The work of an original can be somewhat hard to find in Mexican folk art, with many communities’ emphasis on tradition. But sometimes, an artisan’s creativity breaks these bounds such that it cannot be ignored.
I must painfully admit that I have not always pushed myself to make those interpersonal connections that are so, so very important here in Mexico.
However, sometimes life gives you a second chance. I first saw Angelica Morales‘ pottery at the Palm Sunday Folk Art Market (Tianguis de Domingo de Ramos) in Uruapan in 2015. I was immediately drawn to her pottery as its beige background with black line drawings stood out among the many other ceramic wares. It is quite unique, using very basic Michoacan pottery pieces as canvases for Morales’ depictions of rural life in the Patzcuaro area. However, my introvert side got the better of me and I did not press for information about who made the wares when I bought the piece that now is in a prominent place in my Mexico City living room.
Fast forward to November of the same year, when my husband (the photographer) and I want to the Feria Maestros de Arte event in Chapala, Jalisco. Imagine my surprise to see this same pottery jumping out to greet me. This time I was determined to make up for my earlier error, with Morales being my first interview there.
Morales and her family is from the Michoacan town of Tzintzuntzan, one of a ring of traditional towns around Lake Patzcuaro. The largest and best known of these today is Patzcuaro, but in the pre Hispanic period Tzintzuntzan was the capital of the Purhepecha (or Tarascan) Empire, rival to the Aztecs. After the Conquest, the scattered population of the area was enticed to resettle through the work of Vasco de Quiroga, who not only offered protection from the worst of Spanish abuses, but worked to promote economic opportunities for the indigenous through trades. Because of Quiroga’s work, Michoacan remains one of Mexico’s main handcraft production center, and the Lake Patzcuaro zone dominates this production.
Morales is part of Michoacan’s pottery tradition, which is the most dominant. However, most of this production is traditional and there is relatively little innovation or variation among artisans’ work. This is one reason why Morales’ work stands out so well. The Palm Sunday Market is largest showcase of Michoacan’s handcrafts, and the work stands out collectively, it can be very difficult to distinguish work done by one artisan or another.
To do so requires the ability and desire to try something different. In the maestra’s case, this something different is her ability to make simple line drawing, which show artistry through the fact that they convey so much emotion without divulging much detail about the subjects. The effect is clean and well adapted to the simple pottery to which it is applied. Neither pottery or decoration detract from the other, but instead compliment each other.
The simplicity of the design allows it to be noticed from a distance as well. Morales states that she prefers working on flat surfaces, but she and her family have produced a significant number of vases and other curved pieces, which are decorated carefully, allowing the form of the piece and the design to still compliment each other.
Morales’ work has been gaining notice among collectors of Mexican folk art, but most of her sales are still through her home and local markets. She has been approached by foreign dealers, but they want production higher than she can or really wishes to deliver. This has the effect making her work somewhat exclusive, at least for the time being, until others begin to copy and adapt her ideas. But her work will always remain the original.