“I had the fortune of being born, growing up, and making a living out of clay. To me, clay is the most sacred”, Oaxaqueno artisan Rufina Ruiz, tells us. She welcomes us in her workshop in Santa Maria Atzompa, a community of potters that have been in the business of utilitarian and decorative pottery for over two thousand years. The community is located in Oaxaca, one of the richest states in Mexico in terms of biodiversity and culture; it is located close to the archeological site of Monte Alban.
Rufina, an eloquent, thoughtful woman, has always been in close contact with Earth. Unknowingly, she started her career as an artisan by playing with mud when she was five years old. She claims her connection with Earth started when she was in her mother’s womb; it’s a special connection that makes her proud of her roots and proud of being in the trade that she describes as ancient and munificent.
“To me, Earth is our ally. It is the source that gives us the means to survive”. Rufina even abandoned her professional career to follow her passion for sculpting and her love for clay. Currently, she seeks to generate a better social economy while maintaining a sustainable project.
Knowing how to work the wood and how to transform it is a knowledge that has been transmitted for decades in Rufina’s family. Currently, Rufina and her sister are the fifth generation to manage the Ruiz-Lopez Workshop, where they also hire other people. “We’re like a soccer team”, says jokingly.
Her passion for sculpting is exemplified by her mother. “The story that has shaped me the most, within my short or long existence, is my mother’s”, says the artisan. “She would work in front of my sisters and I, and I would watch her move her hands while making giant pots. That story is always in my mind and it’s what motivates me”.
Another motivator to make her pieces is her profound religious faith. “Only God pulls the strings within us, and our greatest inspiration is life and nature, she explains.
Like other artisan women, Rufina understands her relationship with natural elements in a unique way. For instance, “You recognize the veins of mud you see in the hills. She motivates her female partners through her own experience. “We are all born in a trade. We have worked hard with Mother Earth and the advice I give you is to never give up. That you accomplish your goals, that you dream”.