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Sculpture Mural in Totonicapan’s Thermal Baths

Since 2009, EcoLogic has welcomed ArtCorps fellows to our project sites in Guatemala and Honduras. Currently, EcoLogic is host to ArtCorps Fellow Isabel Carrió at our Forest of the Water Spirit project in Totonicapan, Guatemala. The people of Totonicapan are predominantly indigenous K’iche’, whose long history of successful natural resource management has been in decline. For the past two years Isabel has been working with us, our local partner the traditional governing body of Totonicapan the 48 Cantons, and citizens in the area, using art to preserve traditional practices of the K’iche’ people. This blog post was originally written for artcorp.org.

A mural made from clay bas-reliefs by women artisans and young environmentalists under Isabel’s guidance will soon decorate the exterior walls of the historic public baths in Totonicapan.

Public-Baths_Isabel-Carrio_2Don Juan, the community potter, lets me know the clay is ready to be molded. And so we carry the clay lumps to the library. Women artisans, high school students and children from Xolsacmalja library will work on this clay.

Stepping into the thermal baths takes you hundreds of years into the past. We picked this iconic spot because we’re studying ancestral practices, and these baths dating back to 1855 represent a source of strength for the community. Our mural is the result of investigating the natural elements at work in the baths as our subject matter, and learning traditional pottery techniques.

Families come here to bathe together, babies have their first bath, and the elderly soothe their pain with the sulfur- and blackberry-infused medicinal waters. The common expression by bathers is “I’m warming my bones,” and the atmosphere in this steamy place is healthy and relaxed. There are three spa sections: Tortuga (Turtle), a maternity area, Barco (Boat), which is for women to use, and Ballena (Whale), for men.

Courtesy of Reyes Josue Morales

Courtesy of Reyes Josue Morales

Families arrive on foot or in small buses from several communities, carrying their hampers and natural sponges, starting as early as 4 o’clock in the morning. You can see their glowing, tight-skinned faces as they leave, showing the effect of the sulfury waters.

Public-Baths_Isabel-Carrio1

The most common artisanal clay sculpture process involves forming clay shapes, waiting for them to dry for about three weeks, heating them and then applying lead. We are currently in the waiting period—sun-drying the sculptures and taking them outdoors as the rainy weather allows. The exterior wall of the baths awaits our work, and we are excited and eager to finally see how the pieces come out from Don Juan’s oven.

See more images of this project.

—Special Guest Blogger Isabel Carrió, ArtCorps Fellow
ArtCorps trains organizations and activists on the frontlines of social change to harness art and culture as powerful tools for community development.

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