A very pink house
The start of a chilly Edinburgh spring was time for one of our regular buying trips to Mexico. March is a great month for visiting Mexico City; the rainy months haven’t yet kicked in and the day times are warm and sunny. We were there to work, but it doesn’t hurt to have a spot of decent weather!
We caught up with old friends, stocked up on our favourite products from several of our family-run suppliers and found some spectacular new ceramics and jewellery from some amazing, talented artisans.
A margarita or two…
We also tried a margarita or two. For research purposes only.
Pachycereus Marginatus. Mexican fence posts are very green
We’ll have to wait a few months before the main stock arrives by sea from Mexico, but the floral jewellery is already in the Edinburgh shop.
Real flower pendants, set in resin with silver
A Frida pendant, with real flowers
Hand decorating a plate
In the studio
Work in Progress
Brightly decorated ceramic Sugar Skulls
Terracotta lamps. Pierced to let light shine through
A Pre hispanic style statue
Hand painted tiles
We did decorate the skulls but they were eaten before we could snap a picture!
Last week at Caoba Towers we had a crack at making sugar skulls in preparation for the Day of the Dead. We used silicone moulds that we bought on line and ready-made fondant/sugar paste (Mary Berry may not approve, but we love the stuff). If you search online for tips on making your own sugar skulls you’ll find lots of instructions for making a sugar paste, but many of them say don’t try making the paste on a rainy day as it won’t dry hard enough. They clearly don’t live in Scotland. As I said, we used ready-made fondant.
There are some fabulous examples of sugar skull making online; Pinterest has some particularly fine pictures and how-to tutorials which you can adapt to suit your own environment.
This week we tried a different method of skull-making; pumpkin carving.
Carved pumpkin decorated with acrylic paint
Any good illustration can act as a guide for your paring knife and paint brush. Leave the pumpkin bare or paint on a decorated skull using opaque acrylic paint* as we did here.
If you’re feeling more decorative than creative then sugar skulls in various media are available at Caoba, in store and online. We have Alexander Henry fabrics by the metre or made up into aprons and cushions, papier maché cocktail sticks, skull and skeleton wind chimes and more.
Alexander Henry Blue Sugar Skull fabric available from Caoba
*NB if you want to eat your sugar skulls DON’T use acrylic paint, it is most definitely not edible.
These days not having an online presence, whether as an individual or as a business is a rare thing. Indeed the difference between the two can sometimes be blurred. The internet can open up the world behind a business, humanising it.
Fresh from its packaging, our new nichos from Mexico, as seen on Instagram
Over the summer Caoba has embraced the social media world, adding Instagram to our social media palette, joining Facebook, Pinterest and this blog. Sometimes we want feedback, often we post pictures, useful shop and product updates, occasionally we just mutter to ourselves. But we always share our enthusiasm for where we are (Stockbridge, Edinburgh) and what we do (sell lovely stuff, mostly Mexican).
Margarita tasting at Caoba. Facebook update for Stockfest 2014
On Facebook we share pictures of our beautiful Mexican products and invite you to send us photos of your Caoba-inspired projects.
Caoba kitchen tiles in action on Pinterest
Pinterest acts as one giant mood board. Inspirational rooms, patterns, people and places. Instagram gives you a little behind-the-scenes insight into Caoba life… Days out, new displays as they are being created, the odd daft moment…
Two heads are better than one
We don’t have a Twitter account. Not yet anyway…
While demand is currently riding high for local, ethically sourced, fair traded products, we at Caoba have been working hard to be all those things since we opened in 2001. As a small, family-run business with a Mexican focus, we take pride in supporting similar small enterprises in Mexico, meeting the business owners and importing directly to ensure fair working conditions and prices.
We have often been told our greetings card range is one of the best in Edinburgh (thank you!) and yes, some of the range does come from Mexico. But with so much artistic talent on our door step we love being able to present the work of local, Scottish artists in a constantly changing selection. Artists with a particularly Scottish outlook; reflecting our beautiful scenery, or our Scottish dry wit… Here is a small selection of our Scottish cards, in store at the time of writing*:
Wet Yeti. Not as abominable as you think.
Scottish sayings from Psychopants
Cards by artist Kittie Jones
Landscape by Clare Arbuthnott
Card by Stockbridge artist Anne Denniss
Roger Takes a Walk on the Wild Side by Anna Wright
Earlier this month one card in our window in particular caught the eye of a customer, who shared it on Facebook. It’s the closest we’ve ever come to “going viral” and it clearly reflects everyone’s love for our city.
