San Juan Comalapa was founded in 1524, under the kaqchikel name “Chixot” –which itself means “between comales” (the flat, clay pans used for cooking tortillas over open flame). But during the Spanish invasion, the Nahuatl (Mexican residents who occupied the plains) that accompanied the invaders, indigenous translated it into their own language, calling him “COMALAPA”, COMAL = disks of clay; and APA = place, that all together means “The place of Comales”.
This town is 14 miles (24 km) from Chimaltenango village. It is of historical importance since it was the birthplace of the Guatemalan composer, Don Rafael Álvarez Ovalle, who wrote the country’s national anthem. In Comalapa, a museum has been erected in Ovalle’s childhood home where an extensive collection of carefully restored personal effects and original scores can be found.
The village is equally famous for its primate artists. In 1920, Andrés Curruchiche began painting simple village scenes using a naïve style. In the 1950s his work became quite popular, first in Guatemala and then throughout the United States.
Curruchiche even had several shows in New York and Los Angeles. His success has inspired other local artists and there is now a collective of about 50 artists displaying their work in a number of small galleries in the center square. The Ixchel Textile Museum in Guatemala City displays a permanent exhibit of his work, which demonstrates the dress of Comalapa residents beginning in the 1920s.
Curruchiche’s home, at 0 Avenida 3-76, is open to visitors, and his granddaughter, María Elena Curruchiche, herself an accomplished artist, is a delightful historian of the careers of her grandfather and father, Vicente Curruchiche, also an acclaimed artist.
As one comes into the town, however, the first hint of a unique heritage presents itself. Along both sides of the road, murals depicting the town’s history are painted on walls fronting the street. The murals begin with representations of the Maya ancestors of the Kaqchikel community, through various phases of the area’s history, to the present day.
The traditional weaving in San Juan Comalapa is also notable. The women use a silk thread combined with natural brown thread known as “cuyuxcate” to produce the beautiful styled fabrics with geometric patterns.