The Curious Tale of Mexico's Most Peculiar Pottery

The tiny town of Ocumicho in the Mexican state of Michoacán is the source for the increasingly popular ceramic diablitos, or devils, in peculiar and even ridiculous scenes. They can be traced back to one artist who designed many of them in the 1960s.    

The women of Ocumicho built molds of various base shapes, which were then differentiated with smaller clay embellishments, like spouts or handles, and finished with colorful glazes. By the 1950s, Ocumicho craftswomen mostly produced bird-shaped whistles and figurine banks, which they would sell at the local markets.

“But there was this one pivotal character named Marcelino Vicente,” says Orr. “Marcelino was the last of 11 or 12 children, all boys,” she continues, “and many townspeople claim that his mother wanted a baby girl, so she dressed him in girl’s clothing. Growing up, he was also really interested in what was considered ‘women’s work,’ which was making pottery, and was totally mocked by the men for doing this. He was a little bit of a renegade.”

Ocumicho was an extremely poor and isolated village, so it was highly unusual for individuals to step out of the prescribed gender roles. Claudia B. Isaac, who analyzed the gender division in Ocumicho in 1996, wrote that, “Although no one I spoke with directly verified that Marcelino was gay, many talked disparagingly of his reluctance to fulfill traditional male roles.”

Despite their prejudices, the town’s female potters recognized Vicente’s gift for working with clay, and he progressed from small whistles and banks to larger sculptural pieces featuring the devil characters he grew so fond of. These diablitos were an unlikely icon in such a conservative religious community; most locals associate the devil with bad luck, and are reluctant to bring diablitos into their homes. Yet when Vicente finally took his wares to the tianguis, and spread them out on a blanket for sale, the wacky diablitos were a hit.

Vicente's story did not end happily, but his assistants and fans continued making the diablitos. They became his legacy, and the signature artworks of the village of Ocumicho. Read the whole story and see more diablitos at Collector's Weekly. Link

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