Las Manos: Distinctive Art of Mexico and Latin America


By Marti Gacioch

When Juan Carlos and Cecelia Brito decided to open their Las Manos del Artesano gallery in 2004; they decided to showcase only the best of Mexican and Latin American cultural pieces.

The couple wanted to stand out from other La Jolla galleries that emphasize paintings. While Las Manos does offer some watercolors, the gallery focuses more on carvings in wood and stone, alabaster lamps, as well as papier-mâché, silver works, jewelry, pottery and apparel.

The Britos travel to Mexico three to four times a year to visit the many artists whose works are represented in the store. “Our pieces are handmade, which takes double or triple the amount of time for an artist. We don’t bring in the usual tourist items; we try to bring in museum-quality, collectible pieces,” Juan Carlos Brito said.

Las Manos offers a rainbow-colored collection of folk art pieces. It showcases many Dias de la muertos (Day of the dead) clay pieces of museum quality, and the best of other folk art, including Oaxaca woodcarvings and alebrijes — vibrant hand-painted wooden and papier-mâché animal carvings.

A colorful “Tree of Life” sculpture decorates the gallery’s front window. Fashioned from clay by the Fotemo Family in Metetec, Mexico, the piece depicts a nativity theme.

Mexico is one of the top producers of silver in the world, and Las Manos represents several of Taxco, Mexico’s top silver artists, including the Odilon Marmolejo Family’s five generations of silver workers, who create ornate silver bowls and ceremonial pieces.

Las Manos also features the distinctive-style pottery from the village of Mata Ortiz, Mexico. These include pieces by Ana Trillo, and the work of the Quevada Family — several brothers and sisters who fashion virtuoso pottery

Handmade apparel, including color-splashed blusa (blouses), huipil (dresses), scarves and shawls from Oaxaca and alpaca shawls from Peru, is also available.

Religious carvings are well represented in the gallery where woodcarvings of santos (saints) and angels are popular best sellers.

“We are sold out of angels now, but I just ordered some more,” Brito said.

Las Manos del Artesano is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 7940 Herschel Ave. (858) 454-3443,