MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Imagine spending a week sculpting a work of art. Then just hours after it's finished, there's a party. Everyone gathers around the art and whacks it to shreds with a stick. Such is the life of a San Francisco-based artist who makes his living making pinatas.
As part of our odd jobs series titled You Do What? Stephanie Martin reports from member station KQED.
STEPHANIE MARTIN: Candy-filled pinatas were part of every major celebration during Romeo Gilberto Osorio's childhood in El Salvador. Pinatas shaped like animals, monsters and favorite cartoon characters.
Mr. ROMEO GILBERTO OSORIO (Pinata Maker): That was our passion, you know, when we were kids, not because we wanted to break a character and hit Mickey Mouse or something but because of the treasure inside.
MARTIN: Today, Osorio's passion is art. He's a serious sculptor and local San Francisco galleries proudly display his Mesoamerican and pre-Columbian inspired art.
Mr. OSORIO: This is not a pinata, but this is a sculpture installation that I have.
MARTIN: And what pays the bills, though?
Mr. OSORIO: The pinatas.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: His small Excelsior neighborhood studio is called Pinata Art. Giant papier-mache footballs, mouse heads and turtles dangle from the ceiling. And front and center in the store window stands Osorio's latest commission, one he's been working on all week.
Mr. OSORIO: You can see here Michael Jackson. See the red lips and fancy military sort of clothes and things like that.
MARTIN: Osorio dedicates each day to a different step in the process. By Friday, the glue is dry and the pinatas are ready to go. He makes about 15 each week.
Mr. OSORIO: Because I do custom-made pinatas, I hardly have any competition
MARTIN: Osorio says most pinatas sold in the U.S. are small cheap ones made in Mexico or China; his cost up to $75. But customers are willing to pay that much because they are works of art.
Ms. RAMONA MAUROFF: (Unintelligible).
Mr. DAVID MAUROFF: Excuse me. Here comes Michael.
MARTIN: That's Michael Jackson making his big entrance at a birthday party for 7-year-old Ramona Mauroff. Ramona's father, David Mauroff, climbs onto a deck above the backyard and begins swinging the pinata from the end of a garden hoe. About a dozen first-grade girls dressed in glittery hats and gloves take turns clobbering it with a plastic baseball bat.
Mr. MAUROFF: Ow. That's what Michael Jackson does when he gets hit like a pinata. Ow.
MARTIN: Ramona's mother, Justine Underhill, says she knew the pinata would be a big hit at her daughter's Michael Jackson-themed party.
Ms. JUSTINE UNDERHILL: There's been a Michael Jackson obsession spreading through the first grade at Ramona's school. I think that the kids became aware of Michael Jackson when he died.
Mr. MAUROFF: (Singing) They're out to get you, better leave while you can. Don't want to be a boy, you want to be a man. Just beat it. Go.
MARTIN: Finally, the girls break through its middle, sending an avalanche of candy to the ground.
Unidentified Child: (Singing) So beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it, no one wants to be defeated...
MARTIN: They then head back inside to practice their moonwalk and sing a tribute to Michael on the karaoke machine.
Unidentified Child: (Singing) ...who's wrong or right. Just beat it, beat it...
Mr. OSORIO: It's like a performance, I would say.
MARTIN: Back in his studio, Osorio is philosophical about the fate of his creations.
Mr. OSORIO: Because, you know, art now is ephemeral in many ways, you know? You can do a performance and never repeat it in your life, but you can become famous, you know?
MARTIN: Still, there are those customers who can't bear to break their pinatas. To them, Osorio says, remember the treasure inside. Better yet, buy two pinatas - one to break and one to save - and more money for him to pursue his art, the kind that doesn't pay the bills.
For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Martin in San Francisco.
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