Thursday, March 1, 2018

José García Antonio: The Man Who Sees with his Hands

José García Antonio is a ceramicist and sculptor. Since the age of seven, he has been taking clay from fields surrounding the pueblo of San Antonino and forming it into figures that represent the rich culture of the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca.

As a child, José would go to a nearby spring and dig his fingers into the rich mud that was at the bottom. He formed it into small figures from his imagination. As he grew older, he refined his talent for sculpting. At the age of twenty-three, his brother-in-law, who was a ceramicist, gave him a bag of clay and asked him to make a statue of Mexico's beloved Cantiflas. It came out very well, and from that time on, José dedicated himself to sculpture.

José prides himself on the fact that he is self-taught. He never took a class or had a maestro. He experimented on his own and found what his heart was drawn to: making sculptures that reflect his Oaxaqueño and Zapotec roots. For the past thirty-one years, he has been working side by side with his wife, Teresita, specializing in making parejas (couples) from the seven regions of Oaxaca. Special attention is given to the trajes (outfits) worn by the women of each specific region. In addition to this, they revel in making mermaids, magical, mythical creatures that allow them to use their imaginations and talents to the fullest. When I came to visit them, they were finishing work on a very large piece entitled, Boda del Mar (Sea Wedding). José had masterfully crafted the piece, and Teresita was artfully embellishing it with birds, fish, and flowers. The piece weighs about 40 kilos and stands approximately four feet tall (1 meter 30cm).

Boda del Mar
When José was in his mid fifties, life presented him with an obstacle that would have been insurmountable by many; he lost his sight to glaucoma. Doctors told him that he would have to rely on his sense of touch to continue his work, and with time and determination, he did. “I learned to see with my hands”, he told me. He found it easier to make larger pieces, ones that were life size. “I took the clay (arcilla) and began to make what I wanted to actual size”. Teresita, took his life size creations and added the details with the utmost attention. “Él es mi maestro”, she said respectfully. She has become “una maestra” herself in the thirty-one years they have been married. They work as one, complementing each other with precision and respect.
José at work sculpting

José has given workshops to children in local schools.He said that to be a successful ceramicist, "you need to have two qualities: curiosity and patience. Many children want to makes something perfect right away. That's not how it works, you need to be patient, remain curious, and keep trying".

José and Teresita's three children and one grand daughter all sculpt clay as well. They are gifted craftspeople working together as a family. At age twelve, their grand daughter has already received three awards for her ceramic work. Yet despite the recognition that the family has received over the years, they remain humble and unpretentious in the work they do and the way they live. They are doing the work they love; it is what gives their lives meaning. José put it simply: “Eso es lo que estoy haciendo, que estoy viviendo, este trabajo tán bonito para mi”.

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