Larry Madrid blacksmiths comals in honor of his mother
STORY AND PHOTOS BY UNGELBAH DÁVILA
It’s reaching 93 degrees in the shade, but master blacksmith Larry Madrid isn’t breaking a sweat — even as he stands in front of a molten forge. There, a steel disk begins its journey from metal plate to artisanal comal — a smooth griddle used to warm tortillas. He works at his Los Lunas workshop, which holds his collection of antique blacksmithing tools. In the background, Spanish-language music plays from a radio dialed to KANW 89.1. The music reminds Madrid of his father, Max, who filled his childhood with song.
He is careful not to overwork the metal, hammering the edges with assurance. “The metal keeps me in one spot. It keeps me grounded,” he says with a smile. The same smile shines when he speaks about his mother, Tarcilla, who inspires many of his creations.
Madrid is known for making comals and spoons, but he can fashion any metal object that might go in a home, such as fireplace tools and screens, light switch covers and pot hangers. He has won awards in the ironwork and utilitarian categories at Traditional Spanish Market, where he’s one of only a handful of blacksmiths.
To flatten the metal for comals, he uses an antique power hammer. He calls it “Little Giant,” and he refurbished it himself. After hand-hammering the edges of each comal, he uses a plasma cutter to put a design into the plate. His designs often feature New Mexico’s Tomé Hill, sacred hearts, sugar skulls and doves. Having a design appear on a tortilla is a bonus.
Making a utilitarian tool to create really good tortillas — tortillas like his mother made — is Madrid’s first priority. He cures each comal with lard, so it’s ready to use as soon as the customer gets it home.
His mother made tortillas every day on a wood stove at their San Marcelo home for her eight children and whatever family happened to be visiting. She didn’t have a handle on her comal, but Madrid includes one in his design to make life in the kitchen a little easier. He recalls that his mother would use only juniper wood to cook her tortillas. His job was collecting the wood.
Madrid received his welding certificate from Albuquerque’s Technical Vocational Institute (now Central New Mexico Community College) in 1976. Inspired by his blacksmithing great-grandfather and a local blacksmith he observed while growing up in Belen, he ventured into blacksmithing in the early 1990s. Awardwinning blacksmith Ralph Sena mentored him and encouraged him to add more finesse to his designs. His efforts paid off when jurors accepted him into Spanish Market for the first time in 2008.
Madrid’s mother supported him through his welding and blacksmithing career. Her faith became his faith. Every day she would ask him what he did and what he made. He would tell her about what he had created that day and say that the pieces weren’t very good.
“Yes, but one day they will be,” she would reassure him.
In addition to comals, he also creates exquisite steel roses, peeling every petal back by hand. When he is finished, he smells each rose. His daughter always asks why he does this and reminds him that metal roses don’t smell.
“Yes,” he tells her. “But one day they will.”
Santa Fe New Mexican