“People think I’m lying when I tell them that I’m blind,” Maestro Jose Garcia Antonio tells me while working on a sculpture of a fish.
Antonio, is a master clay artist known as “manos que ven” (hands that see) who lost his eyesight in his fifties due to cataracts.
In spite of going blind, he continues to create life-sized sculptures of mermaids, personal portraits, and statues of his wife and muse, Maestra Santa Reyna Teresita.
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“When people hear that I am blind, they often say ‘that’s impossible!’
So I invite them to come to my studio and watch,” Antonio says with a smile.
Once his accusers see him in action, they charge him with the crime of being a genius.
He chuckles and says he isn’t, but something tells me he’s as much of a genius as he is charming.
Witty, clever, and dressed in traditional garb from his hometown, I tell him I love his hat.
“This thing? How funny, it’s my favorite too.”
It’s a traditional antique hat that older generations used to wear in his hometown.
While his hat is stylish, it also serves a purpose––shielding his eyes from the sun.
Now that he is blind, he prefers to work later hours in the night and often sleeps during the day.
When it’s dark, he’s more comfortable.
As we continue to talk, he proudly admits that while he does make the pieces himself, his wife, who is also an accomplished artist, helps him smooth out the sculptures to perfection.
They’ve been married for 35 years—his partner in crime, she holds his hand and gently guides him around the taller (studio), softly whispering so he knows what is happening and who he is speaking to.
“Mas fuerte que la muerte es el amor (love is stronger than death),” he tells me with lots of passion in his voice.
And I believe him. The most beautiful woman he’s ever seen––his wife––with the large mole on the center of her forehead, continues to be his favorite person to sculpt.
Her image is visible all over the taller.
And although their studio is located in the small town of San Antonio Castillo Velasco in Ocotlán, their art has managed to travel far outside of Oaxaca and has been featured worldwide in private and public collections.
Visitors who travel throughout the state of Oaxaca, can find Antonio’s statues located in different shops, homes, restaurants, and hotels throughout the region.
I was most surprised to discover that while the man in the beautiful antique sombrero has gained worldwide fame, he hasn’t lost touch of where and how the magic began.
When he first learned how to handle clay, he was a little boy, and today he continues to share his knowledge by hosting sculpting classes for young children.
“Hearing their voices and their excitement makes me smile,” he tells me.
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