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Pinatas Used to Break False Beliefs, Evidence Prosperity
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Sunday, January 2, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Carlos Lecanda makes art that his admirers are quick to break.

Lecanda is a professional pinata maker. Born in Guanajuato—a central Mexican city known for its silver mining and colonial architecture—he comes from a line of artists. He learned the craft from his father when he was 6.

“I started helping him by applying newspaper to the clay pot by the use of engrudo—a paste made of water and flour. Then we added colorful paper to bring the pinata to life,” he said.

Lecanda, the father of Sun Valley resident Luis Alberto Lecanda, is passionate about passing the craft on to others. And, so, the Los Angeles artist taught a pinata workshop just before Christmas for the Sun Valley Museum of Art.

To start it off, he introduced an elaborate pinata he’d made just for the occasion featuring two Mexican dancers, a cactus sporting flowers and birds and more.

“It is the most interesting pinata I’ve created by far,” he said. “It’s my representation of the Mexican celebration—our culture and traditions.”

The classroom at SVMoA’s Hailey Center was festooned in red and green paper streamers, floral garlands and red, white and green balloons representing the colors of the Mexican flag as Lecanda set about teaching.

La pinata, he told workshop participants, is a tradition that existed in Mexico for centuries--even before the Spaniards arrived.

In ancient Mexico, the Aztecs celebrated Huitzilopochtly, the Aztec god of war, by decorating a clay pot with flowers and feathers. They then filled the pot with presents and figurines, placed it on a pole and hit the pot until it broke.

But pinatas, weren’t confined to Mexico, he added. Marco Polo noted in his writings that the Chinese used pinatas with figures of animals and seeds inside to celebrate the new year. They broke the figures with sticks, then collected the broken pieces and burned them, keeping the ashes throughout the year as a sign of prosperity.

The traditional pinata, which today is called the star pinata, is made with seven cones attached to the body of the pinata, Lecanda said. Each cone represents one of the seven deadly sins: Envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger and pride.

The stick used to break the pinata represents the force used to break the false beliefs, he said.

“The blindfold is the faith we have to believe without seeing. The brilliant colors represent the temptations. And the contents, which can be candy, fruit or presents, represent the grace and the love of god.”

Today pinatas are considered a symbol of friendship, celebration and good will and used for New Year’s celebrations, quinceaneras, birthdays, baptisms and other special occasions.

Under Lecanda’s tutelage, groups paired off. Alex and Jose Cruz and Dira Flores began working on a Santa pinata. Alejandrina Mitma and Irma Reigle began building a pinata resembling Mickey Mouse pinata. And Guadalupe, Yazel and Morelia Guzman-Ibarra began building one featuring the traditional cones.

“We will be having a celebration, breaking it on Christmas with all our family to remember our old days in Mexico in the town of Coeneo Michoacan,” said 10-year-old Morelia.

Lecanda told them and the others that he doesn’t use metal or wire but, rather, Elmer’s glue.

It was common practice years ago to make pinatas using a clay pot, Lecanda said.

“Today we use a polymer balloon to construct the body of the pinata,” he said, as he showed how to wrap the balloon with papier-mache reinforced with tape.

He then showed how to make paper flowers using crinkly paper. As for details like the dancers on his elaborate pinata?

It’s simply a matter of twisting aluminum foil into the desired body shape and outfitting it with the crepe paper.

The workshop was part of the SVMoA’s attempt to offer more bilingual classes that would be of interest to the LatinX community, said Jeanne Knott, visual arts class assistant.

“We’re trying to create more community,” she said.

And this workshop apparently struck a chord.

“My parents are from Mexico but I’ve never learned how to make pinatas,” said Luisa Soto Munos.

Dolores Vega, who works at The Hunger Coalition, concurred: “I’ve never made a pinata, either. I came here to connect with my culture. And look at this. This is absolute art.”

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