Hector Saldivar (Piñata maker, Mexican cartoneria, painting)

Hector Saldivar was born and raised in Mexico City. He lives surrounded by relatives, in Lenoir City, Tennessee. Although he has spent more than half his life in the United States, his art speaks volumes of the colorful traditions of Mexican craft.

Hector is a piñatero, a piñata maker. “I started making piñatas because my mother always celebrated Las Posadas. There are 9 posadas, and I would be the one who made the piñatas.” Traditional piñatas were decorated clay pots. The pot was first covered with newspaper and later with colorful crepe paper. “My mother would buy a clay pot and I would use my imagination to create different piñatas. To me, that was a wonderful thing.”

Children took turns hitting the piñata. Hector recalls the cracking sounds and the smell of fruit. “Back then piñatas were filled with fruit and sugar cane. Now they are filled with candy.” Hector still makes piñatas every Christmas, every birthday in his family, and he takes special orders too.

“Christmas piñatas are the most traditional. They can have four, five, six, seven, even eight cones.” For birthday piñatas he often gets requests of a favorite character. Or he sets free his imagination! He showed us a rooster piñata that he is half-way through. “First, I make a cardboard structure… with cardboard strips, one by one, until there is a shape to be covered with paper. I use newspaper strips and engrudo.” Engrudo is a homemade flour and water paste, used to glue the paper.

Hector has refined his art now to make larger sculptures out of cardboard and paper mache, in the tradition of Mexican cartonería.27 “Last year, I made a Catrina for HoLa’s Day of Dead contest. I was so happy I won second prize!” His sculpture was 7-feet tall. Hector explained he used boxes and newspaper. A wonderful recycling project!

“La Catrina is to Mexican Day of the Dead what the pumpkin is to Halloween.” This fancily dressed feminine figure, representation of Death, was first depicted by Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican graphic artist. Famed Diego Rivera painted La Catrina in several works. The skeleton of a wealthy, elegant woman, La Catrina symbolizes the fact that death, the great equalizer, spares no one, not even the rich and powerful. She is a happy dancing figure that reigns in Day of the Dead celebrations.28

Hector also dressed a tiered altar for HoLa’s Day of the Dead Contest. “This is the traditional altar in Mexico City style.” Decorated with lace and papel picado, sugar skulls, pottery, sugar cane, fruit, sweet pan de muerto bread, and a large painting of Frida Kahlo, the ofrenda (offering) paid homage to Hector’s loved ones. “I remember going to the market with my grandma to buy special fruit. When I make an altar it brings me fond memories. I also like for people to see Mexican art and traditions.”

Hector’s grandmother would tell her grandchildren how their deceased family members would come to visit on November 2nd if the altar was set. She said that they would come to the altar attracted by the sweet smell of fruit, water, and salt. Food that the person might have liked, like mole, or candied pumpkin, and tequila or pulque (a fermented drink made of agave) were also served. Sugar skulls, sweet bread, sweet potatoes, are staples too.

Hector’s talents have recently expanded to include painting. His style is still evolving, but he enjoys painting landscapes, still life and indigenous themes. His first solo exhibit was at Casa HoLa last year. He participates in group exhibits with his art teacher. He had two paintings exhibited at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Latino Artist Exhibit. In order to further develop his art Hector said he would need support from the public and more opportunities to show his and other Latino artists’ work.


Photo 70: Hector posing beside his statue, La Catrina, at Casa HoLa, November 2011. Photo by Rafael Casco.


Photo 71: Traditional tiered altar from Mexico City, decorated by Hector Saldivar. Photo by Rafael Casco.


Photo 72: Rooster-shaped cardboard and paper mache statue, by Hector Saldivar. Photo by Rafael Casco.


Photo 73: Indigenous woman, acrylic on canvas, by Hector Saldivar, 2010. Photo by Rafael Casco.



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