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For Neftalí Ayungua Suaréz, Patamban is more than his home but truly part of his very being. As a young man, Neftalí spent five years in the San Diego, California area and came to realize that his life force was derived from the mountains of Michoacán "mi tierra". Returning to his home in Patamban, it was his wife who taught him the art of pottery and the making of pineapples for which the region is most-famous. That was more than 30 years ago. But it was and is Señor Ayungua who artfully coaxes the clay into shapes and intricacy unlike any other clay artisan in all of México.
As is pictured on page 155 in the Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art volume, what began as a single pumpkin has transformed into a complete vine with leaves, flowers and baby pumpkins over the years all in the luminous green ceramic style of the village. But his creative drive continues to defy traditional clay arts as is evidenced by his marvelous corn stalk made in September 2001. The leaves of the corn stalk are supported by a steel rod down the center, with a maiden grinding corn at its base.
We enjoy hot sopa (soup) and tortillas "a mano" by the fire. It is chilly and it will rain again soon. After comida, we watch as the skilled family members cousins, in-laws and daughters, paint the intricate, lacy designs for which the Ayungua family is famous. His wife picks up her paint brush made from squirrel's tail and joins the painting with the other women, chatting happily around the warmth of the fire.
On this afternoon, Neftalí is carefully placing adobe bricks in a circle, building a new smaller kiln. Then we watch as he loads the large kiln, carefully stacking each piece on special stands so that no piece touches another, then placing layers of clay shards between each tier which is crucial to a successful firing. The years of his experience is evident as the placement of each piece is discussed, debated, then finds its perfect spot in relationship to the other pieces being fired, all by pine wood.
While the Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art book has made Neftalí's pumpkin vine and tower of pots most famous, one would be missing much by not exploring the vajillas (complete table service for ten), his monas (indigenous women figures), the large pitchers with the unusually shaped pouring spouts, and his graceful vases. Although the verdant green color is gorgeous, the cream on terra cotta designs are equally beautiful and traditional.