Las Cuatro Edades
(The Four Ages)
38" x 51", oil on canvas
Antonio C. Ixtamer (painter) and Vicente Cumes Pop (theme and supervision)
Vicente Cumes Pop gave Ixtamer the theme of this painting, the second large format painting Ixtamer painted. The four ages are childhood, youth, middle age and old age represented respectively by a young boy breast-feeding, his young mother, a mature woman, and a white-haired elderly woman. The women are selling fruits and vegetables in front of a small stall where they store their produce over night. We see a large church in the background so one could assume a square with a market exists just beyond our view.
Because tourists frequent Santiago Atitlán, many Tz’utuhil artists only paint people wearing traje [native dress] from Santiago. Vicente wanted Ixtamer to broaden his horizon by representing some of the many other Mayan communities. The women’s traje appears to be (l. to r.) from San Juan Coatzal, Chichicastenango and Sololá, but on closer inspection these are not huipiles [blouses] from those towns. Ixtamer has certainly never been to San Juan Coatzal and it is unlikely he has been to Chichicastenango. He has been to Sololá, but this "Sololá" huipile mixes the Sololá design with a colorful strip from the huipile of nearby San Lucas Toliman. Lacking direct experience from visits to many Mayan towns, Ixtamer clearly supplemented his memories of women wearing such huipiles with his imagination. Similarly Vicente meant for Ixtamer to paint, rather than an actual stall which would be unlikely to have a large number of different fruits and vegetables, an imaginary stall showing the array of fresh produce available in Guatemalan markets.
Neither the traje of the women nor the produce they sell are the point of the painting. In The Four Ages Vicente wanted Ixtamer to show the different stages of life. The expressions on the faces of these three women reveal much about the progression of a Mayan woman’s life. Stanford University anthropologist Ben Paul observes in Life in a Guatemalan Indian Village:
... a woman’s sense of importance increases as she grows older, partly owing to greater years, which by themselves command respect, partly through sharing her husband’s prestige as he rises in the civil-ceremonial hierarchy, and partly by assuming authority over junior members of her household. In return for submitting to domination as a girl in her mother’s house and later as a young wife under the control of her mother-in-law, a woman eventually finds herself on the credit side of the authority ledger, claiming deference and obedience from children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. Throughout her lifetime, a woman remains formally subordinate to her husband who represents the family before the public. But the husband seldom interferes with the affairs of women, allowing his wife full sway in domestic management. Money which she earns through minor sales and services is hers to spend; allocation of tasks to other women in the house is her responsibility. Some women grow mellow and dignified with increasing importance; others exploit their power, demanding the same strict compliance to which they themselves had once adhered.
Depot Bookstore & Cafe, Mill Valley, CA.; June 1994
Krasl Art Center, St. Joseph, MI; Dec. 1994—Jan. 1995
Holland Area Arts Council, Holland Michigan; Feb. 1995
Saginaw Museum, Saginaw Michigan; May—June, 1995
Arte Americas, Fresno, CA, May 4 to July 13, 1997
Museo Chicano, Phoenix, AZ; February & June 25—Aug 7, 1998
La Casa de la Cultura de Guatemala, Los Angeles, CA, Sept—Oct. 1998
SOMART Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Jan. 4—22, 2000