Friday, October 23, 2009

Burnished Pottery of the Hernandez Cano Family

It was love at first sight. I remember well the first time I saw the gorgeous burnished pottery made by the Hernandez Cano family. We were on the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, aka the Plaza Grande, in Patzcuaro about a week before Dia de los Muertos 2003. It was the year we lived in Michoacán and were just getting to know all that it had to offer. The plaza was covered with vendors selling artesania, but I happened to spot this unusual pottery set out on a few boards on the plaza's edge. It actually stopped us in our tracks. I found out from the young man sitting there that it was made at a workshop in a town called Zinapécuaro. Being out of the way and not close to any other crafts villages on our list to explore discouraged us for a while from making the trip. Until we discovered that this town is also where they make the fabulous burnished clay squash we had been drooling over as well. We have been buying from the artisans in Zinapecuaro for five years now, and have always felt a special affection for this unusual family workshop, led by brothers Salvador, Jose Guadalupe, and Gabriel. We usually have to stop and ask for directions (did I say it's out of the way?) and it's tradition that when we visit, Doug burns the guys a bunch of CDs of sixties and seventies music. They especially like the Doors.
We hadn't been there for a couple of years, but this year we had a special request by someone on our Art and Culture Tour to visit the "squash town"... so we made the journey.
The Hernandez Cano workshop has about twenty family members working there now, with three different "showrooms" full of gorgeous pottery, some of which is below. Though I was not really in the market, I couldn't resist and ended up buying a few more of their pieces.
(photo on right: Salvador Hernandez Cano is painting a new piece)

Pieces first dry in the sun on the patio, and the horno in the back on the left (right photo) is where the artisans fire the pottery.
The Hernandez Cano family workshop began in 1815. When the demand for lead-free ceramics caused many artisans of the town to give up their craft, the Hernandez Cano family took the opportunity to create something new. They were fortunate to be granted a contract with Mexico’s Museum of Anthropology to rescue an ancient technique of painting in negative, which had all but disappeared. And as a result of their research into Aztec, Maya, and Tarascan designs, the family came up with their own recognizable and unique style, a style that has won them numerous state and national awards within Mexico. Today the grandsons of those artisans are well known for their beautiful burnished pottery featuring Pre-Hispanic designs. The brothers, who are constantly creating new designs and innovations, are also teaching their children who work along side them, even down to the 5 year old, who according to his uncle, Gabriel, is learning what it means to “feel the emotion of the clay”. Each handmade piece reflects the family workshop’s joy and pride in Mexico’s rich cultural traditions. The beautiful piece below is a traditional shape, called a luneta and features one of my favorite designs. This and more is for sale at

If you read Spanish, you can check out the following article from a Michoacan newspaper, plus the Hernandez Cano brother's blog.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

La Catrina

Who is this lady, where did she come from, and why is she getting so much attention? I am asked this question a lot.
Her name is Catrina, and she has become a recognized symbol or icon for Day of the Dead in both Latin America and here in the United States. Yes, she is part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration, but that's not her true origin. La Catrina (below) was one of many skeleton images created by Mexican engraver José Guadalupe Posada.
Posada's calaveras, accompanied by witty social commentary in rhyming verse, were printed in newspapers and reached the farthest corners of the Mexican Republic. They aren't evoking death, but are mocking the living-- their defects, weaknesses and vices. Posada's skeleton caricatures have been called "calaverismo politico" -- his attempt to uncover the "rot of political and social life" in Mexico at the time. The Catrina, an upperclass lady of the turn-of-the-century, is depicted in her broad-brimmed hat and is Posada's comment on the "wannabes" in Mexico at the time who aspired to be everything French. The idea is that the rich may put on airs and wear their fancy clothes, but underneath they are just like you and me. In other words, death is the great equalizer, as we are all mortal.

Above and to the left are more beautiful clay Catrinas from Capula. The paper mache Catrina in the red dress below was made by an artisan in Patzcuaro, as was
the wood batea (plate) below.

The clay plates of Pancho Villa and Don Quixote were made by Fidel Avalos of Capula. The Hernandez Cano family of Zinapecuaro also makes fantastic burnished clay vases and platters with hand painted drawings inspired Jose Guadalupe Posada.

For more information about Dia de los Muertos and Jose Guadalupe Posada, or to purchase some of our folk art, go to: