summer 2011 Issue fourteen
  Juan Sisay Painting Mystery

Continued from the Arte Maya Newsletter

  As you can see in the above images, Juan Sisay on the left and Diego Pop Ajuchan on the right, the paintings are virtually the same in content and style. The reason why was immediately obvious to me because for many years now I have observed Tz'utuhil artists in their homes. Artists often earn extra money by taking on apprentices and teaching them how to paint. This is done in a holistic manner. The teacher has the student copy a small painting that he is doing. The student follows the master step by step,  from preparing the canvas to adding the final touches such as the ornament in the traje (traditional dress). This way the student learns every step. Diego Pop Ajuchan could not finish his painting because Juan Sisay was sick and he could not proceed without his teacher. Many students never become artists because they find that after leaving their teacher, they have no market for the paintings they produce. It is likely that Diego Pop Ajuchan did not do many paintings after this one, and that is the reason I had never heard of him.

The Juan Sisay painting was given to Arte Maya by Kirby Settle in memory of his friend William A Stimson II of San Francisco. The two pieces will remain together as an example of how Maya artists teach each other. Kirby Settle on how he acquired the painting:


"This painting was in the collection of a Mr. and Mrs. Robert Cheesewright of Pasedena, CA.  Since they were travelers and liked to pick up local arts and crafts, it is likely they bought it in a shop very near the artist's studio.  It was hanging in their Tahoe house which they built in 1960 and seems to have been there soon after its construction. After their deaths, their granddaughters sold the house and distributed its contents.  I was given the Sisay as I had mentioned to them on several occassions that I thought it charming and was worth saving.  I had been a long time friend of their father [William A. Stimson II] who had married one of the Cheesewright children."