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Gallery Atotonilco’s Open House Focuses on Ceramic Sculptures

Jose Juan holding woman

By Susan Page

The artist being highlighted this weekend’s at Galería Atotonilco’s Open House is an example of looking for what lies beyond what people are trying to show you. We might never have discovered brilliant artisan José Juan Aguilar if we hadn’t done just that.

We first met José Juan in 2002, on a trip to see the work of his mother and aunt, the Aguilar sisters of Ocotlan, Oaxaca, well-known ceramic folk artists for decades. Owner Mayer Schacter started snooping around on shelves in the back of the studio, as he often does on his buying trips, and spotted an intriguing piece. The sisters told him that it was done by José Juan, one of the sisters’ sons. At that time, José Juan was 28, somewhat shy, and very sweet.

We were astonished at both the piece’s subject matter (titled Life and Death in the Sea) and the brilliant craftsmanship and bought the piece on the spot. We have been buying his work ever since and find it to be the most innovative and beautifully crafted work of the entire family. On our trip this past May, we bought a wide variety of his work, from his larger intricate scenes and figures to smaller figures and his highly complex insects, which always sell quickly. José Juan also makes mojigangas, the large puppets with a dancer inside who peer out a peephole in the puppet’s abdomen. His work is made up of the clever and funny, meditative country scenes, depictions of his distinctive culture, and deeply spiritual themes.

On this recent trip, we were delighted to buy another version of the scene that first captivated us 15 years ago— Life and Death in the Sea. The work is complex, exquisitely crafted, and painted with beautiful, soft colors. José Juan is now 41 and has three teenage daughters.

His work shows that it’s possible to own a masterpiece of art for several hundred dollars or less. If this work were a painting, it would undoubtedly cost thousands of dollars. Folk art is highly undervalued, but the upside is that it is easy to own and easy for craftspeople to sell so that they can support their families.

Galeria Atotonilco is located in a beautiful country setting in an architecturally interesting building five miles north of town. It features 6,000 square feet of exhibition space and a widely varied collection of folk art and textiles from all over México, historic photographs, country antique tables, wooden bowls and trays, plate racks, trunks, and other county antiques. A gallery annex also displays decorative blown glass, where a spectacular large vase that looks like it could cost US$1,000 dollars only costs 1,000 pesos, about US$50 dollars. Welcome to México!

Refreshments are provided. Come view Trip Advisor’s number-one San Miguel shopping destination. The open house takes place Saturday and Sunday, November 24–25, noon to 5pm each day. For directions and more information, call 415 185 2225 or see our website:


Art Opening

Galeria Atotonilco presents

Ceramic sculptures by José Juan Aguilar

Sat and Sun, Nov 24–25, noon–5pm

Directions to the gallery on our website

415 153 5365

415 185 2225



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