In the early summer of 1994, my wife and I led sixteen art teachers into the rugged Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico. The goal was to learn the art of making pottery the way the Paquime Indians did hundreds of years earlier.
We set up camp in a remote area known as Cave Valley, a narrow gorge lined on both sides with Indian cave dwellings and parted in the middle by the meandering Piedras Verdes River. World renowned master potter, Juan Quezada, was our tutor during that memorable week in which we escaped the surly bands of civilization as we knew it, going back in time to revisit an art and a culture long disappeared.
We learned how to find and extract the clay suitable for making the authentic product. We even found the minerals needed to make the red and black pigments used in decorating our work with intricate geometric designs. Brushes were made from strands of our own hair fastened to small sticks.
At the end of that memorable week, we carefully packed up our unfired pots and headed down from the mountains on rough, dirt roads to the quaint little village of Mata Ortiz where Mr. Quezada makes his home.
The preparations for firing the raw clay commenced immediately. From a stall in back of the rustic Quezada dwelling we extracted buckets of dried cow dung. Depending on its size, our raw pottery was carefully arranged in groups of two or three on the ground. These were covered by a larger clay pot that had been especially made for the purpose. The cow chips were piled over this pot and set on fire. Our pottery was slow-cooked at just the right temperature for just the right time, much as one would cook a meal in a Dutch oven.
To the delight of the teachers, most of the pots turned out beautifully. They were ready for a final burnishing using smooth stones. However, some pots cracked or broke during the firing process. This could have happened as a result of air bubbles in the clay or some other defect in the manufacturing process. These pots, for the most part, could not be salvaged and would have to be discarded. Some could be glued but they would forever be “seconds.”
“Sculptors who lived in the Golden Age of Tuscan Sculpture in Europe claimed that, of all the kinds and colors of marble, the milky white Carrara was the rarest and most costly. Some claimed that it was the purest substance God ever created and they longed for the feel of it beneath their hands.
“Sculpting marble was neither fast nor easy. It required both careful analysis and tedious backbreaking work. Any mistake could be disastrous. Those sculptors with lesser talent and little patience would occasionally make mistakes that could ruin a would-be masterpiece. Rather than admit their blunder and lose their commissions, some would resort to applying soft, white wax, which, when skillfully applied, could usually disguise the damage—at least until after they had been paid for their work.
“The highest standard of excellence for works of white Carrara marble came to include the distinction, ‘sine cere,’ meaning ‘without wax.’ Eventually these two words merged to become a single word, ‘sincere,’ meaning ‘pure, unadulterated, whole, intact, uninjured.’
“When the word was used to refer to marble works of art, the emphasis was on the fundamental wholeness of the statue, not just on its superficial or outward appearance. The statue was expected to be good, not just to look good.” (Martinez & Martinez, 10 Principles of Leadership Power, 1992)
In Spanish the word is “sincera” which, literally, means “without wax.” The word in English, “sincere,” comes from the same roots and has the same meaning.
How would it be, in our day and age, if all of us—politicians, preachers, businesspersons, parents, and people in general—could be truly sincere? Wouldn’t it be great if what we believe, what we say, and what we do could all be the same thing? This is the definition of integrity.
A person of integrity does not cover faults in order to look good to the outside world. A person of integrity tries to eliminate personal flaws and unbecoming behavior, not by covering them up, but by embracing new habits and new lifestyles—in other words, living his or her life without wax.