Incendio de San Pedro la Laguna
(The San Pedro Fire)
25" x 37", oil on canvas

Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay

In spite of the theme being a disastrous fire, this painting contains all of the aspects which make Lorenzo Gonzalez’ naive paintings delightful. The fire consumed about one fourth of San Pedro in the early part of the twentieth century. Lorenzo’s paintings act like a map documenting how San Pedro at this period of time—the church, the houses, the dress and certain customs. San Pedro has grown since then eating into the surrounding forests and fields and many customs have disappeared. Of the 31 women in the painting we can identify 23 as being from San Pedro and the others are from nearby San Juan, San Lucas Toliman, and probably Sololá.

The houses at this time were of two types of construction—adobe and cane—both of which have thatched roofs. The cane and the thatch made this fire fast spreading and hard to stop. On the right side of the fire Lorenzo depicts a cane house collapsing into the fire. In the center we see adobe houses burning the roofs completely gone. At this time water was not piped in, but brought up the hill from the lake in jars, at best a young man running would take at least five minutes to go and come back from the lake. There would have been some water stored in jars in other houses and that certainly would have been used. Carrying the water was generally a woman’s job, but here we see everyone helping, the women with the jars on their heads, the men carrying them on their backs from a strap going around their foreheads. Two big pails are being filled with water brought up by the people. From them the firefighters user smaller pans to carry the water to the fire and douse an area. Even with everyone working together, it seems to me a miracle that the whole town did not go up in flames. Everyone in the painting reacts to the fire, fleeing, carrying water, or just watching, however Lorenzo seems incapable of painting faces which would express their emotion.. Even a woman wiping a tear from her eyes seems more meditative than sad.

Lorenzo makes a sophisticated used of his childlike way of drawing the houses, giving them a great deal of variety in the coloration of the walls and the roofs. The cane houses are represented with vertical lines, the un-plastered adobe houses with horizontal dashes and the plastered adobes, plain. The mixture of golds, browns, blacks, greys and dirty whites give the house congregations a rich autumnal coloration. At this point of time the residents of San Pedro were changing from cane houses to adobe houses and we can see a mixture of them in the neighborhoods. Wind and dust easily penetrate cane houses, so the better houses were built of adobe, and if there was money the house was plastered. On the circular houses we can see the practice of placing a large globular earthenware pot over the top of the thatched roof to prevent leaks.