Martin Batista

Martin Batista is a Cincinnati-area Panamanian ceramic and stone artist. He learned pre-Columbian traditions with Guaymi craftsmen in Panama and uses archeological pieces as models for replicas and new pieces. He collects his clay and natural dyes from local rivers in Ohio.

Clay sculpture and stone carving is an ancient tradition in Central America. Many pre and post Columbian ethnic groups throughout the Americas have developed distinct styles that are culturally and historically unique. The archeological record of clay work in the American continent is abundant, and evidently, many of these traditions are still alive today.

Mr. Batista learned many of the styles and techniques he practices form Guaymi craftsmen in Panama City, stating at age 9. Batista’s parents were originally from the Chiriqui province in Western Panama, near the border with Costa Rica. Batista was born in Panama City where developed an interest in pre-Columbian art form an early age. He developed a relationship with a group of Guaymi craftsmen form buying raw materials form them.

The Guaymi, as Batista describes them, lived in a natural preserve in Panama where they cared for their ancestors’ tombs, and where they panned for clay in the creeks and occasionally found gold, which they would sell in Panama City. The Guaymi produced their own crafts and also produced works representative of other cultures of the region, which were of interest to tourists, including clay work from the Chocoe culture and stone work in onyx, marble and quartz from Central American Mayan cultures. He has also produced clay replicas of gold pieces form the Kimbaya culture. At present, Batista says there are only a handful of Guaymi people who preserve the traditions of clay and stonework, as many of them have found more profitable jobs in the city.

Batista apprenticed with the Guaymi sporadically, and he complemented his training about pre-Colombian art by doing independent research, visiting museums, such as the Museo Nacional de Panamá, and consulting archeological catalogues. He used these models as a reference and used his natural talent to create both replicas and new pieces in the style of different Amerindian traditions, which now form his portfolio of nearly 50 pieces.

Now living in Ohio with his wife and three children, Batista works in an industrial assembly plant by day and continues his craft at home in a suburb of Cincinnati. For raw materials, he likes to collect clay from a lake in a park near Columbus, preferring it over the store-bought kind. He also collects some natural dyes form local Ohio plants; others, he brings from Panama. He fires his clay at low temperatures outdoors in a park. He prefers this method to kilns that he finds are too harsh on natural clays and paints. In addition to stone carving, clay sculptures and pots, he also makes working clay flutes and ocarinas with distinctive animal shapes.

Batista has found an outlet for selling his art at summer festivals in New York State. His goal is to exhibit his work closer to home, perhaps to open a shop on Cincinnati and find viability for his craft in Ohio.

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