Clay Figure of Wood Carrier, San Agustin Oapan, Mexico
Figure of Wood Carrier San Agustin Oapan, Guerrero, Mexico clay, natural pigment 12" high x 6" wide x 6" deep
In the mountains of Guerrero, in a small village so remote that it does not appear on maps of Mexico, a group of families carry on a tradition of ceramic art that is hundreds of years old and that has been passed from father to son and mother to daughter for many generations. Nowhere else on the planet are people making work that is anything like the large ollas, animals, tall figures, and village scenes created by the families in San Agustín Oapan, Guererro. To own a piece of this work is to own a piece of the history of indigenous Mexico, and to help support hard-working families and a traditional way of life for this village.
The work is a wonderful example of Mexican folk art in that it is unique to this village, handed down through generations, deeply rooted in tradition, retaining a naive quality, and preserving the history and customs of the town. The figures are burros, pigs, turkeys and other birds, men on horseback carrying water jugs, churches with gatherings of villagers in the plaza, and the village’s trademark tall, thin figures with faces that resemble the villagers themselves. All the pieces are painted with village scenes like weddings, fields being plowed and planted, chickens and pigs being fed — the everyday life and venerable traditions of these villagers.
Generally, the women sculpt the figures out of clay, and the men paint them with scenes of village life. One potter told us he feels it is important to preserve traditions that are not as common anymore with the younger generations. “We must avoid losing the traditions,” he said, “and the best thing is to paint them on a clay figure as a way to keep them alive.”
They prepare the clay by mixing and then straining local black and red muds. They mix in “cotton” from the Pochote tree to add strength to the clay and sand to obtain the texture they want. They decorate the pots with iron oxide in liquid clay, called slip, and make their own brushes from dog hair. The natural clay painted with iron oxide gives the work the distinctive look for which the village is known.