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To purchase clay catrinas by Alvaro de la Cruz, go to CLAY CATRINAS on-line shopping at www.zocalofolkart.com.


Ascencíon and Maximiliano, Catrinas from our Old Amigos

January 15, 2003

The most often asked question daily at ZOCALO is, "What are they called…what is their significance?" Our collectors are referring to the "catrinas", the skeletal images dressed in finery with attitude, with almost a cackle leaving their boney mouths.

I cannot pinpoint the exact origin of the catrina for certain, but skeletal images are seen on the walls of archeology sites throughout Mexico documenting this imagery as ancient and original to Mexico (not of European influence). To fast forward to more recent and powerful influences, one must study the art of Jose Guadalupe Posada as an important clue, http://www.arts-history.mx/posada/posada.html .

The stories of how the catrina came to be such an intricate part of Mexican culture are as varied as the catrina image herself, but certainly one of the most famous renditions is by Diego Rivera in his mural, Sunday Afternoon in the Park.

One thing is for certain. The capital of where clay catrinas are made is Capula, Michoacán.

The first to make the catrinas from clay is said to be the famous artist Juan Torres. Most catrina-makers in Capula have worked in his sizable taller (workshop), and have passed the art on to brother, cousin, and son over the years.


It was at Day of the Dead in 1991 when I first saw a clay catrina…and then and there began a long friendship with Ascencíon and Maximiliano of Capula (hereafter referred to as A & M in this story).

While we now carry the much more expensive catrinas of the undisputed family of current maestros, Alvaro de la Cruz and his sons, we were immediately drawn to A & M's manner of dressing their catrinas, their catrinas' fabulous faces alive with personality, and to their reasonable prices.

A small part of the grand mural, Sunday Afternoon in the Park by Diego Rivera
focusing on the catrina at the center of the mural.

Rick and I did not want to buy one catrina…we wanted to buy an entire village! This was long before we even thought about having a store.

That was eleven years ago, and we have been buying from them ever since.

Side by side on a daily basis, A & M are some of the hardest working artisans we know. They have toiled to earn a reputation of timeliness, dependability, and consistent quality which keeps us coming back. And as early collectors, we have seen their skill grow dramatically over the years.
Brothers, Ascencíon and Maximiliano
 
  Headless figures drying before placement in the oven.

After forming the bodies and separately the heads, all will be fired for the first time. Then glaze is applied and a second firing is done…all fueled by wood in an adobe oven.

First starting with only a tiny space and one oven, we have proudly watched as the second oven, then third oven were added.

While not the maestros of the art form, A & M have allowed hundreds of collectors to affordably enjoy a catrina (a single Juan Torres catrina is about $300.00 US) and tallers (workshops) such as theirs are the backbone of the Capula economy.

The horno (oven) where two firings will be required for each catrina.

Not seeking awards and recognition, they toil on a daily basis to fill the orders from stores in Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Santa Fe, Austin, and for Zócalo in San Miguel de Allende.

Our friendship and relationship has been built on trust over the years, and Rick and I still marvel at each piece as we unpack and place the fabulous skeleton head on its proper body. What can I say? They simply grow on you, and suddenly you have to have a dozen.

And that's how it began with us. On our second visit to Day of the Dead we bought 40 catrinas from Ascencíon and Maximilliano, solely for our own enjoyment to be arranged like a village in the bay window of our Houston home. We were hooked!

Deb Hall
Co-owner
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

www.zocalofolkart.com