A grandmother’s gift

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She was one of four girls, but she was the only one who took interest in the making of dolls.

Making dolls was a family tradition going back at least to her grandmother’s generation. At around 8 years of age she began to go over to her grandmother’s house to watch her make dolls. These dolls were very special, she says, because they were made for family and friends, with great care and artistry in each one.  Not long after, she wanted to start making her own and her grandmother helped her make a plush swan. The making of that swan remains a strong memory of her grandmother to this day.

She left school after the fifth grade to help out her mother. Her mother also made dolls, but it was more of a commercial activity, a way for the family to earn money to make ends meet. Through this she began a career of making dolls, starting at age 12. She developed her various skills with her mother although she says that the dolls were much simpler than those her grandmother made. These dolls needed to be made more quickly and serially so that they could have enough to sell.

By age 17, she specialized in dolls that could stand and be manipulated into various positions. To achieve this, the arms, legs and torso are of rolled cloth over a wire frame. It was also at this time that the labor was divided such that her mother dedicated herself to selling and Concepción to making. Her mother acknowledged her talent and encouraged her to experiment with new forms, such as images of old people.

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These were one of many kinds of images that Concepción had in her head. Over time her work has included images of saints, nativity scene figures, dancers, vendors, craftsmen and more based on life in and around Celaya. She began exhibiting and participating in state handcraft competitions successfully. Her dolls have also competed in other Mexican states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Coahuila.

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Over the years, she has taught many classes in Celaya on doll making, but her favorite student and heir is not a daughter, but her son, Luis Alberto Alvarado Balderas. He learned how to make dolls as well, but instead of making them as individuals, he concentrates in the making of elaborate scenes of the places and festivals of Celaya, with the dolls populating the squares, and streets. This is an outgrowth not only of Concepción’s addition of straw hats, miniature pots, bird cages and other accoutrements to her figures, but Luis’s love of various crafts, including wood working.

Unfortunately, Doña Concepción is no long making dolls as she began to have problems with her vision some years ago. However, her dolls can be found in the collections of various individuals and museums in Guanajuato. With luck, her legacy will continue with her students as well as with her son and grandchildren.

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