On one of Antigua’s many cobblestone streets, with a perfect distant view of the majestic Volcano they call Agua, is a small store. Known as La Casa de las Escudillas, or The House of the Masks, they recently added even more interesting items to their usual jumble of antiques, masks, wooden carvings of saints and the occasional branding iron.
Romie, the diminutive Maya lady who operates this mini-treasure trove of artifacts told me she was seventy years old. I put on my reading glasses: not even close. Maybe thirty, plus or minus, to which she finally agreed, was ‘close.’ At first she wouldn’t allow me to take photos of the interior and the shelves of assorted wares and certainly, most definitely not one of her. Eventually, with a little coaxing this admonition wore off. I was, after all an old customer.
Two years ago, after observing the same two Spanish short swords hanging in the same place for over a year, I made her an offer that made her cry. One of the two was an obvious reproduction and the other a somewhat crudely made blade with the remnants of the hilt and guard still intact. We eventually came to terms but she still remembers the rounds of bargaining. That piece eventually reincarnated as a sword cane, to this day not unsheathed except as a minor warning, here and there.
A few nights ago, passing her open door as she was waxing a huge thick wooden table shaped like a trestle, I stopped in. At the doorway, on the right and on the floor were new objects: several metates (grinding stones for corn) plus several round stone fishing weights. These are old: the Maya used these for their nets. A few steps further into the dim shop revealed a large ceramic pot full of smaller vessels, also of apparent antiquity. I confess to a less than perfect understanding of recognizing authentic Maya ceramics but I’m learning. Three years ago I also confess to buying a story and four supposedly ‘old’ Maya figurines from someone whom I thought was reliable. They look a lot better now that I spray painted them gold and I’ve gotten over being taken. I’ve called in a local archeologist whose specialty is Maya ceramics and I’m waiting for her viewpoint on the pots in the pot.
If you find yourself in Antigua, this store is worth a look. The business card says that they’re open from 9am to 7pm. We had a ten o’clock appointment but she didn’t open the door until eleven am. It is, after all, Guatemalan Standard Time. If there’s a large object that won’t fit in the suitcase, she offers shipping. She’s not seventy; she’s sweet and apt to cry if you bargain too hard. I suspect that it’s a ‘woman’ thing. You’ll find her on 6th Avenida South, #4 but don’t expect anything till about eleven in the morning. I kind of liked the branding irons: there was one that only had a “2” but as they say in Texas, “I’m all hat and no cattle.”