The team at Yucatán Today was saddened to hear of Efraín Cetz’s passing on September 4, 2023. May he rest in peace and his art live on forever.
Pisté is a land of artisans. In the past, Efraín Cetz reminisces, they were called “Chaacmoleros,” because the Chaacmol was the most popular figurine among their creations. Pisté boasts less than five thousand people, a very rural environment, and Chichén Itzá at its doorstep; for its residents, handcrafts were – and still are – one of the main and most profitable activities. At the age of ten, Efraín joined the artisan community.
Although he had only finished elementary school at the time, Efraín Cetz had the opportunity to deepen his knowledge of the artistic ways of the Maya culture, of which he’s part. “I was fortunate to be in Chichén Itzá,” Efraín told me; “I’ve had contact with people who study our culture, and they shared their knowledge with me.” Some of the scholars he came in contact with were professors from the University of Texas and the University of California in San Diego. If you talk to Efraín, he’ll tell you about his visits and participation in conferences abroad as well.
His mentor was an American scholar who studied Maya culture in depth, becoming interested in Chichén Itzá because of the city’s astronomical background. From him, Efraín learned the historic and cultural elements of every piece he made. Now, Efraín understands that the Maya and Aztecs did not decorate, but captured graphic aspects of their anthropological history. “What should I do with the culture in my art?” he asks, and answers: “I’m going to carve it exactly as depicted.” He tries to replicate what our ancestors wanted to portray, because the work tells their history and their culture. To change it would be to change the historical representation.
Since then, he has been trying to gather more information. This is reflected in his sculptures carved in Macedonian stone (limestone) or wood. They are miniature replicas – compared to the original, of course – of well-known pieces (such as the Dresden Codex) that open a window into the past and the Maya worldview. If you ask about the scene or motifs on whatever piece he’s offering, Efraín surely has an accurate answer. “Is it pretty? That’s fine. If it speaks our truth, much better,” affirms the artisan.
His art (in short)
Efraín Cetz does more than Maya and Aztec replicas; he also makes Mormon sacred art. Really, if a client commissions it, he’ll make it. “If you give me a little time and patience, I will have your art piece,” he says with a smile. The themes may differ, but he always works with wood and stone using his handmade tools; these are adapted from the tools used by local farmers. The size of the tools, of course, varies according to the piece’s size and the details.
Just as a 35 cm Aztec calendar, in cedar wood, can take up to seven days, sculptures and masks take from two to three months. On average, calendars range in price from $3,000 pesos to $5,000 pesos. There are collector’s pieces that take even longer and, therefore, their prices go up. Don’t worry if that sounds steep! Efraín offers pieces starting at $500 pesos.
To take home one of his crafts, you can contact him through his social media or visit him every day, from 10 am to 4 pm, at his stand on the path leading to Chichén Itzá’s Observatory, next to the great wall.
Text by Olivia Camarena Cervera
Yucatecan communicologist. Your favorite Assistant Editor. Writer, blogger, and bookstagrammer in her spare time. She also experiments with TikTok.
Photography by Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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