Portrait of a Huichol Healer (Curandero) and Artisan, Juan López de La Cruz:
Juan López La La Cruz (“de la Cruz,” as appears on his official documents) is an artisan and traditional healer (“curandero” in Spanish) from the community of San Andrés Cohamiata, in the State of Jalisco.
He became a healer through his experiences in Real de Catorce, an area sacred to the Huichol Indians in the state of San Luis Potosí where peyote grows in abundance. Don Juan states that when he was a young boy, perhaps 8 years old, his mother and extended family took him to Real de Catorce for the first time. There, he took peyote and learned many things about the Earth and the animals of the world.
Juan and Veronica when Juan came to visit our house in February 2006.
The second time he went to Real de Catorce, he was a little older. He took peyote again and learned more about the sacred world of the Huichol Indians and the world of spirits and animals. The third visit to Real de Catorce is when he learned about the creation of the world, of the sun and moon, of the animals, and of all the beings of the Earth.
Through his experiences in Real de Catorce, he also learned to cure illnesses. Since he was fifteen years old, he has been a healer. He has traveled and given treatments throughout the states of Jalisco, Monterrey, Durango, and many other parts of Mexico. The state of Jalisco and the leaders of his community have recognized him as a certified traditional healer with the rights to give treatments throughout Mexico.
Don Juan is also an artisan, working in traditional Huichol beadwork, colorful hats, and woven bags. Huichol beadworks include masks, jaguars, serpents, and Huichol prayer bowls made from gourds. Many of these beautiful objects have images of the sacred world of the Huichol, including images of peyote and various plants and animals.
Don Juan has also participated in the sacred Huichol pilgrimage known as the “Caminata del Peyote.” This pilgrimage involves walking from Jalisco to Real de Catorce, and from there to the port city of San Blas in the state of Nayarit. This journey also passes near Chapala Lake.
Don Juan has three children. The oldest is a mother of five children. Pascual, the next oldest, also has five children. The youngest, Asunción, has 2 children.
The Tradition and History of “Popotillo,” Mexican Straw Painting An Interview with Teresa Ruiz Rivera de Torres from the Workshop “Popotillo y Color”
The workshop “Popotillo y Color,” located in Mexico City, is an award winning group of artisans who work mostly in the ancient Mexican tradition of “popotillo,” or colored straw painting. Teresa Ruiz Rivera de Torres and her husband José Alfonso Torres Martinez work together with four other family members to create these wonderful paintings that cross the line between fine art and folk art.
The workshop is now six years old, with six members currently making art. Their work can now be seen in Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Arte Popular (The National Musuem of Popular Art). Theresa and the other artists were recently interviewed by Canal 11, a public television station based in Mexico City that features programs on culture and art. In 2005, they were invited to participate in an art exhibit in Spain.
In 2004, José Alfonso won first place for best original painting in the prestigious art show “Los Motivos de Las Artesanías, Símbolos del Distrito Federal” for his painting “El Coyote Emplumado” (“The Plumed Coyote”). This painting is a work in popotillo that features a pre-Hispanic design.
The History of Popotillo
We recently visited Teresa at her home, and asked her to talk about their work and the history of popotillo painting. She explained that there is not much in the way of information published on the history of popotillo. What is known is that popotillo straw has been used by the indigenous populations of central Mexico both for art and for domestic purposes since before the arrival of the Spanish.
Popotillo (“thin straw” in Spanish) is a type of sacaton grass (genus: Sporobolus) that has been used since pre- Columbia times in various forms of folk art. This kind of straw is also commonly used to make brooms. It is also known as “popote de cambray” in Spanish. In pre-Hispanic times, natural dyes such as cochineal were used to color the straw. These days, the dyes are a combinational of natural and artificial dyes.
Teresa also explained that recent Chinese immigrants to Mexico brought a similar form of art to Mexico known as straw patchwork art. This is an ancient Chinese folk art that dates from the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618 AD). It is thought that Mexican and Chinese artisans recognized the similarity of their work and thus shared ideas and techniques.
Today, popotillo straw (popote de cambray) is commonly grown and harvested in the states of Mexico, Morelos, Hidalgo, and Puebla. These areas are also where the best popotillo artists come from. Teresa typically imports her popotillo from these states.
To make these paintings, the artist must first hand-dye the raw popotillo several different colors. Then, they draw out a design. Next, the artist places a very thin layer of a special bee’s wax known as “cera de Campeche” over the design. “Cera de Campeche” is also used by the Huichol Indians for their bead and yard designs.
The straw must be cut and organized according the needs of the artist and the painting. The pieces of popotillo can be as small as 1milimeter in length. The tiny pieces of straw are then pressed carefully into the wax. After completing the painting, a fixer is applied so that the delicate pieces of straw will stay in place. The artisans then frame all their pieces with hand-made frames.
A single painting can take weeks to complete. Teresa and the other members of the workshop have very unique styles. Teresa enjoys making pre-Hispanic designs from the Aztecs. Silvia specializes in Dead of the Dead motifs and fanciful animals. You can see a sample of their work at their website: www.popotillo.com.mx
The other members of the workshop are:
Silvia Torres Patricia Torres Ana Torres Maria Eugenia Torres