For many years now, I have made it a practice to regularly visit the sculpture and pottery studio-workshop-home of Jose Garcia Antonio. We call him “Don Jose,” an honorific that testifies to his folk art talent working with clay. Last week, three of us hired a taxi for an all-day excursion into the Ocotlan valley. Roberta had commissioned a sculpture for her Teotitlan del Valle rooftop garden and we set out to retrieve it.
Don Jose is blind from cataracts, yet his hands feel the wet clay and create primitive works of beauty that are in museum and private collections. His wife Teresa Mendoza Sanchez is his muse and helpmate. It is her image that is reflected in his work. Almost all of his robust depictions of women have her features and signature beauty mark.
His work is recognized in the Grandes Maestros de Arte Popular de Oaxaca Art (Great Masters of Oaxaca Folk Art), a book produced by Banamex Foundation and supported by the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation. (I was at the presentation but missed getting a book because I was too busy talking! Now, I can’t seem to find one anywhere.)
He proudly showed us his copy of the book signed by all the dignitaries who were there: Philanthropist Alfredo Harp Helu, Dra. Isabel Grañen Purrua, Governor Gabino Cue, and other notables. I saw him from a distance accept this treasure, an official recognition of his life’s work. His children have also been acknowledged for their creativity in Arden Rothstein’s book about the new generation of talent coming out of the villages.
Jose and Teresa’s home is tucked away beyond the church in San Antonino Castillo Velasco behind a tall gate. You would never know the treasure trove that awaits you by looking from the street.
To get there, you turn right on Castillo Velasco at the sign that directs you into the pueblo from the Ocotlan road. Then you go straight until you get to the street before the church and turn right. (If you go right up to the church, the only way you can go is left, so pay attention.) Turn left at the next street, Calle Libertad, and continue for a few blocks until you see the clay cow and pig on the roof. Tel. (951) 539-6473.
The next generation: Jose and Maria’s daughter is an excellent sculptor as well. And, a footnote: Because I’m now able to live here many more months out of the year, I went ahead and acquired the pretty clay woman with the braids and bowl on her head, hanging on to her skirts, above left. As with most primitive folk art, these pieces are delightful, whimsical, and reflective of the cultural art traditions. They are also very heavy. Shipping and crating would be a bloody fortune!