In each village, the wares are all one-of-a-kind, though standardized creations might be easier and faster to make. What would be the joy in duplicating alebríjes, copying the same etchings or weavings, time after time? These artisans may weave and carve and paint to earn a living, but they also do it for the sake of creation. The carvers speak of envisioning entirely new creatures, carving the spectacles of their dreams, not of product output and dollars earned.
And so it goes, clay from the ground, sheep's wool, insect and plant dyes, wood cut from local trees. The techniques are passed from mother to daughter, father to son, and as long as tourists and exporters are willing to buy, looms will clack, potters' wheels will spin, copalillo wood will be cut and carved, creations will stand on tables in the courtyard or travel on burros to Oaxaca City markets or fly in crates to Santa Fe and Washington, D.C. From the land through the artist to the buyer whose pesos support it all.
But like any kind of art, some tapetes are woven more finely, in designs more intricate and original; certain wooden animals seem to leap from the menagerie because their forms are more imaginative, their painted coats more painstakingly crafted. Less often, from this folk tradition rises the art that will hang in galleries and museums, rooted in this culture of artistry, but creations entirely apart from their ancestors and cousins. The artist may begin weaving or painting in the family style, but eventually departs to pursue his or her own vision. From the outlying villages they seek attention in the center, in the galleries of Oaxaca City, their stepping stones to the art world beyond.
On almost every block in downtown Oaxaca City, a shop proclaims itself a galería, as if shelves of handicrafts and a few canvases compose an art gallery. The shop owners know many tourists come seeking art with a capital A, and Art isn't often sold in a store. Some of the better shops here do sell the work of serious, even well-known, Oaxacan artists, but the city has only one curated, juried gallery, Galería Quetzalli, the city's first private exhibit space and a leading catalyst for international awareness of Oaxacan art.