Loteria, a Game of Chance Translated into a Work of Art

June 16, 2021

Loteria, a Game of Chance Translated into a Work of Art

The traditional game of Loteria has become a part of the culture of Mexico since its introduction in1769. Then came a fellow named Don Clemente Jacques, who began publishing the game in 1887 in Mexico and had the clever idea to include the packaged game with the rations for Mexican soldiers. The game quickly became a part of the culture and thrived to this day. Loteria is essentially a game of chance very similar to Bingo, but rather than ping pong balls to match numbers, a deck of 54 cards is used. Each card has a number and an iconic image that is a familiar item to Mexican culture. As the dealer selects a random card from the deck, the players check their "tabla" (similar to a bingo card, but with images), and if they have a match, they mark it with a pinto bean. The first to have four matching cards in a row wins the game. Of course, just like Monopoly, there are various versions, and now there are options to play online. Using a pinto bean as a marker allows anyone to play the game. If you don't have beans handy, you can use a rock, or a penny, or more. The players set the stakes. If you are interested in learning the basics, you can even find a "Google doodle" to help you get started.

Loteria inspired artwork

01. An example of a traditional "Lotería Tabla", except for color the creative elements have remained largely unchanged from the games original publication in the 19th century. | 02. Over the past decade a younger generation's fascination with this vintage game has introduced various modern pop-culture elements. Now Lotería art can be found on everything from a pair of waffle soled Vans to mass produced plastic coasters | 03. No better way to appropriate historical culture than a shiny new tattoo.  

We traveled hundreds of miles throughout Mexico over the past 20 years, but it took a while to develop artwork that represented this aspect of the culture of Mexico. As with most items in our varied collections, we first had a lot to learn about Mexico and its people.
We were first exposed to Loteria art before we had any knowledge of the game. We began working with Rafael, the artist who creates our Devotion Collection, but we were in search of hearts. We had seen a collection of tiny, red hearts made from terracotta clay in another artist's studio that we were working with in Guadalajara. We inquired about where we might find the artist who created the hearts, and he replied, "I will put you in touch with him" and as it goes in Mexico, three years later, we met Rafael.
Upon entering an artist's studio for the first time, be prepared for an experience that you could not have imagined. You realize that what lies before you is so much more than what you could experience from a catalog, an email containing a selection of photos, or at best, meeting the artist at a trade show or gallery show. The artist has invited you into his or her personal space. This studio is where the magic of the mind takes form, and all of the instruments used to bring creativity to life are in place.
We came in search of hearts, little ones, because that was all we had seen of Rafael's work. We found hearts in all shapes and sizes, but we saw sculptures of various figures, and on the wall were a few small Loteria card sculptures. There was so much to see and a lot more to learn. There are 54 different cards in a Loteria deck, and Rafae created molds for almost all of them, and some of the cards are available in 3 sizes. My first vision was to fill a wall with a variety of cards in various sizes. Imagine the color and interest that this display would bring to a game room, a guest powder room, or a small area that only requires one unique piece of art.
Each Loteria card is molded by hand, and many are comprised of multiple pieces. For example, La Arana, card #33 has a tiny spider whose body is made of clay then wire legs are embedded in the clay body. This complete little spider is then sitting on a small hook located in the center of a web that is painted on the card. All that is left is to find the perfect spot and place it on the wall. Each Loteria sculpture has a sturdy wire hook inserted into the terracotta clay before it is fired in the kiln. These pieces can be heavy, and we want to ensure that they are secure on any wall.
Working with Rafael has been a creative adventure. As if a deck of 54 cards is not enough, Rafael is creating new cards that are not found in a traditional Loteria deck, such as "El Taco" or "La Frida". All the elements of the culture of Mexico are presented in the design of a loteria card, with each being an individual, hand-painted, sculptural work of art.
We have not presented the deck of all 54 on our Zenwaro website, so if you are curious to see more, you can access more information on Google or Wikipedia. Feel free to contact us with your ideas or questions. Almost anything is possible in Rafael's studio with Zenwaro!

Loteria card artwork Loteria ceramic sculpture

01. Rafael, the creator and artist who brings not only our Loteria sculptures to.life, but all of the artistry in our Devotion Collection.

02. The beginning stages of a new Loteria sculpture in terracotta clay before firing in Rafael's kiln.  "El Taco" is not one of the 54 traditional images in the Loteria deck of cards, but the taco is definitely a strong cultural element of not only Mexican cuisine, but also a mainstay on many menus in the U.S. So why not create a new Loteria?

03. A new kiln being constructed to fire Loterias and so much more.  All of the pieces in our Devotion Collection are fired the traditional way, in a wood burning kiln.  





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