Featuring: Steve Thompson and Louis Rodriguez of DeSilva Imports
Our work has brought us in contact with inspiring people throughout the U.S. who share our love of Oaxacan folk art and wish to preserve and promote these traditions.
Here is the story of two remarkable friends of FOFA: Steve Thompson and Louis Rodriguez, creators of De Silva Imports based in the Los Angeles area. They have been generous donors to FOFA for several years and featured FOFA on their website home page. A percentage of all sales made through DeSilva Imports’ website is sent directly to FOFA to support our projects – most recently our young artist competition catalogue “Shaping the Future: Folk Artists of Oaxaca, 2011.” Steve and Louis have also donated beautiful examples of Oaxacan folk art to our fundraiser auctions.
In their daily work, Steve and Louis — like FOFA — wish to encourage young artists to continue their family traditions and to innovate within those traditions.
In 2009, Steve Thompson wrote a memorable email of introduction to FOFA’s President, Arden Rothstein:
I started DeSilva Imports with my partner Louis Rodriguez in 2005 when I became ill with Crohn’s Disease. I did it out of a love for Latin American Folk Art and Culture. I was in the middle of my career as a bank manager. The doctor put me out of work twice on short-term disability, and then finally on permanent disability in 2003. I was 37 at the time. It was kind of a crushing blow. I have a rare kind of Crohn’s, and with the advances in medicine and treatments I am doing really well now. I look fine, and I feel ready for the world. And I want to give back to the world some of the blessings that I have received.
The experience taught me a valuable lesson: that I really need to use the time granted me to create something that I truly love and feel passionate about. One of my bank customers had given me a beautiful wood carving from his home in Oaxaca. I had always wanted a store, selling works from around the world. After some research I came across your amazing and inspiring book, “Mexican Folk Art from Oaxacan Artist Families.” This served as a great overview on the artists of Oaxaca. (Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!) I made my first trip to Oaxaca, armed with a list of artists’ addresses. The taxi driver was impressed that I had done my research, but I was just plain excited! I fell in love after visiting with the artists in their homes and learning their traditions. Having Tlayudas and homemade hot chocolate in an artist’s home with a dirt floor kitchen only furthered my intrigue. I think this became my focus at that point…not to just create a business that I could do from home and support myself in returning to being a productive member of society, but to share the stories of these beautiful people and do my part to help keep these traditions alive.
We still have a long way to go. We are just starting out, and learning more and more all the time. And the business continues to grow little by little. And in this economy, that is what I am most thankful for. I talk to the artists in Oaxaca all the time, and I can feel the desperation in their voices at times. I hired our very first taxi driver to help me with orders, and he keeps me up on the struggles that Oaxaca continues to have with the decrease in tourism, the loss of income, and the social struggles. I wish I could do more, but I am thankful for at least being able to call each time with a brand new order. I talked to one of the artists, and learned that she was thrilled to receive the money that I sent, as she had to pay for her daughter’s schooling costs. Just knowing that my business is doing some sort of good keeps me going, and striving to achieve more and more.
DeSilva’s Remarkable Development
A recent email of February, 2012 traces DeSilva’s remarkable evolution.
Recently, we find ourselves supplying folk and fine art from Latin America to several galleries and stores. In addition to our online sales, we have begun touring different areas in the U.S. with exhibitions and sales in galleries and museums. The really great part of this is also bringing artists from Mexico to the shows, and allowing them easier access to the market here in the U.S.
Jesus Sosa Calvo [a woodcarver from San Martin, Oaxaca to whom FOFA introduced Steve and Louis] did a wonderful job with the demonstrations he did for us here in Los Angeles. We had fun with him again when he returned to give demonstrations to school kids in San Francisco. We also love working with the younger generation of artists, and creating fans of folk art among the younger generation of consumers here in the U.S. We believe this is one of the essential elements in preserving these beautiful traditions, in getting the next generation involved and committed. Another mission that has gained importance in our lives is giving back to the communities where we work.
We are most active in Oaxaca and in the Northern Mexican village of Mata Ortiz. In Mata Ortiz, we concentrate on education programs with the young, and with food and basic necessities for those in the community. We currently are sponsoring a literacy program to bring up the reading skills of primary school students. We also work in encouraging the younger generation of potters to continue developing their skills and interests.
In Oaxaca, we decided to concentrate on the young generation of artists, and encouraging them to keep practicing their incredible artistic traditions. To this effect, our involvement with FOFA has been a blessing, and we look forward to supporting many more projects in the future! We are currently planning an exhibition at a gallery in San Francisco during the month of November that will focus on the younger generation of artists in Mexico. Hopefully we can find ways to manage costs, and bring several young artists in different mediums from Oaxaca to San Francisco for the exhibit.
Great things lie ahead, and we are thrilled to be a part of FOFA!
Steve Thompson + Louis Rodriguez of DeSilva Imports