HANDS THAT SEE: A MEXICAN LOVE STORY
“It would seem that the hearts of the potters of Oaxaca are made of clay. Their emotions, intuitions, joys, fears, and fantasies flow through their bloodstream until arriving at the hands which knead the clay and, as if by magic, transform it into exquisite ceramic sculptures.” - The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art (pub. 2021)
Mexico is a land of endless opportunities and possibilities – and for Obakki, it is another opportunity to discover and work with artisans who take pride in their culture and heritage. Artisans who speak to their ancestors. Artisans who create beauty from the earth and the plants. Oaxaca is culture and art and tradition.
And this is where we found the most incredible sculptor. His workshop is Manos Que Ven (Hands That See). And the artisan is Jose Garcia Antonio, a sculptor who went blind in the 1950s, due to glaucoma. And now, he sculpts his wife’s face, so that he will never forget what she looks like.
You would not believe the love that radiates from this couple.
His wife’s name is Teresita Mendoza Reyna Sanchez, and she blushes like a schoolgirl when he speaks of how important she is to him. He dances around her in joy every day.
They have been married 35 years, and she is his eyes as they move around the workshop, her hand gently guiding him as it rests on his elbow. And when he sits at the worktable, clay in front of him, it is her face he creates, again and again. Teresita has a mole in the middle of her forehead, and this is how you can always tell if it is an authentic Jose Garcia Antonio piece – he includes the mole in his sculptures of his wife’s face.
Jose prefers to work in the dark, when the temperature is more comfortable, and often sleeps during the day. He began sculpting when he was seven years old – making horses and giraffes with no prior instruction or knowledge – and impressing those around him with his talent. In 2001, he was recognized as a ‘master sculptor’ by the Fomento Cultural Banamex, an agency whose mission is to promote Mexican culture.
Today, the 75-year-old artisan creates his popular head planters and candle holders all by hand from the rich, red clay of the Oaxacan earth (also the same soil that produces the finest mezcal in the world, but that’s another story).
And he invites students from the local schools to come to the workshop for demonstrations and classes, so that the rich Oaxacan pottery traditions may continue through the next generations. His own children are both budding sculptors. His art, and talent, are a family affair. And his home is full of love as he sculpts to remember his wife’s face. The only face he knows. The only face he needs to know.
SHOP THE STORY
Back in 2014, I made a solo pilgrimage to Naoshima, an island west of Osaka, known for its art. It has amazing museums designed by Tadao Ando, a favorite architect of mine, and there’s various art installations and art houses scattered around the island.
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My pottery is inspired by the generations that came before me who have passed down this sacred craft. In my community you are born, raised and live each day by the clay—the Holy Mother. Every part of my being is woven through the story of this magical mud.