Did you know that one of the forefront engraving artists in México was born in Mérida? Gabriel Vicente Gahona, “Picheta”, is a Yucatecan who was born in 1828, and became involved in this field before José Guadalupe Posadas, famous for his Day of the Dead “catrinas”.
Vicente Gahona was the founder of the first engraving teaching academy, promoter of the arts in Yucatán, as well as mayor of Mérida.
Innovator in both technique and materials by doing engravings in local “zapote” tree wood, Gabriel was one of the first cartoonists to use a pseudonym for his work, “Picheta”, taken from the character “Pichet” (pitcher) in a novel by French writer Eugene Sue.
If the nickname sounds familiar, it’s because there is a space next to Palacio del Gobierno, facing the north side of the Plaza Grande, called Pasaje Picheta. It was so named in 1993 as homage to Gabriel. Today this space has a selection of crafts stores, and you can listen to trova musicians in the evening while enjoying a coffee or a meal. But most important is to notice Picheta’s murals on the walls, which depict life in a Mérida of long ago.
In 1847, Picheta was the founder of the magazine “Don Bullebulle” which harhly criticized the social customs of the day. He was author of more than 86 caricatures carved in wood where he displayed scenes of everyday life with irony, humor, and fantasy, in a realistic and representative style, which effectively made him a critical, social, and political commentator of the time.
Some of the elements we can see in his works are carriages, scenes from the Caste War, and characters from the Yucatecan bourgeois; he even did a caricature of himself with an exaggerated nose. Some of his most famous engravings include “Don Escribano”, ”Perder por el pico”, ”La nariz de Picheta”, ”Ingeniosa invención para conservar entre los esposos el amor que se profesan”, ”Portada de la Revista D. Bullebulle”, ”¿La Paz o la Guerra? ”, among others.
He also illustrated the novel “El banquero de cera” (the wax banker), he produced various lithographs, and he worked on stage sets for a theatrical play. He ended his years working for a compnay which made corn mills, pioneering the first factory in the city.
He died in 1899 and his works were largely forgotten until in 1938 his family donated to the now Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán (Palacio Cantón on Paseo de Montejo x Calle 43) some of the wood he used for his engravings. Some of his works and his lithographic press are on display at the Pinacoteca del Estado de Yucatán “Juan Gamboa Guzmán” museum (Calle 59 x 58 y 60, Centro), and there is a permanent collection of 15 of his works at the Museo de la Ciudad (Calle 56 x 65 y 65A, Centro). The gallery of the Centro Estatal de Bellas Artes de Mérida (Av. Itzáez 86 B x 65) carries his name. Various biographies have been written about this author with a tremendous legacy in the engraving and caricature arts.
By Violeta H. Cantarell
With information from Conaculta
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