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Stone Carving Tradition In San Miguel

Actualizado: 3 jun



By Walter Hodges


Mexican’s have been stone carving for thousands of years. The ancient volcanic flows travel north to south through central Mexico. It’s part of what geologists call the ten-million-year-old Trans Mexican Volcanic Belt, which, in many ways, mimics today’s valleys and surrounding environments of the central high desert country.


Around 3,400 years ago, the Olmec, the mother culture, were the first from Mesoamerica to carve volcanic stone into detailed three-dimensional human figures and animals. The Maya, Zapotec, and Teotihuacan civilizations followed the Olmec, and they certainly carved stone, but nothing close to the Olmec. 2,000 years after the Olmec, and with no knowledge of what the Olmec had accomplished, the Aztecs somehow used the same basic sculptural forms and concepts to further evolve stone carving into masterpieces that still exist in and near the ancient capital - the ruins of Tenochtitlan, on the edge of Mexico City.  This tradition of carving stone continues today in San Miguel.


There are several small stone carving locations in San Miguel, but El Obraje Arte en Cantera in the El Obraje neighborhood near Fabrica La Aurora stands out. Sitting in the car with the widows closed and the air on, you can hear the improv jazz beat of hammers on chisels on stone. The sound carries in the wind.


When I walked into the open-air loosely covered workshop there were at least six carvers working on separate projects. They were consumed and bathed in brittle dryness, heat, talcum-powder dust drifting in the air, the sounds of chisels on rock, and the smell of ancient volcanic stone.  No respirators. They breath this stuff all day every day.  As you can imagine, it ages them prematurely, but like a lot of things in Mexico, this is what they do and how they do it - they love it, and regardless of what you and I might think, things such as these will never change.


Alfredo Aguilar is 52. He taught himself to carve twenty years ago, and five years later he started his shop at the current location. Alfredo has four sons who have joined him in the business, along with his daughter – Jesus, Leonel, Paulo, Emilio, and Fátima. Alfredo and his team of 19 people use about ten different kinds of stone for their carving, which they get directly from quarries near San Miguel. The grey stone is the most popular, because it contrasts easily with urban backgrounds, and it gives way and cuts smoothly under the blades of the different sized hand chisels.


Alfredo says, “For all of us in the workshop, carving is a therapy. For me, every single work of art we do has a piece of me inside of it. I will not retire. I will simply collapse and fall over on top of a piece I’m working on. The work will carry me away.” When Alfredo told me this, he did not hesitate. He did not smile. He meant every word. How many of us can say the same about what we did or what we do?  This guy is the real thing, making real stone carvings in San Miguel.


Alfredo’s shop is always busy. Their clients include professional people and street traffic. They do ornamental carvings, statues, religious figures, fountains, fireplace facades, tables, mirrors, and whatever else you can come up with. “We can carve anything” pretty much says what they can do. All you have to do is ask.


If we’re gonna be fair about this, the carvings are a bit more expensive compared to other shops and locations in other cities. But if we look more closely, there is a good reason for this. Many other shops use a lot of power tools and grinders in their work. There’s a lot of mechanized options. For the most part, the carvings in Alfredo’s shop are done by hands holding chisels cutting clean lines on volcanic stone. Hands that have been beat and cut up while carving for a long time, and hands that know how to pay attention to the little details. If this sort of thing is important, then the few extra pesos don’t matter to you at all. If it does… that’s something else again.


Alfredo continues to be excited about working in San Miguel.  He says, “San Miguel has been good to us, and our business continues to expand. We want to be here.”


Reach Alfredo and El Obraje Arte en Cantera at 415 690 0824 or 415 215 8952 and obraje.arteencantera@gmail.com

Antiguo Camino a Marroquín #2 El Obraje, 37725 San Miguel de Allende, Gto. 

Their Facebook page is www.facebook.com/obrajeartecantera.

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