The art of the cazuela is integral to all things POBLANO~

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.

Ramon Alvarez Lopez pauses to
reflect upon his life as an artisan.

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.

The distinctive deep-bowl form of the
traditional cazuela of Puebla.

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.

LEFT: Working in borrowed space, Ramon carefully removes his clean shirt
and shoes before beginning the day's tasks. MIDDLE: The amount of space
required to create this size and shape of cazuela is evident. RIGHT: The altar
protects this famous maestro and his taller.

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!

Formed clay is carried on a board
to the shelves of the drying room.

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.

All in "ornato", LEFT: The "pichela" used for serving aguas or quantities of pulque.
MIDDLE: A cazuela graced with clay daisies and wonderful heart-shaped handles. RIGHT: A giant jarra, in the old style.

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.

Cazuelas diplayed hacienda-style

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.

Group photo at the LOPEZ Taller.

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!

September 26, 2004
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO