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Video: The Latino Artisans Who Power L.A.'s High-End Design Industry

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Jesus Garcia, a master glassblower and founder of South L.A.'s AG Glass Studio Inc. (Photo courtesy of KCET)
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For every luxe handmade leather bag or delicate blown glass lamp on display at Los Angeles' high-end design stores, there is likely a highly-skilled craftsperson (if not several) who helped produce the object. In a new installment of Artbound, KCET highlights the work and stories of the primarily Latino artisans and craftspeople who, despite being responsible for the production of much of the city's high-end design and retail, remain mostly invisible. Though L.A.'s skilled immigrant labor force obviously hails from across the world, a substantial portion of the artisans who craft the city's swank furniture, textiles, and design goods come from Mexico and Latin America. “In Mexico, there's a long tradition of craft, but a lot of the stuff I’ve seen here, it comes from that but it mutates,” artist and curator Rubén Ortiz-Torres told KCET. According to Xochitl Flores-Marcial, an assistant professor of history at Cal State Northridge, many of the Mexican artisans currently working in Los Angeles emigrated as a result of the Mexican peso crisis of 1982.

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(Photo courtesy of KCET).
The documentary highlights the work of several artesanos, including Jesus Garcia, a master glassblower and founder of South L.A.'s AG Glass Studio Inc., Jose Galvez, an upholsterer for Cisco Home, one of L.A.'s most well-known home furnishing lines, and Conan Castillo, blacksmith and founder of Al's furniture design. Garcia, who works with his son, was taught glassblowing by his own father as an adolescent. Cisco Pinedo, Cisco Home's founder, himself hails from Jalisco, Mexico, where he originally learned the upholstery trade. KCETLink Senior Vice President and Artbound creator Juan Devis told LAist that the feature's craftspeople were selected through collaborative research with production partner Dignicraft, which "then led us to discover more and more of the artisans featured in the film."

"With the selection of each additional craftsperson it was important to make the connection throughout the episode that their work represented the mission of the episode's efforts to recognize and pay homage to the often-unknown behind-the-scenes workers," Devis said. "As varied as their respective works are, it was important that each represented Latin Americans' role in LA's creative economy."

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As L.A. emerges as a design capital, the city's fashion industry—much of which is also powered by immigrant craftspeople—also continues to boom, generating an annual $18 billion in revenue. The episode also goes behind the scenes at Mid-City's Willie's Shoe Service, a bespoke shop where a single pair of custom handmade shoes can run into the thousands and take months to complete. The historic store (Willie's has been providing footwear to the entertainment industry since 1956) is now run and owned by Raul Ojeda, a Mexican immigrant who got his start shining shoes at the Century City mall.

Here's an exclusive clip from the episode, which premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on KCET: