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Tarascan metal jewelry.

The Tarascan Indians who inhabit the area to the west of Mexico City in the state of Michoacan in and around the city of Morelia, were fine craftsman in metals long before the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The craftsmen of this region produced mosaics, lost wax metal casting and repousse. They portrayed the elements of their lives in a bold and humorous style. With the Spanish conquerors came the styles of the old world and their religious emphasis. The precious metals of the Tarascan craftsman were melted into bullion and shipped back to Spain.

Today, these Tarascan craftsmen still work in metals but the fine metals are no longer available in quantity and they must use substitutes. Silver, copper wire and pot metals are recycled into new forms. Both jewelry and miniatures make the most of the small quantities of metals thus available. The Tarascans' work once more adorns their own people instead of the grandees of Spain.

The Indian arts and crafts were tied to their belief in the supernatural. Now the melding of the two cultures is so complete that it is difficult to distinguish the antecedents of a specific craft form. Tarascan craftsmen work to produce bright and beautiful designs drawn from the everyday objects that are so much a part of Mexican arts and crafts.

Small, natural forms can be pressed into clay and the clay fired in a kiln. Then wax can be pressed into the mold and the wax models cast in plaster with a cone of wax attached to provide for a pouring spout. When dry, these molds are fired and the wax burned out. The molds are then filled with molten metal. The plaster can be washed away when the metal cools. Casting in the "lost wax" method allows many of the most minute details of the natural form to be retained.

Crafts in Culture

Last spring, SchoolArts presented a three part Crafts in Culture series. Each article described the cultural context of a unique craft form and illustrated the artifact and/or the people using it or making it. A lesson plan accompanied each article. Because of readers" positive response to the series, SchoolArts is presenting a new series of articles. They will appear in alternate issues, rotating with our new technology feature.

Lost wax necklace

Art concept: Detail and texture enhance forms when harmoniously grouped.

Discussion: Forms unadorned by detail lack definition and can become repetitious and uninteresting. The addition of details and textures in harmony with the form makes the form have more individuality and adds complexity to the whole group.

Objective: Select a natural form with some detail and/or texture that is suitable for at least five repetitions in a necklace.

Materials: Clay, small natural objects (shells, seed pods, insect husks), molding plaster or Plaster of Paris (approximately 3-5 lbs.), container for casting (small cans such as tuna or small portion cans), small kiln, pewter in grain form for casting (small objects will take an ounce each), ladle,tongs, gloves and hot pads, wax and a candle for softening it.

Preparation: Press a can into a slab of clay to cut out a circle. Line can with wax paper. Soap object with a brush to avoid sticking. Encase the lower half or one side of the object in clay up to the half way mark. Place object in can. Mix plaster and pour into the can, covering the top of object by at least 1/2". When plaster has set, remove by lifting out with the waxed paper. Remove clay and object from plaster mold and let plaster dry for five days.

Presentation: Cut out any additional clay forms to be added to object, such as a ring to hang it by. Place the mold with the pewter grains mounded upon it in the kiln and let the pewter melt. Lift out of side loading kiln with tongs or let kiln cool cracked open before removing. If plumbers' pot is used, melt pewter grains in the casting ladle and pour carefully into the mold. A long wire can be used to "lead" metal into small areas such as the ring. Let cool and pry out of the mold. Mold may be used several times. Wear gloves and use pot holders when handling any hot tools. Do not touch mold with hands for at least an hour after casting.

Evaluation: Were the objects selected with both size and detail in mind? Did the mold make a clear cast and were safety procedures used?

Dr. Margaret W. Ryan is Associate Professor, Department of Art, the University of Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
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Title Annotation:Tarasco Indians of Mexico
Author:Ryan, Margaret W.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:An introductory course in ceramic education.
Next Article:A mural worth a million words.

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