Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Shortly after I moved here in 2008, I happened on a woman selling whimsical paintings of hearts as I strolled along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta's famous boardwalk along the ocean.
Her name was Paola and she had moved here in 2003 from Aguascalientes looking for a new opportunity to help her brother expand his business. We became friends and so recently I went to visit her to see how she was surviving the loss of tourists since the pandemic began.
"Pao," as she is affectionately called, always loved to draw. When she was a teenager, she worked in her brother's factory making small painted picture frames from recycled cardboard. She brought these frames to Puerto Vallarta in 2003 hoping to start a small business for herself.
She fell in love with our friendly town and so began incorporating hearts into her work. "We are all connected," she explained to me, "through our hearts. The meaning of love is a heart and we are love in different sizes, shapes, colors, and situations." This is what inspired her to put the heart at the center of her work. Her boxes even have red glass hearts glued to the inside!
At first, she worked out of her home, selling her paintings and then her cardboard frames on the Malecón. At the time, only artists who were painters were allowed to sell there. Over time, however, she convinced the organizers to allow her to also sell her wooden boxes. Then came painted wooden puzzles and magnets, all with her heart theme.
The Malecón was her only sales outlet until 2015 when she finally opened her workshop and store... on Valentine's Day of course! After seeing so many other shops all selling the same crafts, she wanted to offer something different and handmade.
With her increase in business, she has hired people to work for her while she still does all the designs herself out of her small studio at the back of her shop. Her brother, with whom she originally worked, supplies many other crafted items that he either has made in his factory or sourced from other artisans throughout Mexico, including wooden toys and games from Michoacán, tiny carved wooden animals from Oaxaca and intricate wood Aztec wall calendars from Aguascalientes.
Interestingly enough, the popular wooden boxes are made from industrial waste from his factory. He crafts them into boxes with hinged lids then ships them to Pao for finishing using her designs, paint, and decorations. To see some of her work, visit the Corazón Vallarta Facebook page.
Her gift shop is located in downtown Vallarta at Calle Agustin Rodriguez #253. When you stop in, be sure to see the huge stone heart that one of the Malecón artisans found for her on the beach. If she is there, ask to see her studio. You will love her, our artisan who is Corazón Vallarta.
** Although she has had to let most of her employees go due to the pandemic, sCorazón Vallarta is still open. Come visit and support this talented woman.
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 12 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a freelance writer and cultural photographer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sun4sandra(at)gmail.com.
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