Beating a piñata to a pulp has become something of a great American pastime. Driven by the impulse of our primate ancestors, Americans happily adopted the Mexican tradition of demolishing caricature likenesses of animals and even famous and infamous people.
The United States’ party activity, however, has, for some, taken on a specialized craft, the crafters for which are not often celebrated as the artists they obviously are. Sandra Ridge is one featured artist at Fire Arts Gallery in South Bend who made her artistic mark with the simple concoction of papier-mâché and political faces.
“It was especially fun making the caricature piñatas. I’ve had people want piñatas of their bosses’ heads,” Sandra said.
Sandra was an art student at Purdue University. Always one with an artistic eye and scientific interest, she found papier-mâché and piñata making an appropriate niche and crossing of her interests.
“I’m always interested in how to make something, and I got really interested in how you make something made out of paper that’s hallow inside, but you hit it with a stick and it won’t break.”
For about 10 years, Sandra had a small piñata-making side business. From children’s birthday party creations to countless George W. Bush likenesses, Sandra brought the guilty pleasure of playful violence to adults and children alike. Her creations gradually became more ornate and specific, and some of her pieces ended up on TV shows like Regis and Kelly.
“I made hundreds of piñatas. Maybe not a thousand, but close to it,” Sandra said. “I still have a couple of faithful clients who buy something every year. I still make piñatas for friends and family, but I don’t charge for them anymore.”
Sandra’s piñata making has slowed down, both because of the priceless pleasure she derives from the craft and because she was ready to venture into new avenues.
“I got bored with it and wanted to try new mediums,” she said.
Her boredom and changing mediums did not altogether disrupt her creativity, however. After the 2016 presidential election, Sandra found delight in making Donald Trump piñatas. She has since also made Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and other politicians into hallow, paper figurines.
“I decided I was going to do my own little protest and make piñatas of our country’s leaders,” Sandra said. “Beating the effigy of a president makes people smile.”
Sandra’s introduction to Fire Arts Gallery offered her the change of creative pace she was looking for, however. She began taking pottery classes there when she and her family moved to the greater South Bend area in 2014, and has since made dozens of bowls, cups and other knickknacks for her home and for display in the Fire Arts.
“I’m still a novice with the pottery. I don’t think I’m an expert at that yet,” she said, though her hands were clasped around a mug of her own making filled with her morning coffee.
Self-critique aside, Sandra has grown maturely into her art. Like a true artist, at the end of the day her craft is something for which she does not need reimbursement, and she found much the same pleasure in making pottery as she did with papier-mâché. It’s all for the fun and the process.
“Mostly I do whatever I want to right now. I’m not beholden to somebody else’s ideas and timeline,” she said. “Anything where I can get my hands dirty and make something pretty in the end is what I like to do.”