Palo Volador, San Juan la Laguna
(Dance of the Pole Flyer, in San Juan la Laguna)
24" x 25", oil on canvas
Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay
The day Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay died, I took down all the paintings on my walls which were done by other Tz’utuhil artists and put up Lorenzo’s paintings. This painting—which up until that day I had not liked as well as the ones he filled with people and the designs of their traje—proved to be a revelation in my understanding of Lorenzo as an artist.
In Palo Volador we see clearly recognizable physical landmarks: the San Juan la Laguna church; the uniquely shaped mountains behind the town called Las Cristilinas; to the left a flat ridge with one enormous lone tree (exagerated in size but not in feel by a factor of about ten), this tree being the only notable growing thing on the ridge; in the lake behind the swan, a tiny penisula which juts out into the lake, with a house, trees and big boulders (represented by white dots) at the very end; a road that goes around the lake; two other roads which zig-zag up the mountain reaching the more gentle (blue) hills of the higher countryside beyond; and the coffee fields surrounding the town below the mountains.
The day he died I looked carefully at this painting, as if for the first time, and in addition to the landmarks mentioned above, I saw two things which stood out. First between the two roads there is a waterfall, something I had never seen, but judging from the other landmarks which I knew to be true and accurate, I believed existed. I later confirmed that at least during the rainy season there is a waterfall there. Secondly, the church now has a colonnaded wing of rooms jutting out from the main building at the point were the side door is, the side door opening into the colonnade. From the accuracy of the other landmarks, I realized that although the elaborately carved columns look very old and integral, they and the building were built later than the nave of the church.
At that point I realized how accurately Lorenzo’s paintings map of the way things were when he was young. From this we can also look at the painting and see other things which have changed. The San Juan women’s huipiles are no longer yellow and red, but red and white. The celebration shows the San Juan women segregated behind a wall from the dancers and the men. This would not be the case today, the divisions between the sexes at least in public have become more fluid. At the time of this celebration we see a village with only a few houses built of adobe, the majority of the houses being built of cane with thatched roofs.
In Palo Volador the eye does not focus only on the theme of the painting, the voladors, but rather moves around the painting remaining in each of several areas before moving on to another. The two voladors in the painting are shown small perhaps to help indicate the immense height of the pole, usually about 150 feet. Unlike Matias Gonzalez Chavajay who also painted the Palo Volador, we can be certain from the way he painted the two voladors that Lorenzo actually has seen the event. The voladors are descending at a reasonable angle and the rope goes around their waists and is held tightly around and between their legs. Both men, dressed in Jaguar costumes have scarves tied around their wrists and carry rattles.
The nine dancers on the ground upstage the two voladors because their larger size allows Lorenzo to play with the elaborate designs of their costumes. These costumes have been rented at considerable expense to the town from a moreria possibly in nearby Sololá, but more likely from Totonicapan, at least a day’s walk at that time. On the ground in this painting there are two monos [monkeys, the black costumes], one jaguar, and six men representing the Spaniards. The elaborateness of the Spaniards costumes clearly goes way beyond the whatever ceremonial dress the early Spaniards wore. It rather is a fanciful version presented for the entertainment of the townspeople who would be seeing this theatrical production. Since different morerias competed to rent costumes for events the morerais would create progressively more elaborate costumes of Spaniards, sacrificing historical accuracy to what the performers who would be renting the costumes would believe to be the most beautiful. Only in one other painting [Procesion Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, LGCH-074] does Lorenzo let himself go with the riot of color and pattern like he does in the costumes in this painting, especially in the costumes of the Spaniards. He uses stars, "x"es and squiggles to represent the designs on the costumes in addition to the stripes and dots he normally uses when depicting traje.
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