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To purchase, go to CLAY VASES, POTS & OLLAS at www.zocalofolkart.com.


The Graceful Cocucha Pots of Cocucho, Michoacán ~

Juana Alonzo Hernández

In a tiny mountain village on the backside of the volcano Parucutín, exists the remote village of Cocucho where pottery vessels like no other in Mexico are made. Distinctive in their size, graceful shape, and sculptural beauty, the vessels are even more intriguing given the crude conditions under which they are produced, and the fact that they are made by diminutive Purépecha Indian women who often dwarf their actual pottery creations.

LEFT: The gleaming smile of Juana Alonzo Hernández.
RIGHT: Rick of ZOCALO and Juana discuss important issues such as rain fall, the corn crop, and how pottery sales are going in the village.

Due to the difficulty of transporting the cocuchas and the remoteness of village, these beautiful vessels were not often seen outside of central Michoacán for many years. In pre-Hispanic times, the pots were said to be used for burial. Others tell of hidden valuables being stowed away. Today throughout indigenous villages in Michoacán, several cocucha pots can be found outside of the traditional "log cabins" (trojes) of the region capturing precious rain water and storing ancient strains of blue, red and speckled Indian corn.

A family member poses with braided corn: the seed coming from
their grandfather's, grandfather's grandfather.
Juana's experienced hands smoothes the
lip and neck of what will be a large
cocucha pot.

The cocuchas are traditionally made by the women of the village while the men are away in the mountains tending fields and cutting fire wood. The vessels are made by the coil method, and only the "lip" of the cocucha is formed with the aid of a mold. At ZOCALO, all of our cocuchas are made by Juana Alonzo Hernández who stole our hearts ten years ago with her vivacious smile and gusto for life.

After creating the entire vessel then letting it thoroughly dry, a wood pyre is then heaped over the individual pot, lighted, and fate and nature then take their course. One air bubble, one wet area, the climate, or even a careless burro all stand in the way of success or shattered shards. Of the largest vessels, about four out of ten make it to completion without incident but the beautiful, fire-marked results are worth it.

 

RIGHT: A photo showing that the vessel can be larger than the artisan!
LEFT: A collection of Juana's cocuchas artfully arranged in a Colonial hallway.

The fact that the cocucha has now been safely fired is only half of this story. How to get these giant vessels down the rough mountain rode and safely to San Miguel de Allende? Once our large truck arrives, the women of the village go to work. First a bed of sawdust fills the truck floor. Then the women order us and the entire truck crew aside! No one is to lift even the heaviest cocucha. As they have for hundreds of years, the women slip their rebozos (traditional shawls) around the base of each pot, then lift them on to their backs like a giant baby, with friends to the left and right steadying the load. Each is nestled into a sawdust nest with ample cardboard ensuring that one cocucha never touches another despite the roughness of the road. And off the truck goes, sawdust flying everywhere.

Though simple in form and function, from raw clay to finished vessel, the journey of each cocucha is truly amazing and worthy of reflection.

Written by Debra Hall
December 10, 2003

Co-owner
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO
www.zocalofolkart.com