Unless fate intervenes, Francisco Flores is the last. At 73 years-old, the clay style and tradition that began with Francisco's grandparents, and surely with ancestors before them, will end with Francisco. For this reason among others, we endure the hardships involved in receiving the maestro's work.
On any given day, one can find Francisco at home in Izúcar de Matamoros, toiling with the clay in the family compound. He works in an adobe hut, poorly lighted, kneeling on a woven mat (petate) exactly as his father, Aurelio, once did.
According to Francisco, he began learning the clay art from his father at ten years of age, and they worked together until Aurelio's death in 1986. Then located on the Pan-American Highway, Aurelio's in Izúcar de Matamoros was discovered and collected by adventurers motoring through Mexico. The family became well-known for their clay, and was able to make a good living throughout their lives. But, a tradition unique to Izúcar de Matamoros further insured the family's success.
Francisco became animated when recalling
the old days. He explained that for generations, every married couple
received a tree of life at the time of their wedding ensuring that prosperity
would bless the new household and union. He continued by explaining that
there was always someone getting married, and therefore someone always
needed a wedding tree. For years, Francisco could go to the market and
trade his clay trees for avocados, chickens, and anything his family required.
A cloud then passed over his face. He recounted that in the late seventies,
the demand for trees diminished, and by the eighties, young couples no
longer started their married lives with the traditional tree. He concluded
that the modern couples now wanted televisions instead.
The process of picking up the finished Flores work is just that a process. In Izúcar, it has been our experience that there are two climates; hot and very hot. When packing at the Flores household, we try not to look at the temperature knowing at times, it is well-over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We also must bring our own boxes and newspaper which is unusual. Most artisans are anxious to sell work, and have the necessary packing materials available to expedite sales. Next, Francisco, Rick and I carry finished work to the porch of Francisco's home where packing will take place. Family members in the compound are mildly curious about what's going on, but are mere on-lookers. They have no interest in helping their elderly father carry and pack the many pieces. The grand-children, however, help make hundreds of the needed newspapers balls. The kids know that there will be Cokes and chips for helpers, and a cash tip once all is finished. In the same way that engaged couples no longer require or want a marriage tree, Francisco's own adult children are just as removed, preferring to watch television rather than participate.
Despite the fact that it is OUR job to pack each Flores piece, it is more than worth the effort. Not having regular customers, we provide Francisco with a reason to continue working with each order placed, reminding him that he is still needed in this modern world. Of the adult children, there may yet be one hope for the tradition to continue. As we discussed the endangered future of the Flores tradition, the fact that Francisco, Jr. indeed knows how to make the clay surfaces in conversation. Unlike his siblings, Francisco, Jr. is currently unemployed and has the time to assist his father. As Rick and the Flores siblings urge Francisco, Jr. to join his father in making clay, Francisco, Jr. shrugs his shoulders as if to say, "Who knows? Maybe someday." Francisco senior shakes his head while staring at the ground. It is clear that there is a rift between father and son that prevents them from smiling or making eye contact at just the thought of working side by side.
Knowing the wedding traditions
of Izúcar de Matamoros, I asked Francisco and Casilda if I could
have the pleasure of seeing their own wedding tree. Francisco next told
us the sad story of how their wedding tree "disappeared".