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A Quiet Man from Durango

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Trinidad Núñez Quiñones in his studio in Durango, Mexico
Credit: Anthony Arena

In a corner of Casa de Cultura, Durango City’s main cultural center, works a quiet man from Durango whose humble appearance belies the impact he has had on this state’s handcrafts and art, especially ceramics.

Over 70-years-old, Trinidad Núñez Quiñones, known simply as maestro Trino, appears a good 15 years younger. Long hair streaked with gray, he is often either stooped over a batch of clay, or working with students from ages seven to adult.

Mexican pottery from Durango, Mexico
Credit: Anthony Arena

Núñez is an artist as well as an artisan. Most of his artistic works are ceramic sculpture, often with a sexual or kind of a nightmarish appeal. These are followed by mixed media works combining painting on canvas or wood along with ceramic elements. He also does the occasional paint-on-canvas works.

His career as an artist, artisan, teacher and researcher spans over four decades. A stint in the army interrupted his formal artistic training in the late 1960s, but he completed his service and started teaching at the School of Painting, Sculpture and Handcrafts, part of the Juarez State University of Durango.  In 2012, after almost 40 years, Núñez retired from the university.

He estimates that he has taught over 8,000 students in various capacities. He is proudest of the students he has taught and mentored who have gone on to promote Durango traditions inside and outside the state. He has worked with extremely poor communities such as La Guajalota in Mezquital to teach pottery and ceramics techniques with the aim of improving quality and production.

In 2001, the federal government sponsored a project to teach the indigenous Tepehuan in several communities better ceramic techniques. Núñez had success in doing just that. However, changes in the government since then has changed the focus in these same communities from ceramics to textiles, particularly blanket making, converting many of his ceramic workshops to this purpose.

Handcrafted pottery from Durango, Mexico
Credit: Anthony Arena

Today, Núñez may be best known for the workshop that bears his name at the city cultural center. He founded this workshop in 1980 and is still the primary instructor there. He teaches students by setting up projects for them and letting them come in and out of the workshop anytime between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Not content to teach only ceramics, although this still occupies most of his time, about four years ago he began making and teaching cartonería (paper mache), in particular the fantasy creatures called alebrijes. He considered several options for the second craft in the workshop, but decided on cartoneria as it is very economical, making it accessible to more people.

Núñez has numerous awards for his work over the course of his career, mostly from the Juarez State University of Durango and the city of Durango. His biography is, “Clay, Paper Mache and Life.” The maestro has been exhibiting his artwork since he was 25-years-old, mostly locally and in the state of Durango, but also in important shows at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City and the National Museum of Ceramic Handcrafts in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco.

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Leigh Thelmadatter
Leigh Thelmadatter has lived in central Mexico for 17 years. Initially she came to teach English, but fell in love with the land and the culture, so she did what any good writer does... document. With her photographer-husband Alejandro Linares Garcia, she has traveled extensively in the country, with the purpose of putting information not before available online or in English. Her work has culminated so far in the blog Creative Hands of Mexico https://creativehandsofmexicodotorg.wordpress.com/ and her first book, Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste and Fiesta (Schiffer 2019).https://www.schifferbooks.com/mexican-cartonera-a-paper-paste-and-fiesta-6738.html. She also is a cultural correspondent for Mexico News Daily and does freelance writing.

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