Nicolas Fabian Ferman, Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michoacán
There are artists within Mexico who have made a name for themselves and then have chosen to give back to the community in which they live. Nicolas Fabian and his wife, María del Rosario Lucas are two such artists.
Not only did Nicolas completely reinvent his art, but Rosario rallied an entire community behind a groundbreaking project that will impact Santa Fe de La Laguna for generations to come. Together, they are unstoppable. Let's meet these unlikely trendsetters.
Nicolas Fabian Fermin was born on August 1, 1962. As a child, he began to play with clay at a very early age, learning various techniques from both his mother and father. His grandfather made the jarras para chocolate (pitchers for chocolate) for over 30 years. Although Nicolas learned to make the traditional clay of Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michocán he has his own particular style that has brought him to the attention of Fomento Cultural Banamex, publishers of the book "Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art." Although he is not featured in the book, he is included in the great masters program.
As the negative effects of daily use of the old-type pottery glazes became more evident, Nicolas wished to change his pottery but remain true to the traditional (Purhépecha) forms. He began searching for an answer to the glaze problem and found his answer in nature. Inspired by designs from nature - flowers, fruit and fish, he began to experiment by actually embedding the designs into the clay rather than the traditional method of applying the design to the surface of the piece. Eventually, he invented a method of lifting complete decorative patterns by carving away all the negative space around the design object. What resulted was a natural and elegant look that did not diminish the pottery of his heritage. Finally, he decided to give his work a shiny appearance which he achieved by burnishing each piece.
The clay is mined in Santa Fe de la Laguna. After the raw clay is dug up, it is left to thoroughly dry and then is taken to the local molino (mill) to be ground. Now a powder, the clay is then mixed with water into a masa (paste) that are rolled into balls. Water is added over and over until Nicolas has the perfect consistency. Next he pounds the prepared clay into flat slabs of an equal and perfect thickness with no air holes. Next, it is pressed into molds made of plaster, or sometimes clay. In molds, the clay rests for one full day. When it is dry enough to remain intact, the clay is removed from the molds and cleaned with a water-dampened smoothing cloth. After cleaning, the piece dries for another half day.
The next step involved adding a natural red clay slip called engobe, mined in Zirahuen or Taricuato. The piece now dries for another half day before it is ready for burnishing (polishing). Some use polishing stones and others use bone, but Nicolas discovered that making his own tools from plastic drums used for storing water worked the best. He rubs and rubs until all negative space has been removed leaving the desired design in relief. He then sketches nature-inspired designs directly on to the burnished surface. His freehand drawings of pomegranates, lake fish, blossoms, and branches filled with lemons and limes are graceful and elegant. First engraving an outline of the forms, he next removes all space between revealing the designs in relief.
The firing is next in the horno (the firing oven). Using wood as his fuel, the firing takes 3 hours. Some believe that using wood-fueled ovens depletes the regions forests, however, in the area where Nicolas lives, this is not a problem or a reality.
The hot clay may be rolled in sawdust resulting in a completely blackened surface. Or it may cool, untouched, with the beautifully irregular marks of the fire coloring the pottery in earthy browns and reds.
After firing and cooling, the pieces receive a light coat of wax that is then polished to a sheen. At last finished, all that remains is for Nicolas to sign each clay creation.
Rosario envisioned preserving and sharing her village traditions in a way that would provide employment for generations to come. She met with other village women, and together they formed a plan for opening artisan workshops, indigenous restaurants, and traditionally built guest houses enabling visitors to comfortably experience aspects of the Purhépecha culture for the very first time.
While a portion of the funds came from federal and state agencies, the majority was raised by the village itself. Architects worked closely with villagers to maximize the potential of each home while utilizing traditional building methods and materials. As an artist first, Nicolas strove to incorporate personal touches into the finishing details of his home and workshop. A discovery of his grandfather's molds, once used to make nostalgic tiles depicting village scenes, resulted in Nicolas once again making the tiles to decorate his remodeled home. This is the home of an artisan.
Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michoacán
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