What could I do to hang on a bit more to my memories of Dolores Porras? I had visited her home in Atzompa, a pottery village on the outskirts of Oaxaca city, on numerous occasions. I had come to know her late in life when her pottery style was well developed and she had created a following of collectors and admirers from around the world. (See Wellesley College Professor Lois Wasserspring’s book, Oaxacan Ceramics: Traditional Folk Art by Oaxaca Women for reference.) Then, she was prolific and her shelves were packed with sirenas (mermaids) sculpted and painted on the clay walls of vessels, urns, plates, and anything else that would allow a breast or nose to take form.
I have come to the conclusion that all of Dolores’ female images are related. They are like sisters and cousins. One wears a different color pair of earrings or her tail flares in an opposite direction and is adorned with a contrasting color. Perhaps they are self-portraits — a common approach by self-taught artists who learn their craft from family members and village mentors.
I just acquired this vase (first photo above). I purchased it from a friend who lives locally here in North Carolina because I wanted to have Dolores with me at home. My other pieces are safely nestled in my Oaxaca bedroom at the Chavez casa — too fragile, I think, to ship. She belongs in both places that I love, Oaxaca and North Carolina.
Dolores was suffering from Parkinsons and was wheel-chair bound unable to work for the last year. Her family sold off all her pottery in 2009. I cried when I heard by email from Dr. Wasserspring that she had passed, although rumors were rampant during the last six months that she had succumbed earlier. My tribute to her is this brief testament to her talent and generosity.
There are moments in life when someone touches you. Perhaps there is a link between my father, a potter, and Dolores. They shared the same craft, the same affinity for translating their world into something solid and substantial that would endure beyond death.
I can turn this three-dimensional pot in any direction and always see something different. The perspective of shape and profile is confusing. Is it a face or breast?
This is a more recent piece with stronger colors and more defined and articulated painting and sculpture.
It is as if these figures are being born from clay. I just love the allegory of life being formed from a ball of clay — the story of creation, a bibliography.