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From the Shores of Lake Cajititlan

by Leslie Fausto

Mexico's dusty country roads lead to places almost overlooked by the modem rhythm
of life. Children ride their bareback donkeys to the village store for a bottle of tepid Coca-Cola, shouting greetings to a group of grandfathers playing dominoes under the shade of a lanky mesquite tree. There are no nine-to-five jobs here, most everyone works for themselves and their family. Life has a deep resonance that bridges the generations, livelihoods are hewn from an intemperate landscape.
The town of San Juan Evengelista, Jalisco is such a place. Nestled on the shore of lake Cajititlan, the village is built around a striking sixteenth century cathedral. Watching the procession of town folk dressed in Sunday whites stroIl the grounds after Mass, one senses that this place has been inhabited long before the first stone of the church was ever laido
A lofty waIl surrounds the colonial structure, and here one finds the soul of the viIlage. Pre-hispanic style clay dogs and jaguars appear to be dozing on the waIl under the bright Jalisco sky. Colorful baIls and earthenware virgenes, engraved with geometric designs, dry beside them in the open air. The pieces are the work of Sixto and Martin Ibarra, a father and son team of potters who support a family of elders and youngsters from the damp clay of Cajititlan. A gentle rap on their front door brings a giggling pair of adolescent faces, and Payaso the pup, scurrying to the entrance way to greet uso
Payaso is much too young to be the model for Don Sixto's dancing Colima dogs, but he certainly has that same mischievous look ofbeing privy to an ancient secret. As we cross the threshold into the studio-workshop-home the aroma of sweet com and soaking beans lingers in the air like perfume. There is no definition between modem conveniences and antique traditions here, all seems to blend into one. The window shade of long fluorescent light-bulb tubes is a perfect compliment to the rough mes quite bench. Clothes flap in a soft breeze and finished pieces of pottery bask in the spotty shade of flowering bugambiIlias. There is no showroom, just a humble jumble of rooms packed with pottery in various states of completion, and every piece is already soldo
Martin's style is distinctly different from that of el maestro Sixto, but certainly no less skiIlful. His earthenware virgenes appear to be embroidered, their long garments are laced with applications of clay flowers, engraved pattems and painted designs. Their miniature hands, the crosses in their crowns and los niños santos perched in the outstretched arms are created and fired apart from the main figures, to be set gently into place once the entire piece is finished. Each diminutive piece fits perfectly into the sleeve of its owner's sacred gown and crown.
Martin also fabricates decorative hollow clay baIls and eggs-all of which he covers with intricate motifs sketched on the surface by hand. No two pieces are exactly alike, each being formed and molded by whatever inspiration strikes him at the moment.
Martin knows that a healthy sense of humor is essential for an
artist working with the sometimes capricious natural clay. During the rainy season pieces can take two to three times longer to dry and once his creations are hardened, one cannot be sure they will survive the firing process of the home-built kiln. But the whimsical temperament of his chosen canvas keeps him far from being moody- it keeps him energetic and inventive. As the young artist states, "1 don't think one can ever discover the endless possibilities clay offers an artist."
Ibarra was bom in San Juan Evangelista on March 9, 1966... "or 1965? No I think it was 1965" he comments absentmindedl. He learned, as have many masters otters, by watching his father work and by experimenting on hi own.
Demand for Ibarra's spheres has become so phenomenal that other area studios are beginning to copy his designs. Although the infrigent of his creative rigths is lametable, Ibarra is not overly concerned. The superior quality of his work speaks for itself.