in Viguera.

During these years of wandering in Mexico, Phil took photos and kept journals. They evolved into travel stories about the Yucatan’s underground cenotes, about Day of the Dead festivities in Oaxaca, and about the chocolate culinary tradition of Oaxaca. In the late 1990s, he got them published in several newspaper travel sections, including The Portland Oregonian, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and The New York Post. These stories will soon be posted on the Viva Oaxaca website.

All this led up to Phil’s life-turning, March 1999 visit to Oaxaca. What made this trip different was that Phil, who had been working as a freelance writer and publicist, was between projects. He was looking for ways to generate some cash. The reason he could take the trip was that he had figured a way to fly to Mexico quite cheaply. He made a connection with New York City’s World Courier Company. In exchange for cheap airfare, he brought a package down to Mexico City for them. He then had nine days of freedom, after which he had to take another package on a return flight back to New York. From Mexico City, he had a seven-hour bus ride south, past Puebla and the Popocatépetl volcano and down through the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains to Oaxaca.

Roaming around the city, past stores displaying Oaxaca’s amazing array of colorful woodcarvings and glittering tin, he saw a business opportunity. On previous trips, his question was always “What to buy?” This time, it was “What can I buy that I can resell?” Was there a market for these cool carvings on that new website, eBay? Could it at least help pay for the trip? He took home $130 worth of wood figures, and gave eBay a trial run. Very quickly he saw promise. Though these first carvings he posted were inexpensive, and of moderate artistic quality, every piece sold at a worthwhile profit.

Two months later, he was back on another courier flight to Mexico City. Over the next two years, he made six trips down, each time venturing deeper into the woodcarvers villages of San Martin Tilcajete, Arrazola and La Unión Tejalapan Traveling alone, on a tight budget and speaking barely more than a few phrases in Spanish, Phil’s trips were a big challenge but an exciting adventure. What he lacked in conversational ability, he made up for in tenacity. He returned again and again until the artists knew he was serious about establishing a relationship with them.

September 2008: Phil and renowned potter Isabelle Castillo in town of Izucar de Matamoros, near Puebla.

The New York City terrorist attacks of 2001 put an end to the carefree world of travel by freelance courier. Paying full-fare from that point on, Phil had to curtail his buying trips to just two a year. During this period, he studied the art of website design, eventually finding steady work running sites for non-profit organizations. Around 2003 he launched his own website, moved beyond eBay, and founded VivaOaxacaFolkArt.com.

Although Oaxacan woodcarvings and tin remain his biggest sellers, Phil has expanded his product offerings to Day of the Dead art, in wood, tin and ceramics, embroidered handbags from Chiapas, and ceramic candlesticks and candelabra by the renowned Castillo family potters from Puebla state. Except for the handbags, he buys all his products directly from the artists who make them, cutting out the middlemen so that more of the cash goes directly to the talented artists who do the work.

A recent addition to the online store is a page of Mayordomo and La Soledad chocolate from Oaxaca. Blended with pulverized almonds, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar, this chocolate is deliciously unique. The memory of Oaxaca’s hot chocolate drink is something that lingers with tourists long after they have returned home from their trip. It is very hard to find it in the States, but you can get some here at Viva Oaxaca Folk Art.

15 years into it, Phil is selling to customers all over the United States, to the UK and Australia too. One thing that hasn't changed . . . he still loves his trips to Mexico.