A simple blue one story home sits on a quiet street off the main road of Ita, Paraguay. Shaded by tall trees, the home appears dark, lonely, absent of modern conveniences. Walking up several steps, the gate opens for a mangy blue-grey Weimaraner. Standing at the gate, yelling in for anyone. Silence. Stillness. Until noticing movement of a little pig tied up in the dirt in the back with chickens roaming free through the dark earth. Another Weimaraner resting in the shade blends in with side shrubs. One hen tied by her foot to the root of a tree with a rooster on her feverishly attempting mating gestures. Still silence. Until, a woman fills the archway separating the cooking area in the back with the front garden.
Appearing with a smile, long grey haired tied back. Carmel skin, smooth. With a wave of her hand, Fermina Benitez extends an invitation to come into her home. Upon explaining the search for the black clay sculptures, movement began in the home. A man appears and sets up a small table outside. Several clay chickens are immediately unwrapped from newspaper and displayed.
The vision of Pachamama, Mother Earth, Fermina sits on a stool in her simple cotton dress, with her breasts resting on her rotund belly. Her full arms reach around and to caress a handful of black clay. Her fingers work deftly, smoothing the moist earth. With quick movements, she pinches pieces off of the mound and places them on the simple wooden table in front of her.
She pinches the top of her soft mound of black clay, what will become the head of the chicken. Then as though a routine that could be done in her sleep, even blindly, she quickly massages the clay into the form of a chicken. Slowly she places the small pinched pieces along the back side of the chicken, moving in and placing the rest.
Within minutes, the traditional Paraguayan chicken is created, tufted, tall with a round belly.
Sitting next to Fermina is her son-in-law, Pablo Galliano, handsome, dark with a gentle expression. Pablo Galliano slips his glasses on. In his lap rests a white painted clay chicken ready for the finishing touches of black ink. With elegant long fingers, Pablo lifts a fine black ink Sharpie pen and begins to add several lines to each feather on the chicken. Slowly, with a steady hand of a surgeon, the white chicken with black highlights emerges.
Fermina says she makes six chickens a day, as it takes time to create, let the clay dry, bake in the oven, and then paint. Starting when she was 17 years old, Fermina has been making chickens for the last 60 years. In her lifetime, Fermina has contributed over 100,000 traditional clay folk art chickens to the Paraguayan market.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News use policy.)