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January 2002

On a recent visit to San José de Gracia, Rick and I spent time visiting with Hilario and his wife, Audelia, talking about their work and the development of the pineapple folk art in their village.

Hilario in the courtyard of his home, proudly displaying recent work.

San José de Gracia is not a Mexican village per se, but a wide spot in the road located about 3 hours drive from Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. Any traveler could easily drive past this settlement without stopping, but it is now widely known that this humble pueblo is home of a famous maestro following the exhibition, Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular Mexicano, and the subsequent book of the same name. Hilario's stunning pineapple graces the cover of the original printing by the Fomento Cultural Banamex.

Warm hugs are exchanged, and there is much talk about weather. Central Mexico experienced a devastating cold snap in mid-January that brought record lows, bitter frost, and even snow in the mountains of this region. But the sun is warm again, and everyone is eager to do business today.

True artists, Hilario and Audelia are constantly creating new designs and ideas and today Eudalia shows us some delicate new candelabras and monas (Indian woman figures) that she has been making. We order both. We all gently encourage Audelia, especially Hilario, to enter the next concurso (juried folk art show) as she becomes a "name" folk artist in her own right. But for now she adamantly refuses restating that Hilario is the maestro in this family.

Hilario's mother, Elisa Madrigal Martínez, comes into the sunshine of the courtyard to see who is here. Well into her late eighties, she is widely credited for making the first pineapple in the early 1930s in the style of a punch vessel…a ponchera. Not even Hilario's mother can answer why she made that first pineapple but for a simple reply of, "I like pineapples". Doña Elisa is far too shy to have her photo taken. According to Hilario, he joined his mother at age 15 in the making of pineapples.

Each piece evolves through several stages of forming, decorating, firing, cooling, glazing and then refiring. First the bulbous pineapple body is created by pressing clay over plaster forms. The ornate decorations are then made and applied by hand. The pieces are low fired in the horno without glaze by layering clay pieces with pine wood, then a first firing of six hours. A layer of broken terra cotta tiles tops off the pyre to assist in keeping heat in the oven. The clay is allowed to slowly cool overnight. Next the pieces are glazed in the traditional green, blue, yellow or cream and fired again in the oven for an additional four hours. The pieces again cool overnight.

Glazed pineapple tops ready for the fire.
Decorations are applied to the molded body forms.
Pineapple molds…the first step.

A large pineapple takes approximately one full day to form the clay foundation, then another complete day to add the many intricate decorations…in the dry season, that is. From beginning to end, a "grande" pineapple requires five days to complete, weather permitting.

Hilario and Audelia's household includes their five children and the abuelita (grand mother). In addition to meeting daily living expenses, Hilario's profits are currently going towards building new bedrooms for the children. Rick and I promise to return from the States with Levis, t-shirts, and dresses for the girls in March. The order is completed, deposits paid, and we plan to return in about ten days to begin packing the finished work. As is our tradition, we all enjoy a cold beer at the conclusion of business and toast the New Year expressing mutual wishes for many orders and great sales for 2002.

Eudalia's new mona figure.
The horno where all clay is fired...a work in progress.

by Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

Updates as of October 2007:
Audelia has begun entering her own pieces in juried shows, and is a prize-winning ceramicist in her own right.  Her area of expertise includes delicate clay candelabras, and the clay women figures (monas) pictured in this article.

Hilario's mother, Doña Elisa, passed away in 2007.

Hilario and Audelia's daughter, Gaby, now takes a very active role in assisting her father in creating the exquisite pineapples.