“If you’re lucky enough to be in Edinburgh… You’re lucky enough”
Mexican silver rings
One of the fun tasks in the Caoba shop is polishing the Mexican silver jewellery. The silver seems to buff up extra sparkly and it gives me a chance to try on all the rings. The additional sparkle comes from the slightly higher-than-normal silver content. While sterling silver must by law contain a minimum of 92.5% silver, Mexican silver is usually around 95% pure. As a guarantee of the high quality we get all our Mexican silver items weighing over 7 grams assayed and stamped .925 at the Edinburgh Assay Office.
Mexico is one of the world’s largest silver producers, with silver being commercially mined in the country for the last 500 years. In the twentieth century an American architect, William Spratling settled in Mexico and began designing and selling homewares and jewellery made from locally sourced metals. He worked with local goldsmiths and artisans to spawn a regional industry that continues to the present day, boosting the local economies and encouraging the valuable tourist trade.
Mexican silversmiths at work
A highlight of our regular trips to Mexico are the visits to these workshops and selecting the bracelets, bangles, earrings and necklaces to bring back to Edinburgh. These are handmade pieces, with no one item identical to another, making much of our range hard to find elsewhere in the UK.
Pots and panchos outside Caoba
A while back, as I was placing the chimeneas and pots outside the shop, a passer-by remarked on the negative perception she had of the Pancho figures in our display. I don’t like not having an answer so I looked into the Pancho’s back story. Happily, as it turns out this lady’s concerns are not shared by the craftsmen who make these resting figures.
Pancho is in fact a Campesino, a Mexican farmer or farm worker. They typically start their long working day early to avoid the heat of the sun. Our Pancho statues represent these campesinos taking their hard-earned siesta before heading back out into the fields, shielded from the sun by their traditional wide-brimmed hats.
A painted campesino taking his well-earned siesta
These terracotta Pancho statues are proudly made by Jesus, working out of his small workshop in Mexico, where he also produces circles-of-friends for us. Each figure is hand made, some of them painted, some left undecorated. The terracotta wide-brimmed hats, representing vital protection from the heat of the Mexican sun here in Edinburgh serve as effective bird baths, collecting rainwater… We can bring you many delightful items from Mexico, but we can’t change the Scottish weather!
Mexico’s Day of the Dead actually takes place over two days; All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). There are many images associated with the celebration, some we’ve already mentioned.
One of Caoba’s favourites is Calavera Catrina, the Skeleton Dame or Elegant Skeleton.
A retablo featuring Posada’s Catrina. From a range at Caoba
She originates from the beginning of the 20th century as a creation of the Mexican illustrator and satirist José Guadalupe Posada as a mocking representation of the Mexican
middle classes (and was said to bear more than a passing resemblance to the wife of Mexico’s then president). Much of Posada’s work was influenced by his contemporary, the lesser-known artist Manuel Manilla, but his famous series of satirical skeletons has embedded the character of Catrina as a Mexican icon, closely associated with the country’s national and cultural identity.
Caoba, Edinburgh carries a range of Catrinas represented in various forms; from greetings cards to fabric and most beautifully in a ceramic form almost too fragile to look at.
While researching the Catrinas I came across this article at huffingtonpost.com. It’s a comprehensive look at the Day of the Dead and makes fascinating reading if you want to learn more.
If you’re looking for that distinct item to top off a great present for someone special, or just a little something for yourself, you’re sure to get something that no one else will think of at Caoba.
Caoba specializes in Mexican items, mostly silver jewellery, tiles and ceramics, the pieces are handmade and will no doubt be very popular with whoever you buy them for.
The shop also sells authentic Mexican tinned food, so if you are looking for something to top off a Mexican food night, and you want something more authentic than the usual mass market Mexican food that you find in supermarkets, then you are sure to get something here that will go down a storm. A little while ago, a friend of mine had a Mexican themed birthday party, and had bought a lot of things from Caoba for it – things like pickled cactus (and you’d be amazed at how tasty cactus is!), green sauce, and mismatched tiles to use as coasters – and it really did go a long way to making the night into something very special.
Caoba has other small items, such as paper maché ornaments and some hilariously cute birthday cards. I like the Lucha Libre wrestling masks, but can’t think of any cause to have one! It’s definitely a place that I would recommend to buy someone a present from.