In the rural Mexican state of Michoacán, devils, mermaids, saints, sun gods, and drunks can all be found mixing it up and having a great time. Each of these characters, and many more, inhabit the strange universe depicted in sculptures produced in the tiny town of Ocumicho.
These bizarre pottery tableaux feature hybrid scenes from everyday life, religious allegories, and native folklore, all borne from the mind of a unique young man named Marcelino Vicente. Resembling Hieronymus Bosch’s nightmarish landscapes from the 1500s, but with a Catholic-folk art twist, these ceramic fantasies are found nowhere else. Yet during the 1960s, Vicente’s eccentric lifestyle was perceived as a threat to the town’s social hierarchy, which ultimately destroyed him for being different.
Don Lewis, an artist and collector of Mexican folk art, says the strangeness of Ocumicho pottery first caught his eye in a Santa Fe antiques shop nearly 20 years ago. “Just the life in it, the colors, the craziness of it,” says Lewis. Before he knew it, Lewis was purchasing Ocumicho pieces to decorate his home.
“The first one I ever bought was very simple, nothing too weird about it. It was just two people—a woman and a man—out in an agave field, picking agave to make tequila. The second one was like a man in the moon, but it’s more of a sun face with really sharp teeth. Then another one came along, and I started noticing the devils.” These miniature devil figures, or diablitos, are a particularly striking element of Ocumicho sculptures.