Procesión Día Concepción
(Procession of the Day of Conception)
19" x 23", oil on canvas.
Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay
I heard about the progress of this painting from a friend of mine who visited Santiago Atitlán, and also stopped in San Pedro to visit Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay, and Vicente Cumes Pop. Vicente showed her this painting, and allowed her to buy one painting of a midwife/childbirth which he had bought for me, but would not sell her any of Lorenzo’s paintings. This the biggest and most ambitious painting Lorenzo had done to date.
The painting shows the procession of one of San Pedro’s six cofradias, the cofradia of Conception, on it’s calendar day. Benjamin D. Paul writes in his article "Life in a Guatemalan Village" (1950):
But the major source of diversion is the series of fiestas that punctuate the year. Among the main celebrations are Holy Week, the important titular fiesta of San Pedro, and the six fiestas corresponding to the patron saints of the six lay brotherhoods (cofradias). Each festivity lasts a number of days and is enlivened by processions, choirs, drum and marimba music, resounding rockets, chili-spiced corn gruel and cane-sugar rum.....Members of all the cofradias, as well as the body of municipal employees, enter into all the religious processions, swelling the total of active participants well beyond a hundred, apart from choirs, choruses', musicians, and dancers. Throngs of children scamper after the colorful train, gulping gruel served in gourd cups as the procession, which begins and ends in the church, pauses at each of the cofradia headquarters scattered throughout the village. Many men not directly involved find fiestas fit occasions for getting drunk. Women leave their houses for brief intervals, lining up along the street to witness the ceremonies, most of which are slow paced and more serious than joyous. But the popular comment, "How gay it is!", refers not to the tempo or mood. of the performance, but to crowds in the street. Gaiety is a function of numbers, not of movement; it is the opposite of loneliness.
The people in Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay’s paintings usually squarely face the viewer and seem rigid as if posing for a formal photograph. In this painting we see nineteen frontally facing figures and one frontal image of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Their stiffness in part has to do from Lorenzo’s method of creating a painting. In pencil or pen on a stiff paper called cartulina Lorenzo would draw the figures singly or in small groups, then cut them out and trace them on the canvas. In his later large paintings he abandoned this process drawing directly on the canvas. He would save all his cut outs and sometimes use the same figures in other paintings. In this painting we can clearly see two of the groups of cutouts because of a mistake in size Lorenzo made in this painting. The two pairs of women with candles [texeles] on each side of the Virgin are in the rear but they are noticeably larger than the men in front. Although most of the men in this painting look like boys, the two men in black jackets would have to be older men because younger men would not be allowed to hold these offices. So it seems pretty clear that Lorenzo had a paper cut-out for the texeles in this painting. He may have used the same cut out for both sets of texeles or he may have made two.
All the important members of the cofradia are gathered in front of a religious building. The streets have not yet been paved and the participants do not wear shoes or caites (sandals). The people wear the traje of San Pedro, but the blue building behind them is not the church which has always been white. It seems likely that it could be a set of niches in the cemetary. Sally Deusing and Jeffery Becom, in their book Maya Color, point out that the Mayans use this particular shade of blue in their cemeteries for historical and symbolic reasons.
Among the people in the procession we see a man playing a chirimilla [flute], a man playing a tambour [drum], four men singing, two officials of the cofradia with their staffs, a man with a banner, four texeles, an boy acolyte waving an incense vessel, and four men carring the image adorned with flowers of the Virgin Mary.
San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum, March—May 1995
Arte Americas, Fresno, CA, May 4 to July 13, 1997
Museo Chicano, Phoenix, AZ; February & June 25—Aug 7, 1998
SOMART Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Jan. 4—22, 2000