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Folkart Figures by the Aguilar Family

These whimsical folk-art pieces are fine examples of a time-honored traditional handicraft called muñecas.  The Aguilar / Alcantara family are world renowned clay figurine folk artists from the village of Ocotlán, Oaxaca, Mexico. These artists capture the joyful celebration of everyday life and cultural traditions of pueblo life in Mexico.

Zanzibar Tribal Art always carries a varied selection of works by Josefina Aguilar and occasional pieces by other family members.  Visit our retail gallery for our current selection or call or email us and we can send you photos of our current inventory!

All of the family members are in important collections of Mexican Folk art all over the world, including many museum and university collections. The family includes matriarch Dona Isaura Alcantara Diaz (deceased); her daughters Guillermina, Josefina, Irene, Concepcion; son Jesus, and grandsons including Demetrio Garcia Aguilar. Other family members including Josefina’s husband Jose assist and or make their own clay art as well. Of these artisans, Josefina Aguilar and her son Demetrio Garcia Aguilar stand out as exceptional masters.

Josefina’s mother was Dona Isaura Alcantara Diaz who died in 1969 at the age of 44. She was the innovator of an important and delightful genre of ceramics. Departing from the utilitarian objects such as bowls, vessels and pots produced by her contemporaries in her village of Ocotlán de Morelos, she introduced decorative human figures. These imaginatively captured the daily life, passionate expressiveness and cultural richness of pueblo life. Her highly detailed, colorfully painted human figures embodied their traditional lives’ vitality, depth of emotion and pulse.

Isaura Alcantara was recognized as a major artistic figure by significant collectors of Mexican folk art such as Nelson Rockefeller and Alexander Girard. Isaura had a profound influence on the creative lives of four of her Daughters: Guillermina, Josefina, Irene and Concepcion ( from eldest to youngest) and her son Jesus. While all of her children are well known, her second daughter Josefina in considered a master and is one of the most collectable folk artists in Mexico. Josefina may be foremost among Dona Isaura's daughters, due perhaps to picking up the skill at such an early age, and working under Dona Isaura for 7 years, before her mother's early passing.

     


Josefina Aguilar Alcantara, a serious and dedicated artist, is deeply involved in her outstanding work as a ceramist in her mother’s tradition.  The second daughter of Isaura, Josefina creates "muñecas" human figures in a vast array of activities, venues and costumes.

Josefina's skill began to be noticed when she was quite young, and by the time she was in her early twenties, articles about her work began to appear in European and North American journals. In 1985, she and her husband José traveled to the US. Since then, interest in her work has continued to grow, as has her stature as a major artist in ceramics. Josefina creates figures which are very spontaneous, and with a touch of humor. Josefina regards the faces and especially the noses of her figures as her trademark and emphasizes her practice of making different faces on each one.  

Buyer beware!  Interestingly enough, just because a piece resembles or is signed by Josefina doesn’t mean she crafted it. Several family members create clay figures in her style and sign them Josefina so that they bring more money. Each of her sisters and other family members have a distinct style, however many of them copy her pieces and sign them because her pieces are in such demand. When you visit Josefinas home, only about 20 out of every 100 pieces signed by her are actually crafted by her. True to her master status, however, the pieces actually by Josefina are superior and little masterpieces of folkart and generally go for more money.   At Zanzibar, we guarantee any piece we sell, unless otherwise noted, is actually crafted by Josefina.

The pieces are crafted from locally collected clays then fired in a pit kiln before being meticulously painted. Each one is a unique one of a kind work of art. Josefina specializes in many styles, some of our favorites are her vendors selling everything from iguanas, cats and chickens to pots and pans.

Jose Juan Garcia, Aguilar, the son of Josefina is also a famous artisan that has shown both nationally (in Mexico) and abroad.  Born in 1974, his style is quite unique.  He does wonderful saint figures as well as near grotesque bugs and animals with skull heads.  Some of his figures are shown below.  Click to enlarge.

    


 

  Demetrio García Aguilar, the son of Josefina is a world renowned clay artist – equaling his mother’s notoriety and in some circles being more sought after. He grew up in a family of clay artists. Drawing on the traditions of his grandmother and his mother he learned to gather and prepare the raw materials and to model the engaging folkart figures for which the family has earned worldwide acclaim.



Combining his mother's folk art tradition with his own unique style, Demetrio creates fantastic handcrafted muñecas (human figures) and plaques with personal interpretations of religious, cultural and family themes. Examples of themes he is known for are, the Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden, the good and bad in all of us, Day of the Dead scenes, and various Frida Kahlo interpretations.

The second son of renowned clay artisan Josefina Aguilar, clay was one of his toys as an infant. By age 7, figures he created in his mother's style were already selling to collectors. As early as 1988, he won first prize in a competition.

Demetrio is known for his ability to reproduce textures such as rocks and trees. He achieves this by mixing paint with clay. This photo is used courtesy of San Angel Folk Art. To Demetrio García Aguilar, life is about clay and each piece tells a story. Now widely acclaimed in his own right, the artist who is in his 30’s feels he discovered his own personal artistic language only within the last six years or so. His current ceramic work could be called flowing narratives. His individual standing figures seem to express stories "embroidered" powerfully in their stances, surface style and context. We see this, most notably, in his depictions of devils, village women, virgins and "la muerte", or death personified.

Demetrio’s work enables us to see and feel the complexities, challenges and trevails of daily village life in Mexico. As he works the clay, Artista invitado is transformed into a storyteller. His richly detailed figures entice us with their intricacy, revealing tales historic and timeless, churning with fantasy bordering on the frightening.

In recent years, Demetrio’s work has taken prizes in a number of notable competitions, including the "Grand Prize of Mexican Folk art Exhibit", selected work, Mexico City, 1996. In 1998, his art was exhibited at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago.


Demetrio and his mother Josefina lives in Ocotlan, 25 kilometers south of Oaxaca, where their studios are part of the larger García Aguilar family ceramic workshop.