The Joy of the Hunt

Josefina Aguilar

Austin Friends of Folk Art published the following article, “The Joy of the Hunt” by Lee Price Arellano, in their What’s Up, April 2019 edition. Lee describes her experience traveling to Oaxaca with Marcia in late January 2019. 

“The Joy of the Hunt”

In late January, I was privileged to be a member of a small group of people that Marcia Lucas, owner of El Interior, takes annually to explore the diverse and fascinating area of Oaxaca, Mexico.  It was a wonderful trip filled with a variety of diversions, including the exploration of ruins, local artisan visits, and all sorts of culinary pleasures.

A highlight was a visit to Ocotlán de Morelos, a town to which lovers of folk art are drawn because it is the home of the famed Aguilar sisters.  The ceramic work of this family started with Isaura Alcantara Diaz, who broke away from the tradition of solely making utilitarian pottery and started making gaily painted clay figures who commemorated daily Mexican life.  She trained her children in this more fanciful work, and after her early death, they took over and became well known, especially after their pieces caught the eye of famed art collector Nelson Rockefeller.  He visited the studios several times buying first from the mother and then from the sisters, Guillermina, Irene, Concepcíon and Josefina.

Our group visited three of the sisters’ studios;  Concepcíon and Guillermina were on the premises, but Josefina, now blind, was not on site.  However, her charming son, Demetrio, was there to greet us and give a demonstration of how quickly he could make the basic body of a clay “person,” which would be painted later.

All three studios were full of varied creations ranging from depictions of ordinary people doing the routine jobs of life to those with skeletal features made to fulfill the ever-growing interest by collectors in the Day of the Dead.  There were also mermaids, trees of life, ladies with huge headdresses, and people carrying flowers, vegetables, and animals.  There were also lots of brightly painted bugs.  Along with several wedding and funeral scenes, as well as nativities.  Each studio was a little different, but all were filled with colorful arrays of pieces to tantalize buyers.

As I left the studios, my purchases under my arms, I felt a little thrill that I was walking in the footsteps of Nelson Rockefeller who did so much to bring attention to Mexican artisans and stimulate the desire of other collectors.  I suspect he would be very pleased to know that the artisans he so admired continue to be sought after and revered.

The hunt goes on! — Lee Price Arellano

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