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Object Name: Nagual owl pot
Artist: Jorge Wilmot (b. Monterrey, Nuevo León, 1928/1929; active Los Naguales workshop, Tonalá, Jalisco, 1950s-1980s)
Place of Origin: Tonalá, Jalisco, Mexico
Dimensions: H: 37.00 cm, D: 37.00 cm, W: 34.00 cm
Materials Used: Polychrome, painted, burnished earthenware
Credit Line and Accession Number: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Lenore Hoag Mulryan. X91.4204
The owl appears as a harbinger of death. In Tonalá it was said there was a man who could turn himself into an owl nagual. When the bird cried out, there would be death in the pueblo; the rattle of funeral cart followed its screech and shadow.
These creatures portrayed in clay are described by their makers as naguales, animal spirit counterparts of humans whose powerful force can be invoked for good or evil. The nagual is both guardian and trickster-a kind of shape-shifter who transforms people into animals and crosses worlds. The concept of the nagual dates back some three millennia and lives on today throughout Mexico as well as areas of the United States.
The town of Tonalá has long been known for its pottery traditions, and most notable are those works ornamented with, or in the shape of, animals. The 1950s saw an especially vibrant resurgence of ceramic arts with the vision and entrepreneurship of potter Jorge Wilmot, who established the Los Naguales pottery workshop and museum in 1958. Wilmot and others merged European, Asian, and indigenous imagery and techniques and used seventeenth-century colonial export pots and early twentieth-century models as points of departure for low-fire pottery and stoneware ceramic pieces. With consummate skill and creative invention, local potters have transformed these approaches and reinterpreted iconographies for new purposes and a wider market.
Gallery text, Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives, 2009