Ceramic Recall

Magdalena Pedro Martinez sculpts the traditional costumes of Oaxaca

Magdalena Pedro Martínez uses the distinctive black clay indigenous to her town, San Bartolo Coyotepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca,. Her work focuses on figures of women dressed in regional costumes. The black clay comes from the mines outside of her town, located in the central valley just south of Oaxaca City. Part of the town’s name, “Coyotepec,” derives from the words coyotl (coyote) and tepetl (hill), and translates to “on the hill of the coyote.”  She will be exhibiting at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Museum from July 9 – 11.  (See www.folkartmarket.org for more details.)
The ceramic artists of San Bartolo Coyotepec are world famous for their barro negro - black pottery. What gives Magdalena’s sculptures a creative edge is the carefully engraved detail the artist bestows on each piece. As a practicing physician, the human form is one that she knows well. Such features as faces, hands and feet are particularly life-like in her work.
In addition, special attention is paid to the regional costumes. Her work particularly favors the rendition of the traje (costume) of the Oaxaca’s Tuxtupec. “My job is to contribute to the recovery of the traditional costume of my town, (the memory of) which already has been lost,” Dr. Martínez explains.
She first begins with a large mass of clay to shape the body. She then uses separate pinches of clay to infuse the regional costumes with a spark of life.
Beginning with the face, each component of the figure is formed with handmade tools to create minute details, including such disparate aspects as hair braids, favored jewelry and differing designs of lace, all used in the region throughout history. Each component is created separately before being joined to the core of the figure.
After the figures dry, Magdalena burnishes the clay to achieve a special contrast that helps set her work apart from other clay figures produced in the same area. “When the figures are dry, I burnish with quartz,” she said. “The brightness and contrast is realized during a second burnishing.”
Finally, each figure is placed in a hole dug into the ground, covered with wood, and baked for eight hours. This process intensifies the black coloration.
Magdalena Pedro Martínez grew up in a family of artists. She credits them with giving her the freedom to experiment with the black clay that, traditionally, was used by the people of her village to make utilitarian cookware for everyday use. Magdalena used the money she earned from the sale of her distinctive work to support her university studies in pursuit of a medical degree.
As she developed artistically, Dr. Martínez said it became apparent that she needed to take the process one more step:  the creation of a permanent record of the traditional costumes worn by the women in her area, documented in the clay of the people.
When she first began creating the figures, she turned to her grandmother for stories about the traditional native dress of her youth. Now that her grandmother is gone, Magdalena still remembers these stories as she records traditions that might have been forgotten through her work in clay.
Please attend the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, which takes place July 9 – 11, 2010.  The market is an amazing array of traditions and talents, and is simply not to be missed. See www.folkartmarket.org for more.



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