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Open House Featuring Unique Lacquer Gourds

Galeria ATOTO By Susan Page

The unique lacquer gourds and toys from the remote village of Tamalacatzingo, Guerrero, are arguably the most beautiful lacquer produced anywhere in the world. We use the word “unique” advisedly. The artists create special works for their annual competition, where we are virtually the only buyers, so our selection of these stunningly beautiful gourds is quite literally the largest and finest in the world. You won’t find them anywhere else.

About twelve years ago, anthropologist Marta Turok spent time in this village persuading the artists to return to using traditional chia oil, and mineral earth powders and plants for color, ingredients that had been abandoned in favor of less expensive linseed oil and commercial dyes. Virtually all the artists now announce with pride that they have returned to the centuries-old natural materials. The result is an unctuous, translucent quality and soft depth of color unobtainable with artificial chemicals. Traditional “greco” designs (also found in the ruins of Mitla, presumably based on designs found on old piece of Greek pottery) are in widespread use along with floral patterns and birds.

The village of Tamalacatzingo is so remote—four hours from any major highway and on very bad roads—that the conquistadors and Dominicans never found it. The descendants there are mostly pure Nahua Indians who have been creating lacquer work for centuries, long before Chinese lacquer began to appear in New Spain in the sixteenth century via the Manila galleons.

First they grow the gourds, an art in itself. Then they cut the top off a gourd in a pleasing pattern, using a tiny sawtooth blade held with a cloth handle. This step is so important that a separate prize is awarded for the most clean and unusual or intricate cut. Then they clean out the inside of the gourd, mostly dried seeds, and sand the surface to a smooth shine. Both the inside and the outside have to be cleaned and sanded.

Next, the artists apply chia oil. Then, with a circular hand motion, they work in mineral powders, which have been finely ground in their own workshop and are usually impregnated with dyes made from organic sources. Finally they burnish that mix to a uniform sheen with a smooth pyrite stone. They repeat these stages of chia oil, mineral powders, and burnishing over and over. The more layers, the greater the translucency, depth of color, and soft jewel-like quality that results.

Galeria Atotonilco is featuring these spectacular works of art at their open house Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14, from noon to 5pm both days. Refreshments will be served. The 6,000-square-foot showroom also exhibits folk art from all over México, vintage textiles, historic photographs, country and colonial antiques, contemporary pottery, and more. Directions to the gallery, located five miles north of town in a beautiful country setting, are on the website at


Art Opening

Galeria Atotonilco presents

Open House Featuring Lacquer Gourds from Guerrero

Sat and Sun, Oct 13 and 14, Noon–5pm

For directions to the gallery:



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