Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life

Women of the Red Clay—Las Mujeres del Barro Rojo, Oaxaca, México

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Macrina Mateo Martinez, Woman of the Red Clay (Mujer del Barro Rojo)

Of the many experiences that touched my soul during our time in Oaxaca, México through LISTO Oaxaca, the Women of the Red Clay, las Mujeres del Barro Rojo, is the ember of story that illumines all else. Our bus bounced off the beaten path and over rock-studded dirt roads to the Zapotec community of San Marcos Tlapazola to visit the Women of the Red Clay.

Road to San Marcos Tlapazola ©Randy Grillo

Macrina Mateo Martinez greated us with a smile and Spanish laced with her Zapotec mother tongue.  “I watched my grandparents and my parents when I was a little girl. I had one dress for a year. We slept on dirt. It was so cold.”

“I watched the beautiful red clay pottery that my grandmother made, taught by her mother, who was taught by her mother, for as far back as we can remember…I watched her trade a bowl that had taken hours to make for a small bag of beans or corn.”

Macrina Martinez and Alberta Mateo, Women of the Red Clay (Mujeres del Barro Rojo)

Trenzas, Braids.

“We had nothing. At sixteen, I decided to try to sell the red clay pottery that the women of our village had made beyond time. I didn’t speak Spanish then, only Zapotec. I went to Guadalajara by myself. The villagers spoke badly of me for leaving and of my family for allowing me to go. Girls did not travel by themselves. The villagers criticized my family.

Sufri mucho, mucho. I suffered and suffered. After many years, my pottery began to sell. Through the years, I have traveled to New York, Portland, Santa Fe. My pottery is in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. Now, all of the women in our village sell our red clay pottery all over the world.”

The strength, artistry, and determination of a lone sixteen-year-old girl who did not speak Spanish in Mexico brought the beauty of red clay pottery to the world.

With Macrina Martinez and Alberta Mateo.

Our class gathered as Macrina and Alberta shared their story of how Zapotec women for generations had walked into the mountains to gather the clay, the stones for dye, and harvested the branches to burn to fire the raw clay into pottery.

Alberta Mateo took an unformed chunk of clay and rolled the corn cob up and down to create the pot within the unshaped form. Up and down rolled the cob under Alberta’s hands, as Macrina spoke to us about the history and experiences of the Women of the Red Clay.

“The men all had to leave to go find work for most of the year. The rest of the time they worked outside in the fields. It was only the women and girls who stayed. I started to learn how to work the red clay when I was a little, little girl. All of the mothers taught their daughters how to work the clay.”

Alberta Mateo

Alberta Mateo

Young girl warming food.

Young girl warming food.

What stayed with me is the difference the vision and strength of one young girl can make. Macrina now hosts groups from around the world. The underlying dynamics of life pierced our conversation when I referred to her as “Señora,” to honor her age and accomplishments. Señora also assumes one is married, the equivalent of Mrs.

“Yo soy Señorita,” she said. “Miss. I never married.” She lifted her eyes to look out the window and then turned back to me. The look she gave me felt like the conveyance of a cost for being the independent and brave girl who left the village against all to become a world-renowned artist and business woman.

Macrina Mateo Martinez, Woman of the Red Clay

Barro Rojo pieces

Macrina and I spoke for several minutes, surrounded by the beauty of her pottery and art. Sufri mucho, mucho (I suffered and suffered), came through in our conversation again and again, most of her story not said, but felt. The strength of her voice whispers back to me over the miles, the border, the time since I left Oaxaca. I think of this woman who through sheer talent and determination brought the beauty and artistry of generations of Zapotec women to the world.

I gathered the pieces of pottery that I could carry back with me on the plane. Tucked into the woven palm leaf bag, each piece wrapped in clothing, so too came Macrina’s story.

The pieces now adorn our table. Every time I walk by and see them at the center, I think of Macrina’s hands running the corn cob along the lines until the piece emerges. The beauty of each piece carries with it the generations of womens’ hands and life stories, and the strength of Macrina’s spirit, to lift and inspire.

As I pass, I run my fingertip along the rims.

With las Mujeres del Barro Rojo © Randy Grillo

With las Mujeres del Barro Rojo © Randy Grillo

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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the beauty and tensions of language, culture, and place.

15 thoughts on “Women of the Red Clay—Las Mujeres del Barro Rojo, Oaxaca, México

  1. You certainly know how to take on adventures. The struggle told here to succeed makes me feel a common bond from one artist to another. These inspiring words energize me to keep chipping away at those barriers.

  2. Macrina is an amazing and courageous woman! She gave much and accomplished much for her people.

    I will be looking for red clay next week while in Mexico to support them. Thank you Dawn for your

    inspiring writings. Love you, Cathy

  3. beautiful beautiful story well written…Humbling – so courageous.

  4. A lovely story, of suffering and fulfillment.

  5. Thank you once again, dear Dawn, for a beautiful, inspiring piece of writing and oh yes, those wonderful photos! I agree with Marie, the embroideries are fabulous, too.

  6. Beautiful, Dawn! Now Macrina’s story spreads farther, and we can all feel her sufriendo. So strong, that 16-year-old, to go out into the world to sell her pottery, knowing no Spanish, and with the weight of her village’s disapproval heaped on her head. She may never have married, but she is clearly the madre of her village through her work.

  7. Great to see another Dewdrops, what an experience! Can’t get any more earthy than red clay, I’ll be looking for some red pottery from the area. Hugs, Dan

    • Dear Dan, I love this, “Can’t get any more earthy than red clay.” What a gorgeous and wise expression of this experience and the spirit and strength of these women. Big hugs! Dawn

  8. Heart warming story. Thanks for sharing.
    Tracie

  9. Such a beautiful story about strong and innovative women! Thank you for sharing.

  10. Marie, yes to all here. Incredible woman. I don’t know if they embroidered their aprons. I love those, too.
    xo

  11. Astonishing, that she had the courage to do, succeed, despite everything. Inspiring. Did they also do the embroideries on their aprons? Those are works of art as well!

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