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Collecting Mexican Folk Art

Collecting and Change in the Ceramics of the Aguilar family, Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca, Mexico

Ceramic mermaid figurine by Concepción Aguilar Alcántara
Ceramic mermaid figurine by Concepción Aguilar Alcántara

The four sisters of the Aguilar family in Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca carry on a ceramic tradition handed down from their late mother, Doña Isaura Alcántara. Doña Isaura was an innovator in local ceramics. She broke from the tradition of solely producing functional and ritual pottery and began to create detailed sculptures of female market vendors and mermaids, as well as scenes that reflected the daily life in rural Oaxaca.

Four of Doña Isaura's daughters, Guillermina, Josefina, Irene and Concepción, continue this colorful ceramic tradition that they learned as young assistants to their mother. In addition to creating figurines of women doing everyday activities, this "second-generation" has expanded their repertoire to include ceramic images of Frida Kahlo, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and "Women of the Night." These motifs reflect the growing influence of the international tourists that visit the four sister's studios each year, looking for a souvenir or curio from their travels. The Aguilars' work has also been sought-after by collectors of Mexican Folk art, including Nelson Rockefeller, who purchased dozens of Doña Isaura's pieces for his personal collection in the late 1960s and 1970s. These works are now part of the collections at the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Mexican Museum, San Francisco.

10 Findings from the Field

For more photos of the Aguilar sisters at work on pieces now in the Science Museum's collection, visit our flickr page.

Mya Dosch cataloging pieces in the Science Museum's Ethnology Lab
Mya Dosch cataloging pieces in the Science Museum's Ethnology Lab

Mya Dosch, Cordry Intern 2009-2010

The 2009-2010 Cordry Internship was granted to Mya Dosch, a recent graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, MN. After three and a half months of pre-departure training at the Science Museum of Minnesota in object handling, the ethnology collection plan, and Mexican folk art in general, Mya completed three months of field research on folk ceramics in Octolán de Morelos, Oaxaca, Mexico. She lived with Irene Aguilar Alcántara, one of the ceramic-producing sisters of the Aguilar family, and observed the family's studio techniques and their relationships with collectors and tourists. She plans to publish an article on the results of her research in the coming year. Mya also purchased fifty new pieces by the Aguilars for the Science Museum's ethnology collection.

Learn more about the Cordry Internship.