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.
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.