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Amatenango del Valle – Meeting the Artist Juana Gómez Ramírez

Town square, Amatenango del Valle

Town square, Amatenango del Valle

Amatenango del Valle is a village in the Chiapas highlands famous for its pottery. The people of Amatenango speak the Mayan language, Tzeltal. The men are mostly farmers. The women began selling pottery to contribute to the family income. The art of making pottery has been passed down from their ancestors. In years past, the pottery was used to carry water or for use in the home. Now, the pottery is sold to visitors and ranges from pots to animal figures. Although the pottery has changed over time, the ancient techniques remain.

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Pottery is seen all over Amatenango

Here is the artist, Juana Ramírez Gómez. Her family members are also making pottery pieces to sell in their family run workshop

Here is the artist, Juana Ramirez Gómez. Her family members are also making pottery pieces to sell in their family run workshop.

I met artist Juana Gomez Ramírez, who was kind enough to explain her work. Juana was raised by her mother who taught her how to work with clay. She began making pieces when she was only 8 years old. The selling of their pottery was their primary source of income.

In the early 1990’s an artist named Pancho Álvarez visited Amatenango, he showed Juana and her mother how to make clay jaguar figures, a symbol of the nearby jungles. By age 11, Juana started making the jaguars to sell roadside to tourists. In 2004, her detail and mastery of the jaguar was discovered and her pieces were showcased in Mexico. In 2013, Juana was invited to Chicago and her work was displayed at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The clay is gathering in the surrounding mountains, large pieces are broken down and water is added

The clay is gathered in the surrounding mountains, large pieces are broken down and water is added.

Juana shows how she molds the clay into the shape of a jaguar

Juana shows how she molds the clay into the shape of a jaguar

The outdoor kiln, this is a new addition and is more efficient and better for the environment. Before the new kiln, pottery was set in an open fire. Two large jaguars would use a truck load of firewood. With the new kiln, this amount of firewood will produce 12 jaguars

The outdoor kiln, this is a new addition and is more efficient and better for the environment. Before the new kiln, pottery was set in an open fire. In the open fire, two large jaguars would require a truck load of firewood. With the new kiln, this same amount of firewood will produce 12 jaguars.

This is one of her larger pieces, she showed how the crías, or young jaguars fit perfectly of the mother

This is one of her larger pieces, she showed how the crías, or young jaguars fit perfectly on the mother

A reddish rock is rubbed on the pieces to give them color, the clay is also made smooth with the use of a knife or spoon, here is where the pieces are painted after hardened in the kiln

A reddish rock is rubbed on the pieces to give them color, the clay is also made smooth with the use of a knife or spoon. The pieces are painted after they have hardened in the kiln