A chunk of basalt is the most common rock on the face of the earth. Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually gray to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. Extrusive refers to the mode of igneous volcanic rock formation in which hot magma from inside the earth flows out (extrudes) onto the surface as lava or explodes violently into the atmosphere to fall back as pyroclastics or tuff. This is opposed to intrusive rock formation, in which magma does not reach the surface. Basalt is the most common rock type in the Earth's crust and covers about 70% of earth's surface, including most of the ocean floor.
Using rudimentary tools, Ignacio chips away at the volcanic rock allowing the rock itself to tell him what shape it will take. The hammer and chisel are second nature for this artist whose carved pieces are some of the finest of their type. Ignacio took me to his backyard, which is set up as his work place. He explains that he spends three days working and then three days traveling to his mine collecting more rock - he rests on Sunday.
He was working on a tejolote (pestal) or a molcajete (mortar) and took me through all the steps, which are shown in the photos above. Ignacio makes all his own tools (see last photo above) and switched from one to another quickly as he carved the profile of a head on the handle of the tejolote. First, he used a piece of chalk to draw where the design would be. Then he used a chisel and chipped away the eye holes. Dragging one of his tools, he formed the mouth and decorated lines that you see in the
In the final step of completing a piece, Ignacio uses a smooth stone to rub the pieces when finished to make them smooth — here is where the quality of his work surpasses others. His molcajetes are ready to use without worrying about rock chipping off while crushing peppers for your salsa.
The tradition of carving basalt in Mexican is believed to have begun with the Olmec peoples of the Gulf Coast in the second millennium B.C., if not earlier. Many of the Aztec sculptures still exist despite massive destruction by the Spaniards, who considered them to be heathen idols.