Josefina Aguilar

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Josefina Aguilar
The artisan in her workshop
Born1945 (age 78–79)
Known forclay muñecas (dolls)
StyleFolk art

Josefina Aguilar (born 1945) is a Mexican folk artist from Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca.[1] A member of the Aguilar family, she is best known for her small clay figurines called muñecas (dolls), an artform she learned from her mother.[2][3] Aguilar uses red clay to create depictions of everyday village activities, religious and folkloric scenes, famous figures,[4] and special Day of the Dead statues.[5] Collectors of her work include Nelson Rockefeller, who discovered her work on a trip to Oaxaca in 1975,[6] as well as repeat visitors to Oaxaca who come to see her latest work.[5][7] Aguilar says each figurine she makes is unique.[8] She became blind in 2014 and now uses touch to create her art.[9] One of her major collectors quoted her as saying "It's not the eyes. It's the hand and the brain."[10]


Josefina Aguilar was mentored by her mother Isaura Alcantara Díaz and her grandmother.[11] She began learning her craft from them when she was six years old.[12] Aguilar's mother died in 1968, at the age of 43. Her father died in 1976. In teaching her daughters, Aguilar's mother had hoped to pass on a craft and expertise that would provide for them.[3] In her early twenties, Aguilar began to receive international press on her work.[13] Aguilar's sisters Guillermina, Irene, and Concepcion also became accomplished sculptors, each with their own specialties.[13] By the beginning of the 21st century, Josefina Aguilar was the matriarch of a family with nine members working in clay, including her sons Demetrio and Jose Juan Garcia. Other family members focus on painting or other tasks.[8]


Aguilar's family dig the clay they use from a pit in a field outside of Ocotlán de Morelos. To get the quality clay required they have to dig down 10 or 12 feet. They soak the clay, lay a palm mat over it, and walk on it to press out the bubbles. While sculpting, Aguilar sits on her heels on a flat stone. Finished figures have to dry indoors for a week (direct sunlight would cause them to crack) before the family fires them in a rustic wooden kiln for nine hours. Many figures are lost to breakage. Those that survive the firing process have to cool overnight before they can be painted. The Aguilars sell their artwork on trestle tables set up in the open courtyard of their five-family complex.[8] Aguilar and her husband purchased the land where the clay for her work is sourced. Previously, the family paid weekly for the clay they used from this land.[3]

Work in museums[edit]

Josefina Aguilar's work is displayed in the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, TX, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Mexican Museum in San Francisco.[13]

Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ

In other media[edit]

Children's book author Jeanette Winter has written and illustrated a counting book inspired by Aguilar's life and work.[14]


  1. ^ Paige Phelps (2008-02-29). "Beautiful Excess of Latin Folk Art Enlivens Southlake Home". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  2. ^ "Josefina Aguilar Alcántara (daughter of Isaura and Jesús)". FOFA. Archived from the original on December 22, 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Wasserspring, L., & Ragan, V. (2000). Oaxacan Ceramics: Traditional Folk Art by Oaxacan Women. Chronicle Books.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Janet Kutner (2006-09-24). "Santa Fe Gallery Owner Combs Oaxaca Scene". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  5. ^ a b Marla Jo Fisher (2005-12-04). "Clay Nation". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  6. ^ Dan Goddard (2006-02-26). "From the Collection". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  7. ^ Ann Jarmusch (2002-11-24). "Heirloom Hacienda". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  8. ^ a b c Fisher, Marla Jo (2005-12-04). "Clay Nation Checklist: Folk-art collectors beat a dusty path to the door of the Aguilar family in Ocotlan de Morelos". The Orange County Register. Santa Ana, Calif.
  9. ^ Lucas, Marcia (2016-04-27). "Josefina Aguilar: Artist Update". El Interior. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  10. ^ Brown, Patricia (2017-02-27). "Mexican Villages Color Their World". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  11. ^ Vincentelli, Moira (2004). Women Potters: Transforming Traditions. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. pp. 179. ISBN 0-8135-3381-3.
  12. ^ Bartra, E. (2011). Women in Mexican Folk Art: Of Promises, Betrayals, Monsters and Celebrities. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 100.
  13. ^ a b c Lucas, Marcia (2014-01-23). "Josefina Aguilar: Master Clay Artist". El Interior. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  14. ^ Freeman, Evelyn (2000). "Children's Books: Literacy". Reading Teacher.