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The Miniature World of Juan Hernandez Arzaluz

Metepec, Estado de México
September 4, 2002

The clay Trees of Life of Metepec are a source of wonder, inspiration and lore, but in detailed miniature these aspects are somehow magnified. Such is the effect of the work of Juan Hernandez Arzaluz, Metepec, master of miniatures.

Juan and his wife, Maribel Vasquez Gomez are a team. During their 7 years of marriage they have worked together daily to create the seemingly impossible miniature trees and traditional imagery in clay.

Juan, currently 28 years old, began working with clay by his father's side at 7 years old. He entered his first concurso (juried show) in 1985 at the age of 12 and won first place (in the juvenile division).

L to R: Juan stands before an astounding wall of awards with completed trees before him. Center: A tree barely measuring 4" in height includes every detail of Noah's Ark. R: Maribel carefully checks all details before packing this beautifully painted cart that is accompanied by a miniature ox.

First Juan forms the intricate clay masterpieces, then Maribel painstakingly paints each piece without aid of eye glasses or magnifying lens. Maribel's brother also helps with the molding of some of the decorative small suns and flowers…but the intricate hand made pieces are the work of Juan's alone. Once the clay piece has been crafted, it is baked for 2 hours at 400 degrees centigrade. As one might imagine, the smaller the piece, the more expensive…and Juan's most intricate miniatures are beyond one's imagination in their detail.

The range of creative work is most impressive. On this last visit we saw miniature Trees of Life, Spring Trees, Trees of Death, The Mystical Animal Tree, The Virgin of Guadalupe Tree, Noah's Ark, and various carts, boats, bands, fiestas and others traditional scenes of Mexico. The most impressive piece was 3 sided, perhaps the size of a large walnut, and depicted several biblical stories on each side…but was far out of our price range that day but worth every peso in its detail.

This loving family has been through much in this past year. The oldest of their 3 children was in a serious car-bicycle accident resulting in a fractured skull…but as you can see, he is perfectly healed with only a spot where hair refuses to grow as remaining evidence.

Juan and Maribel are serious, productive artisans and are putting profits from their folk art towards the completion of a house on the outskirts of town.

The work comes carefully and slowly, but every piece is worth our several months wait.

After all, he is the maestro of miniatures.

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