Folk Art Twin Towers
Of OCUMICHO, MICHOACAN
As seen through the eyes of Tomasa Gonzalez
Of Ocumicho, Michoacán
All who have seen the folk art rendition
of 9/11-in-clay have been deeply moved by this handmade remembrance. As
September approaches, ZOCALO wishes to revisit the circumstances and emotions
experienced in the village of Ocumicho, Michoacán in the days immediately
following September 11, 2001.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
The name of the artista is Tomasa Gonzalez. She lives in the remote village
of Ocumicho, Michoacán located about 3 hours northwest of Pátzcuaro.
The medium used to create the Twin Towers is low-fired clay, completely
molded by hand, then painted in the distinct style of Ocumicho. Rick and
I have known Tomasa and her family for 12 years.
HOW DID THE VILLAGE OF OCUMICHO
LEARN OF THE SEPTEMBER 11 EVENTS?
The village of Ocumicho together with the rest of the world, immediately
learned of unfolding events via available media. There are televisions
with limited reception, but certainly more radios in Ocumicho, though
no indoor plumbing. The entire area is bound together by a station known
as Radio Purépecha and news traveled not in Spanish, but in the
native tongue of thousands of villagers: Purépecha. Rick (my husband)
was actually in Pátzcuaro that fateful morning, and after the first
reports on TV Azteca, all Mexican networks switched to US networks for
continuous coverage throughout the day. The news of the number of Mexican
nationals who had potentially lost their lives spread quickly to Michoacán's
most-remote villages, and all knew that someone from their own green mountains
would be among the missing, or worse.
WHAT WAS TOMASA'S MOTIVATION TO CREATE THE TWIN TOWERS IN CLAY?
It has always been Tomasa's wayas is the tradition of the entire
villageto record historic and daily events in clay. When the tragic
night club fire occurred in Mexico City several years ago killing hundreds,
she recorded this catastrophic event in clay. It is common, or better
described as natural, for Tomasa to create renditions of caesarian births,
weddings, feast day celebrations, and to even express fears of the Ebola
virus as remembrances-in-clay. Each work is a physical depiction of the
important events and emotions affecting village life.
And so, Tomasa went to the clay
very soon after September 11, 2001.
Rick and I arrived at Tomasa's home
on September 28, 2001 to find two clay towers already formed and fired.
I began to cry immediately at the sight. Tomasa and her husband, Rutilio,
were so relieved to see us. Their grief for all people of the U S was
huge and they truly felt the United States and the world were coming to
an end (as did we). We talked for many hours about our profound sadness,
and our good fortune that each of our homes, families and children were
safe on this day.
The timing of the creation of this
folk art piece was coincidental in that all Michoacán artisans
are hardest at work producing their finest and most creative offerings
for the concurso, the juried show, held annually in Pátzcuaro during
Day of the Dead. Tomasa completed her rendition of September 11-in-clay,
then entered this dramatic work in the Day of the Dead concurso for judging.
Although this piece did not win
a grand prize, all who saw the Towers were transfixed by this emotional
sculpture, humbly displayed beside Tomasa as she knelt on the sidewalk
of the beautiful Plaza Don Vasco de Quiroga
the heart of Pátzcuaro.
Hundreds of photos were taken of the clay Las Torres Gemelas, but this
very first work depicting the Twin Towers by an Ocumicho artisan was immediately
purchased by, and now is a part of, the extensive folk art collection
of Margie Shackelford and Alex Caragonne of San Antonio, Texas.
ABOUT THE TWIN TOWERS DISPLAYED
Wanting to share this amazing work, Rick and I immediately commissioned
two additional Torres Gemelas to be made. The second rendition was displayed
at (the former) ZOCALO Houston, and the third Las Torres Gemelas is now
part of our personal collection in San Miguel de Allende. Each successive
piece became more detailed, more figures added, and no two were the same,
which is the hallmark of the Mexican folk art tradition.
Twin Towers, Rendition III
Commissioned for the Collection of Rick & Debra Hall
REACTIONS TO THE PIECE
During the exhibition we experienced many amazing conversations about
this emotional work, especially with children who noticed every detail
of the sculpture. Children were quick to notice the fact that fleeing
victims wore sandals, the children depicted were barefoot (village children
often do not wear shoes until they go to school in Ocumicho)
pointed to the water tank truck with hose sculpted as a "pipa"
because Mexican villages do not have big red fire engines. Children noted
the fact that all officials were dressed in green uniforms as they are
in Mexico. They saw the way babies were strapped to their parents, Indian-style.
The many pick-up trucks circling on Wall Street were regarded. And on,
and on, their young minds noticing every detail of this "accurate"
village interpretation of September 11, 2001.
Seeing this piece somehow prompted
children to share how they had heard the news, where they were at that
very moment, and how they were feeling NOW though many months had passed.
The children of Houston had a tremendous need to discuss their feelings,
and this folk art piece had somehow prompted the free expression of those
In every instance, child or adult,
the realization that people in a village so far away cared so very much
about the people of the United States was resoundingly evident.
As collectors and keen observers
of Mexican folk art, it is our feeling that the making of the clay Twin
Towers in Ocumicho, Michoacán expresses EVERYTHING that folk art
is, and speaks to the very role of folk art in a household, a community,
and in indigenous Mexico.
Tomasa did not hesitate in going
to the clay. She did not consider if this work would be viewed as controversial
or politically correct.
She was compelled to create out
of grief, and did.
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Originally written in June 2002
Edited August 27, 2004
The photo that appears at the beginning
of this account was taken by Ruth Bello. All other photos are by Deb Hall.