It is always exciting to learn about new surface materials, and it’s even better when a new product produces a real opportunity to protect or revitalise a community. Totomoxtle is doing just this.
In Mexico a sustainable model of corn production once reined supreme – families would harvest the seeds from each year’s crop to be planted in the next season, creating a circular system that ensured the survival of a large variety of species. A range of richly coloured corn types in deep purples, pinks, and burgundys, as well as the more familiar yellows and creams were cultivated. These native varieties provided income and food supply for a large number of villages but the arrival of hybrid species completely reshaped the system.
These new hybrid seeds required repurchasing after each season, as opposed to planting the seeds harvested from the crop, which, along with more aggressive farming techniques including widespread pesticide use, and consumer preference for consistent and standardised produce, quickly led to a reduction in the profitability of maize farming.
This new system has also contributed to a sharp decline in native species – the variety of which is key when it comes to ensuring a steady supply of corn, especially during times of environmental or climactic change and uncertainty. Additionally, a large number of traditionally grown varieties are able to withstand unfavourably hot and dry conditions, circumstances which are likely to increase in the coming years.
But designer Fernando Laposse has a solution, that also happens to be extremely aesthetic. Upon returning to the small Mexican village of Tonahuixtla that he had once visited as a child, the noticeable devastation of the once plentiful cornfields became the source of inspiration for a new project.
Since 2016 Laposse has been working with local families to reintroduce native corn species, grown with traditional agricultural practices. The husks of the harvested corn are then used to produce Totomoxtle – a new veneer material. Taking advantage of the natural colourations, the husks are cut to shape by hand, with lasers, or they can be stamp cut, enabling a variety of curious and intricate shapes, in a range of beautiful shades of purples and beige.
The husks are ironed flat and glued onto a backing, enabling the material to be transformed into a host of design opportunities. Totomoxtle can be used to create furniture, decor items, and wall panels, and each element is unique with texture and shade variety naturally occurring on the maize. The results are truly stunning, and their story makes them even more beautiful.
A new post by Hanna Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, January 2020.