Las Catrinas de la Capula
Prominent among those clay objects are Catrinas, those grinning high-society ladies that have become symbolic of Mexican people's engagement with death and the dead. Capula potters advertise their Catrinas by painting images of her on old buildings and empty telephone wire spools. You see them along the Quiroga-Morelia highway running through the center of town.
La Catrina is a satyrical creation of José Guadalupe Posada, arguably the world's first political cartoonist. His dancing skeletons have provided the inspiration for millions of folk art objects. I believe he was more influential in early 20th-Century Mexican iconography than luminaries such as Diego Rivera.
We stopped in Capula to visit artists Alvaro and Miguel de la Cruz. Their studio is in the building on the right-hand side of this rutted dirt road.
I'm impressed that such exquisite art can be produced in these humble pueblos.
The de la Cruzes sell their work in Patzcuaro galleries, keeping only a sampling in their studio. Here, two Catrinas (with überstylish hats) are joined by other figures, some yet to be painted.
I love their bony décolletage.
The senior de la Cruz, Alvaro, is taciturn, focused entirely on his work. His workbench consists of a glued-up slab of indestructible mesquite supported by loose stacks of tabicón (cinder blocks). Unmortared brickwork flooring rests on raw dirt.
Eight unfired Catrinas await heads and hats. Alvaro forms some by hand, cutting details with small knives and wire loops. He makes others in clay molds that he fashioned himself.
A homemade kiln hardens clay objects. The access port is closed by stacking firebrick in the opening. Mesquite finds yet another use in this studio, as hot-burning fuel.
The son, Miguel, created this boating couple: dowdy señora seated passively on the transom, mustachioed pescador, rakish in his blue sash, bringing the catch to market.
Miguel's trademark, and his gift, is miniaturization. Each of these fish was individually formed, fired, painted and fired again. None is more than a half inch long.
More of Miguel's miniatures, this time clay flowers, adorn ceramic skulls. These pieces are only a few inches high.
Miguel has a remarkable talent. Alvaro, like all fathers of teenagers, hopes his son will settle down and dedicate himself to his craft. Maybe he will, maybe not. These days Miguel usually starts a piece and lets it sit for months before finishing it. He's brilliant and creative but not yet perseverant.
The artists, father and son, are not getting rich. The prognosis isn't good either. Again, from the Centro Cultural de Lenguas brochure: "Morelia’s urban growth has prevented the artisans from getting the raw material from free sources, and obviously, this has also affected product sales. Intermediaries represent another problem. Migration to the U.S. offers young people a better opportunity, but family relationships, the community concept and the preservation of traditions are affected."
A way of life is threatened. Artisanship in Mexico is declining. Time for me to get out there and see it while it's still there. And to support it through direct buying from artisans, in the hopes of staving off the inevitable.