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Gilded, Ritual Clay for Christmas

Señor Ignacio Peralta Soledad literally lives in the shadow of Mexico's snow-capped volcanoes. The names of Peralta's village and the two nearby volcanoes are nothing short of a linguistic work-out. The village of Huaquechula is located near the peaks of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl…names Nahuatl in origin.

In tiny Huaquechula, the home altars are adorned with very special clay pieces made by grand master, Ignacio Peralta Soledad. Created by special order for the fiestas of the year, Don Ignacio's clay works will be added to the figures of the nativity during the Christmas season, as has been the custom in Huaquechula for generations.

RIGHT & LEFT: Gilded angels adorn the ritualistic candle holders.
The prominent cross is adorned with wildly fecund flowers and
leaves referencing pre-Hispanic nature worship.
CENTER: In Don Ignacio's own workshop, candle holders have
been electrified providing an eternal "flame" in this altar.

The basic forms of the candle holders and incense burners incorporate symbolic shapes such as the cross, the cup, and references to nature. But it is the addition of gilded cherubs and saints that completely transforms what begins as an ancient and simple ritualistic object. The layers of cultures and years are present in every piece.

LEFT: The maestro applies his signature golden paint to an angel-encrusted
incense burner. CENTER: The spacious workshop behind the house is
organized into areas for molding, drying, firing and painting.
RIGHT: Completed objects are ready for delivery to the next fiesta.

Ignacio's grand parents and parents also made the unique clay pieces. At the age of seven, Ignacio began learning the art that would eventually earn him the title of Grand Master in 1996, bestowed by the Fomento Cultural Banamex.

The technical process uses the oldest and simplest techniques. After molding and firing the clay, the pieces are dipped in a white earth slip providing the perfect background for the colorful and wonderfully naïve painting style. Using aniline dyes, the riotous colors are next applied in bold fashion. The last step is to guild the wings of angels and saint's robes with metallic gold paint. The effect is a clash of styles, a complete hodge-podge, and wonderfully over the top! This also could be said of many Christmas trees in the United States, verdad?

LEFT & RIGHT: A candle holder can never have too many angels, or too much gold.
CENTER: A work in progress in Peralta's workshop.

With the joy of Santa Claus and the industry of many elves, Ignacio Peralta Soledad creates the wonderful clay art that must be finished before La Noche Buena. His altar pieces will hold the elements discovered at the most-ancient sites in Mexico; candles representing fire, and fragrant copal incense made from tree resin. The old ways will be represented, especially during the Christmas season.

Knowing that he directly contributes to every celebration in tiny Huaquechula, Don Ignacio's joy and satisfaction are evident in his ever-present, huge smile. One might even say, his is the smile of a child at Christmas time.

November 19, 2004
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO