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January 15, 2003

On the side of a mountain overlooking the village of Capula, Michoacán, the de la Cruz family resides in a warm adobe home surrounded by a courtyard, fruit trees and flowers…and the all-important taller and horno (workshop and oven) from where the greatest clay catrina art in Mexico emerges.

Alvaro de la Cruz is the maestro who has taught his children well, each working in the catrina art form, and each in their own distinctive style. All in their twenties, their work noticeably commands higher prices due to the fineness, detail, and time spent on each piece. The senior de la Cruz learned the trade from famous artist Juan Torres, who is credited with creating the catrinas in clay, but now employs over 5 artisans to make the catrinas while he resides in Monterrey, Mexico visiting once a month to sign his work. In contrast the de la Cruz family patiently works piece by piece, fulfilling orders a mano, by hand.

First, the base of the figure is formed in a mold, with all other details formed by hand.
Then the maestro himself goes to work fashioning every rosary, candle, cross and flower with patience…especially when it comes to his beloved Galleros cradling a most realistic rooster with flowing plumage.

Alvaro works in large format making catrinas approximately 1 ½ feet to 2 feet tall. While all of his catrina creations are superior, he has particularly made a name for himself by fashioning nuns and bishops, en calavera.

His work is in such demand, work is only received by order with payment in advance. As a true artist, we must respect that Alvaro is not inspired to make gallero after gallero as the public demands, but must be allowed to explore new ideas and techniques while still fulfilling his commercial obligations to stores such as Zócalo. It is common for four or more months to pass from the time an order is placed until we receive the completed catrinas, and three to four visits to Capula are required.

Three monjas, nuns, patiently drying in the de la Cruz taller.

This is only a comment on the time it takes to create such detailed pieces, the role the weather plays, and then the meticulous packing required in order to transport these treasures to San Miguel de Allende.

On our last trip during Muertos, Rick and I were privileged to see Alvaro's latest ideas; a stunning matador, and the Pope himself, en calavera. Naturally, we immediately ordered both.
While patience, delicate handling, and a place your cat or children can never reach is required for an Alvaro de la Cruz catrina…the joy of living with any of his repertoire of calacas (skeletons) is so worth the effort!

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