Dignicraft art collective leaves mark on NC

As the McColl Center for Art + Innovation continues to spotlight artists who engage with community, they admit residents that cannot be defined merely as artists.

Jennifer Appleby, the first innovator in residence, falls in this category, as does Dignicraft, a hybrid art collective based in Mexico. Dignicraft’s recent stay at McColl sparked a flood of dialogue and exchange across North Carolina.

Dignicraft’s operation is loose, and each of its projects is organically motivated by the various injustices they encounter. In a lecture, Dignicraft member Omar Foglio acknowledged the group is “difficult to summarize in just a few words,” likely because its projects have ranged from a pop-up clothing shop to a broadcast documentary series on daily life of border town residents. “Brilliant Soil” is a 2011 documentary highlighting the dangerous traditional lead-based glazes used by the Purépecha people of Michoacán, and spotlights those who avoid it to ensure the safety of themselves and their families.

Their stay in Charlotte fell under the umbrella of Encuentros, a project that arose from “Brilliant Soil.” When they began screening this film, they sold the featured pottery to help support their cause and the artisans they advocate. When artisans began asking where the work was going, Dignicraft initiated Encuentros, “a long-term project about creating the circumstances for three master artisans from Michoacán to travel as far as where their works go.”

In Charlotte, Encuentros manifested as a three-month Windgate Artist Residency, as well as a contender for most successful example of a McColl Sphere of Impact. Dignicraft members (Omar Foglio, Jose luis Figueroa and Paola Rodriguez) and master artisans (Herlinda Morales, Angélica Morales, Inés Neal and Juan Manuel Rosas Martinez) hosted meals in their studio, screened their film, worked alongside Central Piedmont Community College ceramics students, traveled throughout the state to host workshops and dinners, partnered with artists to experiment with new techniques, and interacted with Purépecha communities in the Piedmont and mountains of North Carolina.

Angélica Morales partnered with McColl Windgate artist-in-residence Betsy Birkner of Charlotte, who is also a ceramicist, to re-imagine Birkner’s signature female armor plates. The result included carving, appliqués and brightly hued glazes by Morales.

“It was amazing how much of our lives overlapped,” Birkner said: “Catholic, two kids, lovers of music and color, our work in beading and embroidery, and the discovery of the same women’s issues even in different cultures.”

Although the artisans have returned to Mexico, their work is on view through March 21 in “ENCUENTROS/ENCOUNTERS,” an exhibition showcasing ceramic pieces and summarizing their partnerships and successes through image and film. The work is surprisingly affordable and eye-catching in its variety of forms, colors and patterns.

Brad Thomas, McColl director of exhibitions + residencies, said the group developed “dozens of partnerships that led to numerous public presentations and creative collaborations with artists from around the region.” He adds that “their energy and enthusiasm was infectious, and this exhibition is a wonderful authentication of that experience.”