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Clay charro, by 70-year-old Tlaquepaque artist Ildefonso Goche.

Ildefonso Goche's Charros

by Ruben Rodriguez

Teofilo Escobedo proudly shows off his wonderful clay figurines to a friend. Although the artisan has been down on his luck lately, his classic Mexican figures have been selling pretty well at the local cock fights... The clay figurines used in this scene, from the movie "El Gallo Colorado," directed by Emilio Gomez Muriel in 1957, are from the Goche ceramics studio of Tlaquepaque, Jalisco.

These clay sculptures form part of the rich local tradition that visitors from around the world continue to marvel over. Testimonies from the 19th century, for example, about the pottery produced and sold in Tlaquepaque, abound: "But above and beyond everything being sold at the market, by far the most interesting are the little clay figures made by the area's indigenous people. Some of their pieces are real works of three-dimensional art. What is even more amazing is that these people have not even had any formal training in art, or any other type of schooling, for that matter. It is a self-taught art which is passed on from generation to generation.... These are works of exactness," writes John L. Geiger from London in 1874, after a lengthy visit to Mexico.

For years, Mexico"s "typical clay figures" have lent prestige to the country. To this day that tradition of prestige is carried on through the sculptures created the the Goche family.
The Goche brothers learned the art from their father, Sabino Goche Ramos, who was a sculptor on par with greats such as Miguel Zuñiga. Grandfather Fortino Goche also knew the endless possibilities of clay, having worked at the then famous Heraclio Farias studio. But it was don Sabino who started the family down the path of creating "popular" figures with his charros (Mexican cowboys), fashioned after the mounted men who rode into San Pedro Tlaquepaque from their haciendas once a year for the traditional fair. Riders in elegantly ornate costumes, known as chimirineados, grabbed everyone's attention, as did the bags of money, cock fights and firearms... For this reason, when former Mexican president Luis Echeverria asked Ildefonso, with a tone of admiration, if he had any schooling, he replied, "No, Sir. It is purely tradition, tradition passed on from fathers to sons."

Sabino's sons, Pedro, Ildefonso and Nicolas, began modelling clay at an early age. They started by mixing black and white clay, sculpting the sticky substance into little animals for nativity scenes. Although Pedro did study art under sculptor Brigido Ibarra, patriarch Sabino believed that the art of sculpting came from within. Proportion, symmetry and the suggestion of movement is what art is all about the look in the eyes, the height of the ears, the shape of the mouth, the figure's shoes, the angle of the horse's hooves and curve of its neck, even the ability of being able to create a distinguishable difference between a palm leaf hat and one of straw. In these miniature human replicas, right down to the texture of their sombreros and the color of their sarapes, every detail is carefully watched and created with a sense of harmony.

Of this life-like accurateness in detail, Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl) writes in his 1921 publication, "Las Artes Populares de México," in reference to the clay figurines of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, "Some of these clay figurines reveal a great sense of perception and observation. They are almost always typical figures, especially the charros on horseback, and are full of movement and detail. The truly interesting pieces are those that represent images from prior times, perhaps because they best conserve the art's original ambition. The combative scenes between charros are full of action. There is almost an excess of detail in the reproduction of the clothing's adornments, the horse's hair and lavish the hats. In some cases, this excess of detail actually gives the figure a special characterisation, making it interesting for its ingenuity and minuscule work."

The Goche's have been preparing and applying the colors the exact same way for more years than they may care to remember. The paints used to be all natural the blacks came from burnt guayaba tree branches, the red from brick, etcetera. At seventy years of age, Ildefonso Goche remembers the days when San Pedro began digging to lay its water drainage pipes. Brightly colored clay shardes dating to pre-hispanic times were turned up, the pigments were prepared just as the Goche's were. Like other artisans, the Goche family used water based paints prepared with a paste extracted from mesquite trees. And, like the old masters, they used egg whites to give luster and transparency to their colors. Back then, fine paint brushes couldn't be purchased at the local hardware store as they can today. None the less, the Goches still use homemade brushes of raccoon hair for the finer details. The larger brushes are used only to "wash" the horses in a light coating of oily tar known as chapopote.

Goche first mounted a horse many years ago, when the area surrounding Tlaquepaque was still open plains and corn fields. His fascination with this animal has lasted his entire life, as can be seen clearly in the detail he gives to each clay animal and miniature rider. Goche once saw Pancho Villa in a dream. The Mexican hero left quite an impression on the artist, as evidenced by his portrayal of the revolutionary figure firmly mount in the saddle.

Also from the Goche studio, and also on horseback, are an agitated father Hidalgo fighting the Spaniards; Porfirio Diaz, invincible against the French; and Emiliano Zapata, serious and pensive with no back-up support except his self confidence and great love for his people.

His lasso throwing charros, gentlemen cowboys and pistol totting riders have brought Ildefonso Goche recognition and numerous awards, including the 1993 and 1994 Premio Nacional de la Cerámica. One of his pieces, the Ganadero, is also on permanent display at the Pantaleon Panduro museum in Tlaquepaque.

We had to ambush Sr. Ildefonso Goche into this interview. Thank goodness he surrendered peacefully.

Don Ildefonso's work is often confused with that of the Panduro family. El antiQuario aims to set the record straight.