by Teresa Salas
Upon entering the studio at Avila Camacho #123, the inconvenience of negotiating Tonala's narrow streets on a scorching summer day are immediately forgotten. Amid the colorful array of hand made pottery, painted and polished to perfection, sits an artist who insists on doing things the hard way-- the old-fashioned way.
Angel Santos, a long-time resident of Tonala, Jalisco, is busy creating some stunning examples of Mexican folk art at its finest. His burnished pots, tiles, vases and figures are made following the same traditional techniques that were developed by Pre-Columbian craftsmen. Burnished pottery is in fact among one of the oldest artistic techniques known to the Americas. (See El antiQuario Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 4 for more information on the creation of burnished pottery.) The process is a time-consuming one, and as I watch him labor patiently on a large urn I feel a tinge of guilt for being annoyed with the traffic of a few minutes ago.
Santos is an artist who isn't afraid to sacrifice high production in the name of quality-- a true rarity in our world of mass produced pieces. He comments during a recent interview with El antiQuario, "There aren't many of us around anymore. Few want to continue the profession because the process is very involved, making profits in real terms small. We live in an epoch of disposable things." But that doesn't stop him from creating each piece one at a time. He is a man who obviously loves his work, and it shows.
Santos is among the top potters currently producing in this country. He recently received first place in Popular Arts from Mexico's National Foundation for the Arts (FONART) and has exhibited both locally and abroad. His work is held in private hands in France and the United States. In Mexico, pieces of his burnished art are included in the corporate collections of Colegio de San Idelfonso, in Mexico City and Planetario Alfa, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
Originally from Zacatecas, this soft-spoken artist began studying under the direction of the Silva Palomino family shortly after moving to Tonala. He claims the family not only taught him the art of burnished pottery, but the art of life as well. "Besides showing me the process involved in making burnished pottery," he comments, "they helped me understand the customs of Tonala and how to really live. I feel like I am a part of their family." The Silva Palomino family are no longer active in producing burnished wares. "We have a reduced market," states Santos, "most artisans have to go to another craft."
Opening his first studio by the age of seventeen, Santos now also offers his work to the public in shops in Tlaquepaque, Tonala and the coastal city of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. The artist maintains a high set of standards, and each piece must pass his strict scrutiny before being signed. Although Santos shares his studio with four others, the house rules are that each artist autographs his own individual creations. If you are not proud enough of your work to put your own name on it, how can you be proud enough to offer it for sale to others? His sweet stubbornness for perfection is bound to assure him a place in history as one of Mexico's most important artists of the twentieth century. And the true beauty of it is that he is not looking for fame, he is simply a man with an old-fashioned way of thinking.