Lacquer Gourds from Guerrero - opening

Saturday, Sunday, October 13, 14, noon-5pm
Galeria Atotonilco
For directions to the gallery: or 185-2225

Lacquer Gourds from Guerrero - opening

By Susan Page

The unique lacquer gourds and toys from the remote village of Tamalacatzingo, Guerrero, are arguably the most beautiful lacquer produced anywhere in the world. We use the word “unique” advisedly. The artists create special works for their annual competition, which we attend and where we are virtually the only buyers, so our selection of these stunningly beautiful gourds is quite literally the largest and finest in the world. You won’t find them anywhere else.

About twelve years ago, anthropologist Marta Turok spent time in the village persuading the artists to return to using traditional chia oil, and mineral earth powders and plants for color, ingredients that had been abandoned in favor of less expensive linseed oil and commercial dyes. Virtually all the artists now announce with pride that they have returned to the centuries-old natural materials. The result is an unctuous, translucent quality, and soft depth of color unobtainable with artificial chemicals. Traditional “greco” designs (also found in the ruins of Mitla, presumably based on designs found on old Greek pottery) are in widespread use, along with floral patterns and birds.

The village of Tamalacatzingo is so remote — four hours from any major highway, on very bad roads — that the conquistadors and Dominicans never found it, and the descendants are mostly pure Nahua Indians. They have been creating lacquer work for centuries, long before Chinese lacquer began to appear in New Spain in the 16th Century via the Manila galleons.

First, they grow the gourds, an art in itself. Then, they cut the top off a gourd in a pleasing pattern, using a tiny, saw tooth blade held with a cloth handle. This step is so important that a separate prize is awarded for the most clean and unusual or intricate cut. Then they clean out the inside of the gourd, mostly dried seeds, and sand the surface to a smooth shine. Both the inside and the outside have to be cleaned and sanded. Next, the artists apply chia oil. Then, with a circular hand motion, they work in mineral powders, which have been finely ground in their own workshop and are usually impregnated with dyes made from organic sources. Now, they burnish that mix with a smooth pyrite stone to a uniform sheen. These stages of chia oil, mineral powders, and burnishing, they repeat over and over. The more layers, the greater the translucency, depth of color, and soft jewel-like quality that results.

Galeria Atotonilco is featuring these spectacular works of art at their open house, Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14, from noon to 5 both days. Refreshments will be served. The 6,000 square foot show room also exhibits folk art from all over Mexico, vintage textiles, historic photographs, country and colonial antiques, contemporary pottery, and more. Directions to the gallery, five miles north of town in a beautiful country setting, are on the website at:

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