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For the Hall Family, this story began in 1969 when they traveled to a village in the countryside, far from Guadalajara. Their goal? To meet the clay artisan Candelario Medrano. Not only did they meet, but were completely smitten with the man and his original, fantastical creatures. Pieces were purchased (especially the clay masks, masks being a special focus of Rick's father's collection) and another relationship which would bridge generations began. 35 years later, no trip to the Guadalajara area is complete without our visiting Candelario's son, Serapio.
The journey is much different now. The towns of Tlaquepaque and Tonala have so grown together that one can hardly locate Santa Cruz de las Huertas. Yet rest assured. In the same house, on the same land, and under the same tree, Serapio Medrano makes the clay pieces as were made by Candelario until his death in 1986.
On this spring day we find the family busy firing in the successful, but primitive horno (even by village standards). Space is at such a premium that every corner is stacked with buckets, spare bicycle parts and miscellaneous odds and ends. It has only been in the last year that the pigs, ducks and turkeys got "a room of their own"!
As always, we first catch up on family news, discuss the ups and downs of business, and reflect on the changing face of Mexico. It could not escape our eye that since our last visit, the very hill where Serapio harvested clay is now completely covered with condominiums and housing. He has moved on to another spot, but wonders how long it will be before everything is covered with asphalt and concrete? In such a short time, this completely agrarian village is now caught in the middle of unchecked urban sprawl.
At 58 years old, Serapio is wiry, energetic, and still completely enthusiastic about his work. He proudly shows us his latest pieces, which to our delight, are taking on a quality that is indistinguishable from his father's. The colors and images are definitely nostalgic, and we marvel at the especially detailed "Náhuatl" knowing very well that it will by-pass our store and come straight home with us!
In the spring, Candelario's wife can rest. Her specialty is making the naïve nativity sets, crudely painted yet completely wonderful using clay and wire, the same as Serapio.
School is out and grand children are underfoot. The conversation naturally turns to the future of the Medrano tradition and which "nieto" will step forward to carry on. None of the children have any interest, and so the folk art future of this family must fall to the next generation. Two of the grandchildren are already making tiny clay suns which they sell for pocket money. Serapio explains that THIS is the summer that he will begin teaching them how to form and fire the larger pieces. Ah. Summer school, Serapio-style.
Our unexpected treasures on this
day are two masks, festooned with ribbons, which were used in the feast
day dancesa complete surprise, and gratefully accepted for our collection.
Just as Rick's father proudly came away from this very house with Candelario Medrano clay masks 35 years ago, we leave with the masks of Serapio Medrano today. So much has changed, but then, perhaps not.
Photos (accept where otherwise credited) by Debra Hall
By Debra Hall