Felipe & Bernardina Rivera
Only a stone's throw from the very
busy highway between Pátzcuaro and Zamora, we recently visited
the most Tarascan of villages that we have ever experienced. More so than
remote Patamban, Ocumicho, or Cocucho
for us, Huáncito was
an edenic and beautiful world where almost no one speaks Spanish and nearly
all dress in native tradition. We had previously seen and purchased the
intricately painted "brunido" (burnished) pottery during the
annual Day of the Dead artisans market in Pátzcuaro, but on this
visit we sought the maestras themselves, Elena Felipe & Bernardina
Rivera (pages 36-39, in the book, Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art).
|In Spanish we
stumble for directions repeating their names, replies coming back
in Purépecha, then pointing fingers
up the hill
the hill! As the big red pick-up truck with Texas plates bumped along,
we are guided down a very narrow road and motioned to turn right.
|Simply impossible on this corner
where only a burro could pass. Reverse! As we back up several blocks,
no fewer than 50 villagers are gathered, smiling, giggling, and assuring
us that there is another route. All of Huáncito knows that
the Tejanos have arrived.
Passing through the village, open
doorways reveal pottery in the brightly colored style found in most Mexican
markets; a water jug with a cup resting atop the neck with brightly painted
flowers on every side.
At last on a wider and relatively
good road, we discover the house arriving with an entourage of the maestras'
relatives and many curious on-lookers in tow. We are warmly greeted by
Elena and Bernardina, and are immediately in awe of the glowing pots displayed
just beyond the entrance. This is the "old style". These are
the natural burnished pots painted with lacey black designs.
To our relief, introductions are made in Spanish. Having exhibited in
Mexico's best museums and casas de cultura, both women are savvy communicators
and negotiators and have traveled to Mexico City and Morelia many times
to accept top awards.
|Each proudly displays the work
they make together, painted with images of humming birds, flowers,
monarch butterflies, and delicate leaves.
|But "no señor",
nothing is for sale
these are all orders for various stores in
Mexico. Well then. We will make an order.
The excitement of a big sale is
in the air as styles, shapes, designs and prices are discussed. We agree
to return in about eight days when we will pick up only two large ollas
which is all that they are able to finish in this short time
order to introduce a sampling of their fine work in our San Miguel store.
The remainder of the order will take more time to complete.
Ten Days Later
We return to Huáncito confidently knowing where to find the house,
waving to everyone who helped us locate Elena and Bernardina before. But
we were in for a complete surprise. As Bernardina carefully stacked the
same tower that appears in the Grand Masters book she exclaimed, "this
is for you!". And there was much, much more. Both women had been
working night and day and were not allowing us to come and go with only
|Now began the great packing "game"…a
grand event at any artisan's house. Someone
must buy the "periodicos" (old newspaper), and the boxes
(egg boxes are preferred for their strength
but don't try to
cross north of the San Luis Potosi state line with "cajas de
the agricultural check-point will confiscate all
of your boxes and you and your pottery will be left standing there
on the side of the highway!).
Then we must have rope and string. And someone please find the tape.
There is always a great amount of discussion on which pots go into which
boxes, the correct amount of newspaper padding to add, and how to best
tie each box with string. Rick and I stand clear. These are the experts
who deliver every delicate piece by bus.
While all the commotion ensues,
there is plenty of time to hold babies and to learn a few more words in
Purépecha, the area's native language. My eager young professors
are Saulo, Laura, Armando and Hilberto---all of whom have other given
names in Purépecha (that I could barely pronounce and am now unable
to recall). Please, I am still struggling with my Spanish!
With truck loaded and pesos paid,
we depart this "otro mundo" promising to return very, very soon
with more orders and photos of the children. And we depart hardly believing
that we have the famous "Tower of Jugs" in our possession.
By Debra Hall
June 5, 2002
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO