"It takes time to paint each piece by hand… Yet this is my favorite part of the process because I can give each piece a special touch. They may all look alike but they aren't identical."
"I'm Saul Montesinos, a ceramic artisan. I was born in 1975 in Central Mexico. When I was 11, my father's unexpected death turned my childhood upside down. That was one of the most difficult moments in my entire life. My family's economic situation was greatly worsened and, as the oldest child, I took an afternoon job in an artisan workshop at the age of 12, along with my brother, David.
"We worked after school and we didn't earn much but it helped our mother and siblings. The job didn't last long because the workshop shut down. After that, we spent lot of time at home but David and I used to squabble, which upset our mom.
"My mother spoke with another artisan to see if she'd give us a job. Mother told her we knew how to do everything but it didn't take long for us to realize just how little we knew. Even so, I never said no when she assigned me a chore and we worked there almost 12 years. Sadly, a year before I left the job, the artisan died of cancer. My brother and I stayed on to help her husband in every way possible.
"I left to work on my own. By then, I was 27 and it was a crucial decision in my life. It was also one of the most difficult because it meant risking the security of a salary in order to achieve a dream — my own workshop — even though I might fail in the attempt.
"During the first seven months, sales were very scarce and I now had a family of my own — a wife and son. I had saved up a little money and this is how we lived. It was tough and we had to give up a lot of things but something inside me refused to give up, so I just kept going.
"At the beginning, when my workshop was struggling, a number of people told me not to waste my time making figures in clay when I could get a 'real' job. But this advice motivated me to work even harder. Eventually, my belief in myself and my dedication to my art led to success.
"I was still only 27 when I participated in an art show in Puebla. A woman gave me her card and told me to visit several people who might be interested in my designs. They were. That was my first big sale and my workshop started to take off. From then on, sales were good. Although I never saw these people again, I believe a divine force took me to them.
"I remember that the first design I really noticed was a Tree of Life and a candleholder in the shape of an arch. These are some of the designs I create today.
"My art has brought me wonderful opportunities. I've been able to visit other cities and learn my way around them as I participate in craft exhibitions. I even won second place in an important art competition. I've had the satisfaction of giving my children an education and hope to put them through college, something I always wanted for myself but couldn't afford.
"One of my dreams for my workshop — which I set up in my home — is to be able to offer jobs to more people in my community. I currently have 15 people who collaborate with me.
"In the workshop, my greatest challenge is creating large quantities because we are very careful with the quality and it takes time to paint each piece by hand. Mixing and working the clay is quicker than decorating a piece. Even recycling the clay from a piece that didn't pass the quality test takes less time than decorating a design. You can imagine how painstaking it is! Yet this is my favorite part of the process because I can give each piece a special touch. They may all look alike but they aren't identical.
"Much of my inspiration comes from attending craft fairs and seeing the trends, although the real reason is that when shoppers ask me if I have anything new, I want to be able to show them my latest designs. It's very gratifying to see that people expect something more from your work. It makes me feel that they believe in me.
"Several of my designs are based on Day of the Dead imagery because I believe this is one of Mexico's own most characteristic dates. I use vivid colors that make them attractive to the eye.
"My wife and my brother assist me in the workshop, and my children say they do, too. But because they're still young, I'd rather they spend their time studying.
"Like many other artisans, when I first opened my workshop, I didn't like the idea that someone else might craft the same things as I do. However time has taught me that anyone has the right to do this. When someone else is interested in doing the same thing, I feel happy that this craft has others to help perpetuate it.
"I'm a hardworking man, creative and perseverant. I don't give up easily. I really enjoy my craft and believe I'm good at it. It's wonderful knowing people like my designs and I'm happy to be able to make a living doing what I love while employing others in my town. It's exciting to help carry on our artisan traditions.
"Thanks to Novica, I have more work now and my designs are appreciated in other parts of the world."