Jaguars spotted in San Miguel!

By Susan Page

In the jungles of Chiapas and Campeche, jaguars used to roam freely in great abundance. Their numbers are dwindling due to loss of habitat and human intervention, but as they have for centuries, they still figure richly in the mythology and art of the Maya and Aztec cultures.

Galería Atotonilco
Sat and Sun, Mar 22 and 23, 12-5pm
Featuring ceramic jaguars from
Amatenango, Chiapas
Directions to the gallery in our ad in this issue.


Present day Maya artists are keeping alive the tradition and respect for these beautiful animals, and a large pack of ceramic jaguars recently invaded Galería Atotonilco, five miles north of San Miguel proper. These jaguars don’t bite. Instead, they add drama and beauty to any home or garden.

The small village of Amatenango, Chiapas, has a long tradition of creating almost life-size jaguars, along with chickens, iguanas, monkeys, and armadillos. The animals have a captivating naïve yet life-like quality, with gesture and eyes that are both amusing and arresting. The artists create not only sculptural animals, but also jars and banks that are decorated with the majestic animals.

The gallery exhibits works by several Amatenango artists but features especially the work of Esperanza Pérez. She is a young woman, in her early 30s, whose work is of the highest quality. Her jaguars range in size from miniature to life size, and she creates jaguars that are seated, standing, or lying down, but always eyeing you with suspicion – or possibly just curiosity.

Esperanza is an enterprising artist and businesswoman. She is concerned both about the quality of her work, which is impeccable, and also about running an efficient business. Esperanza is a great pleasure to work with. We like her very much and enjoy our relationship and friendship with her. Interestingly, the front room of her studio and home is a small shop selling the supplies that the women in the village need to create the indigenous dress that they all consistently wear.

We met Esperanza in an interesting way that is somewhat typical of our buying trips. When we arrived at the village of Amatenango, all we saw in the shops were “touristy,” day-glow colored decorative items that had nothing to do with the traditional folk art animals for which the village has long been known. As we were surveying the scene, a young woman greeted us warmly and asked if she could help. What were we looking for? When we told her, she said, modestly, “I have some of those in my home. Would you like to come see?” She led us to her home where we found a treasure trove of the traditional animals, beautifully crafted. We have been friends with her ever since.

We just received a truckload of new items from Esperanza and some of the other traditional Amatenango artists. Folk art in Mexico is still extremely regional. Nowhere else in the world will you find anything like this work, and every ceramist in this village makes exactly this type of work. We always look for artists who create innovative works but still within the tradition of the village.

Galería Atotonilco carries a wide variety of folk art items from all over Mexico including woodcarvings, lacquer work, paintings, country antique furniture, vintage photographs, paper maché, and textiles. A special exhibition of the work of Gustavo Pérez, the internationally famous Mexican contemporary ceramist, remains up through March.

Everyone is invited to the gallery’s Open House on Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23, from noon to five each day. The gallery is located five miles north of town on eight beautiful acres in an architecturally interesting building designed by House and House architects. Directions to the gallery are in the gallery’s ad in this issue of Atención. For more information, visit our website,, or call us at 185-2225.


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