Artist Spotlight: Teodora Blanco Nuñez
by Dr. Kristopher Driggers, assistant curator, Schmidt Curator of Latin American Art
Teodora Blanco, Santa María Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico, Female Figure with Ollas, 1972, clay, red slip. Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Gift of Will and Pat Daniel. 2015.37.78
A woman in clay stands tall, with each of her arms extended from her sides to cradle clay ollas against her body. Upon her head, she balances another clay pot, a vessel that merges with her braided coiffure. The front of the woman’s dress is a bold essay in floral design; symmetrical flowers bloom and sprout along the center line of her garment, some touched with highlights in red. Leaning in close to see her, one is struck the artistry of her eyes: Feathery lashes and brows give the woman a look of intense alertness and hold our attention as we continue to study the work.
This sculpture, now on view in TMA’s Schmidt Gallery of Latin American Folk Art, was created by Teodora Blanco Nuñez (1928–1980), a master artist from the town of Santa María Atzompa near the city of Oaxaca. Blanco Nuñez is today recognized as an extraordinary figure in the history of Mexico’s folk art, in part because of the influence that she had on famous collectors outside of Mexico who sought out her pieces for their aesthetic achievement. In the 1970s, Blanco was visited in her home studio by Nelson A. Rockefeller – the vice president of the United States and a voracious collector of art. Recalling their visit, Rockefeller remembered Teodora Blanco Nuñez as “a person of such an active mind, so feeling and creative, that one thought leads to another and each is expressed in sculptural form through some additions to or elaboration of the piece in hand – with lightning speed and sensitivity.”
As Rockefeller intimates, Teodora Blanco Nuñez’s practice was capacious and inventive, and the artist created works in many different forms and styles. Still, her signature forms – those for which she is best-recognized – might be her clay figures representing women, sometimes referred to as muñecas or dolls. These sculptures are hand built from natural beige clay with minimal slip painting or stain, oftentimes, there is raised design, as on the flower embroidery on the TMA sculpture.
Irma Garcia Blanco, Oaxaca, Mexico, Nativity Angel Figure (Figura de un angel del Nacimiento), 1986, earthenware. Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Gift of Stephen Vollmer. 2004.13.20
Seen within the context of Oaxacan folk art as it is practiced today, Teodora Blanco Nuñez’s influence on the tradition is palpable: Many artists today have taken up Blanco’s legacy and work in styles similar to those that she pioneered, including Teodora’s own descendants. The TMA collection, for example, includes a Nativity Angel figure (pictured above) created by Irma García Blanco (b. 1959), Teodora’s daughter. While the artist’s impact is today widely felt, it is important to honor the originality of her contribution. At the time that Teodora began created sculptures in this style, her work represented a significant departure from local tradition, so that she pioneered a new kind of image in clay.
Today, Blanco Nuñez’s work can be seen in museum collections worldwide, including a number of works attributed to the artist in addition to the Female Figure with Clay Ollas here at the Tucson Museum of Art.
 Nelson A. Rockefeller, Foreword to Marion Oettinger, Jr., Folk Treasures of Mexico: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection (San Antonio: 2010 ), xxv.