Hermenegildo Contreras Cruz, San Sebastián Ocotlán, Oaxaca

Hermenegildo Contreras Cruz, San Sebastián Ocotlán, Oaxaca

Corn, the basic food staple of Mexicans, part of the myth of creation. Hermenegildo Contreras Cruz has found yet another use for corn by using the leaves of the corn plant (hoja de maíz) or corn husks known as totomuxtle. For centuries, corn husks have been used for decorations, wrapping tamales, etc. Now in the hands of Hermenegildo, totomuxtle become beautiful dolls.

Originally from Santiago Apóstol, he has lived since he was 35 in San Sebastián Ocotlán, Oaxaca. Since he was young he was involved in an artisan's lifestyle making paper flowers to adorn churches and he quickly learned how to work his magic with the totomuxtle. His creativity has led him to create virgins, angels, animals, nativity scenes, flags and representations of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Miguel Hidalgo, Emiliano Zapata and Benito Juárez. He normally saves his very detailed figures to use in scenes at the Guelaguetza (a huge dance festival held in the city of Oaxaca, Oaxaca State, Mexico, on the two Mondays after July 16), and the bani stui gulal (narrated dances of the origins of Oaxaca's most important festivals - the Guelaguetza and Feasts of the Lunes del Cerro). The Zapotec show means "repetition of the old." Since 1960, the bani stui gulal has been held the two Sundays preceding the Monday of the Guelaguetza Festival.

When the corn is harvested in December, the artisan gathers his leaves so he has working material that will last him all year. First, with the use of a knife, he cuts close to the stem to get as much of the corn leaf as he can. Secondly, he selects for color: rose, beige, coffee, purple, and white (this is from a different type of corn). Third, he checks for texture: hard, fine and soft. The various textures are used for various parts of the doll: the skirt, hat, shirt, accessories, etc. Next he puts all that he has gathered in the shade and classifies in plastic bags or boxes to keep out the dust and maintain the color.

Before he starts making a figure, he will submerge the totomoxtle in water so they do not break as he bends and works them. For the base, he uses corn leaves he has cut from the corncob most exposed to the sun and that are hard and dry. He then begins forming the body, head, face, clothing, and lastly the details such as huaraches (Mexican sandals), sombreros (hats), objects to be held in the hands, ojos (eyes), boca (mouth) and cejas (eyebrows).

Hermenegildo's pieces are considered some of the finest and most original produced in all of Mexico. He has won prizes at concursos (judged shows) and is teaching the next generation to follow in his footsteps.

Libertad 32, CP 70850

San Sebastián Ocotlán, Oaxaca

951 224 2487 cellular