Meet Don José García: the "Hands that See" —
August 6, 2020

Meet Don José García: the “Hands that See”

By Ali Khataw

jose garcia
Jose Garcia at work (photo: Ali Khataw)

Don José García can be found in Oaxaca, Mexico living a simple life. He is profoundly proud of his indigenous race. Currently at the age of 70, Don José has developed a deep connection with red clay. Meeting him was a lesson in resiliency. It has been 16 years since he lost his vision, due to the appearance of glaucoma in both eyes, but that has not been an obstacle for his passion, as he has won numerous international awards.

Once he reflected his philosophy in a poem:

I do not have the valor of King Arthur
I do not have the beauty of Nanciso
I do not have the wisdom of Solomon
I do not have the strength of Samson
All I have is a body of man … and from within the heart I find life

Hands that see

When asked about his vision he says that he does not see anything, but “I feel that my eyes are in my hands, that is why they call me ‘hands that see.’ I make clay figures as if I could see, while working with great force and dedication with all the beauty that clay has.” His hands feel the wet clay and create primitive works of beauty that are in museums and private collections. His wife, Teresita, is his muse and helpmate. It is her image that is reflected in his work. Almost all of his robust depictions of women have her features and signature beauty mark.

Always dressed in the traditional Zapoteco del Valle, pant and shirt of white cotton, bandana in the neck, and a felt sombrero, Don José García is recognized for his ethnic and cultural identity worldwide.

He learned to make art out of red clay in an autodidact form–it truly is a beautiful history that he has applied many times and does not get tired of it. He says he never went to a studio, never had a teacher to teach him techniques, but only looks for knowledge in the clay.

Don José works with a special clay obtained in the local area of his residence. He prepares the clay following the timeless tradition of his predecessors, grinding it into a fine powder and then sifting several times through a sieve. When clean and free of impurities, he moistens the clay, then covers it with plastic and places it in a dry place to “rest.” He later takes out small quantities needed for the piece he is working on, kneading it and adding more water until the clay is the proper consistency. For some of his large-format pieces, he combines a number of techniques such as molding, etching, modeling, and appliqué.

He mentioned that when he was 7 or 8 years old he would go out into the streets when it would be raining. When the rainfall would stop he would dig in the rainwater-formed creek beds and make clay figures such as elephants, horses and giraffes. His friends would want to limit him, but they never could stop his urges to exercise his great creativity.

Don Jose and his wife, Teresita

The story of love-at-first-sight of Don José and Teresita, who have been married for 30 years, developed from declined marital proposals and engagements that are worthy of a soap opera. In Huida, Chiapas, where she traveled to sell flowers cultivated by her father, a young rich man asked her for her hand in marriage. She was 16 years of age and had no plans of getting married, although she made an excuse that she was taken and engaged to marry a Jose. Later, she met Don José in a bible study group and since the moment he saw her, he knew she would be his wife. They were engaged and married in 1987. Since then, they have lived and worked happily together. Teresita feels extremely happy she has Don José as her husband, but not only that, he is her teacher and the teacher of her children and grandchildren in the creation of red clay pottery.

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