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José Luis Reyes Martínez

Enchanted sculptures from an enchanting family

San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca is home to a centuries-old ceramic tradition, and also the residence of sculptor José Luis Reyes Martínez. Martínez’s pieces are both beautiful and ceremonial, with local citizens routinely requesting figures for special occasions such as Day of the Dead or Christmas.

The family workshop, where Martínez continues to show and sell his work in an open courtyard space, is filled with ceramic pieces drying in the shade or sun, awaiting firing in a large kiln.

“We use clay obtained directly from the soil near our village, remove the impurities and then crush it into a fine powder,” explains Martínez. “We then add water and knead the clay, to get the right consistency. We use the pointed end of an agave leaf for etching, and a smooth stone for burnishing.” All sculptures are formed by hand, with some details like braids and flowers made separately and then added to the main body of the piece later. After this is done, each item is allowed to dry slowly in a shaded area, and then moved to the sun to dry completely. The piece is then fired in a kiln for several hours.

San Antonino Castillo Velasco is a village in the central valleys of Oaxaca, and the Zapotec communities here have ceramics traditions dating back beyond pre-Colonial times. José Luis Reyes Martínez learned this folk art from his father-in-law, José García Antonio, a widely recognized master ceramist.