So strongly does RAMON ALVAREZ LOPEZ identify with the cazuela's intended use that in Puebla, his true belief is that there would be NO mole without the artisan's cazuela! Such pronouncements about his role in the very life of Mexico is why we remain so-endeared to this maestro of the great cazuela of Puebla.
Toiling daily in a provided government space in Barrio de la Luz only blocks from Puebla's city center, the future of this traditional taller is tenuous, at best. The coop space is temporary, and the promised multiple hornos have yet to be built in this cramped yard shared by many cazuela artisans. But at 66 years-old, Ramon will continue to make magnificent cazuelas until someone tells him that he must go elsewhere.
LOPEZ began making clay at the age of 11, and has been working in Barrio de la Luz for more than 40 years. Forming cazuelas up to gigantic proportions, he is accompanied by four sons and two grandsons in his work. With great pride he tells us that he mines his own clay from Amazoc, approximately 20 kilometers away. With the urbanization of Mexico, many artisans have lost their prized clay mines and veins.
We are reminded that we are visiting the 1996 first prize winner of the Manos de Mexico concurso in Mexico City when an interviewer from FONART comes by to record the oral history of Don Ramon's work and life. Artisans work entire careers without ever placing in what many consider to be the most-competitive and famous of all folk art competitions in Mexico. But of course, while very proud of this award, the maestro takes it all in stride. Today is just another day on which clay must be formed, fired and coaxed into practical cazuelas, or there might not be mole for the people!
On this day the maestro is delighted by our special request. We have been to the Ex-convento Santa Rosa, and we ask Ramon if he would favor us by producing the cazuelas as seen in Santa Rosa's kitchen-now-museum, in the old style. His excitement is visible. With paper in hand, we begin sketching the various handle styles, and there must be four handles rather than the usual two, just like at the museum. He warns us that this will cost extra but we convince him that this is indeed what we want. He hasn't been asked to create "ornato" in years, and can't wait to begin.
According to Don Ramon, the cazuelas were made for very elaborate fiestas and occasions. The special roses, leaves and clay flowers encrusting the INSIDE of the cazuela denoted a kind of extravagance. The vessels were used on this one special day only, then retired to a prominent wall for all to admire for years to come. In our own store, we have adapted the hacienda tradition of displaying ornate cazuelas up near the rafters as well.
Ramon was so excited upon the completion of our order that he called us repeatedly asking when we could pick everything up. The sight of the satisfaction on our faces could not come soon enough. Although a transport company would be required to pick up the heavy clay work, we of course personally visited Don Ramon to compliment him on a job very well done. Even we have been surprised at the nostalgic recollections of Mexicans upon seeing this "forgotten" tradition of the special cazuela meant for one-time use.
After many thanks and congratulations,
the entire taller gathered for a group photo. As is the case in their
daily lives, Don Ramon stands proudly in the center of three generations,
fully confident of his role in Mexico and in the tradition of POBLANO
clay. As he will gladly remind you, it is his job to create cazuelas so
the people may eat!