When Tucson’s cultural quilt comes to town, there’s one Pima County Courthouse Folk Arts Courtyard demonstration table that fills up with joyful children eager to learn the decorative art of Mexican papel picado. Master artisan María de Jesús Robles has demonstrated the traditional chisel-cut art for most of the four-plus decades of TMY, and her elaborate pieces of fragile paper arts reflect her masterful creativity as well as her patience in passing along a love of such an elegant and detailed art.
Watching Maria and her daughter Aida Robles Mertz at work on their perforated and cut colorful paper art, is to sense a tradition coming alive each year at TMY. Born in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico almost ninety years ago, Maria learned the skill of pierced paper using papel de china as a child, helping her grandmother make the farolitos (paper lanterns stretched over wood frames) and banderolas (paper flags) for local fiestas, religious processions and family altars. She recalls how streets were lined with the beautiful paper arts, a traditional folk art known only by several people in her community.
When she came to Tucson, Maria continued to share her art, helping with decorations for various celebrations, including those at the Tucson Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, as well as St. Augustine Cathedral. Her meticulous work involves cutting out patterns on colorful tissue paper, then gluing the art tissues to a string, to form banners used as paper flag decorations. Over the years, she has enhanced upon the technique with various special cutwork twists to her art. Sometimes she uses various papers and scissors to add texture.
In passing along a passion for shaping colorful paper art to her daughter as well as to the community during TMY, Maria hopes for future generations to inherit the love and the skill of this imaginative tradition. She is grateful for how the Folk Arts Courtyard comes alive each October with demonstrations of tradition. TMY visitors can be sure that — when they step into the Courtyard each October — bits of the world unfurl in tradition all around them, particularly as colorful cultural beauty at the banderolas traditional arts demonstration table, where Maria welcomes them.
- Watch Tucson Weekly interview with Maria and Aida https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnaEI5vYM9Y.
- View another video about traditional papel picado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhvYA9_Sqwk
- Read excerpts from Jim Griffith’s Hecho a Mano here: https://books.google.com/books?id=vjJfj57wjZcC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=Jim+Griffith,+Maria+Jesus+Robles,+papel+picado&source=bl&ots=FEniKF2-0N&sig=L7bj_kCq4tj41g9Znne5j-ii6JA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LT6UVILsBMyrogT09YDQBA&ved=0CD4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Jim%20Griffith%2C%20Maria%20Jesus%20Robles%2C%20papel%20picado&f=false