The daughter of Teodora Blanco squats on her knees at the small potter’s wheel as if in prayer at an altar holding an offering. Her legs are tucked neatly under her. She is dressed in embroidered white cotton, white on white. Behind her is a gray stucco wall. She is framed in the expanse of memory.
The earth gives forth blessings: tamales to eat, atolé to drink, clay for the vessels that hold them. A distant village, San Lorenzo Cacaotepec, is ancient source. Then, clay was hauled by burro. Now, husband Francisco drives the truck. The work is always heavy: dig the hard substance from pits deep in the earth.
The yield is terra-cotta red or deep gray like rain clouds or taupe like Isthmus sand. The recipe is historic: Mix together clay and water. Use a long pine paddle hewn from a mountain log. Assure the consistency is pliable, exact. Scoop it into smaller portions from which to create shape, form, structure.
Irma Claudia Garcia Blanco holds a portion of clay the color of steel. It is malleable and she presses her finger deep into its center.
She holds it like an infant, tender yet firm. She caresses the clay body and a figure emerges.
The daughter of Teodora Blanco sets the cone figure aside and begins to roll a clay cigarette to shape one arm, then the other.
Her fingers are nimble. Perhaps she will add an animal or anthropomorphic decoration: bird, eagle, snake, lightning. A chicken playing a fiddle! A dancing cow!
In the corner of the courtyard Tia guards the cooking pot filled with softening corn husks that will embrace fiesta tamales.
The daughter of Teodora Blanco has six daughters and one son. She remembers this as she works: After childbirth the midwife covers her with a cloak of orange leaves, fragrant and soft, so her milk will come in sweeter.
Her husband takes the birthing water and discards it far from the house. This is his role. On the third day, her first sip will be clear chicken broth. For 40 days, she will be confined to bed with the infant, drinking only unsweetened atolé to escape death. This is mystical, in the old traditions, says Irma Claudia, as she works the clay that becomes a woman holding two chickens.
Lulu, the youngest daughter still at home, stands to the side. She is quick with math and checks the transactions.
Years before a Rockefeller came here and anointed Teodora Blanco with fame. Centuries before, her antecedents fashioned pots, fired in deep pits with wood ignited by dung. This was their tribute to Monte Alban rulers who lived closer to god, high above Atzompa. The vessels and figures offerings to embellish tables and tombs.
Now, the function is obscure. We call this sculpture and decorate our homes, offices, gardens. The potter, daughter of generations, sits before her wheel. It is metal, not clay. The currency is pesos, not tribute. The kiln is concrete, not adobe. The fuel is still wood.
Irma Claudia signs her name for tourists, not royalty. The beauty endures.
Irma Claudia Garcia Blanco Artesanias, Av. Juårez, #302, Santa Marîa Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico. (951) 558-9286.
Upcoming workshops: Photography/Collage/Painting, Portrait Photography, Women’s Creative Writing + Yoga Retreat.
As mentioned in The Barra de Navidad Daily.
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