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January 9, 2003

I cannot imagine Day of the Dead without thinking of the special, black ceramic candelabras and incense urns that decorate every grave in the cemeteries surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro. Some of the most-awarded and delicate work is crafted in the home of Manuel Jeronimo Reyes of Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michoacán.

Now 42 years old, Manuel began working in clay at the age of 12 learning the art from his grandfather.

Manuel's home is filled with children, sisters, chickens, rabbits and a wonderful array of flowers, orchids and fruit trees…all under the maternal care of his gracious mother. Although her hands are gnarled and her gait slow, she always welcomes us with a genuine smile and rushes to bring us chairs so that we are comfortable in her casa. Her pride in her son's work is evident as we place an order.
Rick and Manuel discuss business in the courtyard of the Jeronimo home.








Filled with the images of lakeside life, Manuel's work takes on a lacey appearance as he adorns his candelabras and poncheras with glossy, delicate black butterflies and doves.

There always seems to be three fires going in the Jeronimo home;
the horno for the clay in the rear, the pot of sopa de verduras, and of course steaming frijoles.

Manuel's mother gives full attention to one of her grandchildren.

September is the busiest time of year for Señor Jeronimo when his art is in the greatest demand in preparation for Muertos. The finest decorated graves will feature at least one vessel to burn copal, the wonderful incense of Mexico…and at least several candelabras filled with candles of the region used to light the way of the returning souls on November 1.

Ironically this is also the rainy season and the process is slow with sculpted pieces refusing to dry. But somehow all works out because Manuel Jeronimo Reyes garnered a first place premio for one of his intricate candelabras submitted for the Day of the Dead Concurso 2002 (juried show) in Pátzcuaro.

Previously overshadowed by the famous black pottery of Oaxaca, the brilliant ebony ceramics unique to Santa Fe de la Laguna are gaining devotees and collectors from all over the world, but have always been appreciated, ceremoniously used, and a loving part of every home altar in the villages surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro for more than a century.

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