The mad scientist behind Mundo Piñata creates bespoke papier-mâché art.

José David Chavarria Jiménez

Written by Lauren Loftus Category: Spotlight Issue: January 2017
Group Free

José David Chavarria Jiménez has President-elect Donald Trump to thank for much of his success in business. Not because he gleaned any pertinent advice from Trump: The Art of the Deal, but because, in a twist of delicious irony, orders spiked when the Mexican immigrant started plastering Trump’s face onto piñatas. The 50-year-old was a licensed artist in Chihuahua, Mexico, before immigrating to South Phoenix in 2006 and becoming the mad scientist behind Mundo Piñata. These days, Chavarria fills 45 orders a week – the majority from gringos who want to see the dinosaurs, cartoons and lambasted politicians of their wildest imaginations come to life in papier-mâché and stuff them with candy.

YOU’RE THE SIXTH OF 10 CHILDREN AND LEFT HOME TO STUDY VISUAL ARTS, MUCH TO YOUR MECHANIC FATHER’S CHAGRIN. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE MEXICO AFTER MAKING A DECENT LIVING THERE AS AN ARTIST?
From 2004 to 2006, the Chinese in Mexico were copying all our designs [Southwest-inspired arts and crafts and leather furniture] and doing it for cheaper. We couldn’t compete. So we had to make a decision to either go back to our hometown or come here to the states to find a new life for our family in Arizona.

HOW DID YOUR FIRST PIÑATA COME TO BE?
A friend asked my wife to make a piñata for a party. It’s like painting or sculpting, just with different materials. It’s something internal that happens as an artist. I see a cardboard box and I’m already imagining the finished piece. The piñatas I make are custom-made. I like that I can form the [people] piñatas to look more real – they can be very thin or very fat. I love when I can make people say “Wow!” when they see the piñata they’d imagined in real life.

WHAT’S THE MOST ELABORATE PIÑATA YOU’VE EVER MADE? THE WEIRDEST?
A huge dinosaur that was 7 feet long from the tail to the mouth. When the customer arrived to pick it up, they brought the entire family in their car. But of course the huge piñata couldn’t fit. They said, “Oh, we didn’t think it would be that big.” I said, “But you ordered it to be 7 feet long!” They had to go home and drop off the family and come back with a truck to pick it up. One lady asked for a golden toilet filled with Maruchan instant ramen soup. That’s the strangest.

WHAT ARE THE TOP THREE MOST POPULAR DESIGNS?
It varies with the season (2015 was all things Frozen) but usually:
1. Mickey and Minnie Mouse
2. Paw Patrol characters
3. Peppa the Pig

DO YOU SEE PIÑATAS AS A KIDS’ RACKET? AND ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS PRIMARILY HISPANIC?
Little by little we’ve been breaking the idea that piñatas are only for kids. Ultimately, it’s up to the adult anyway to order the piñata. And a lot of times they’ll order something they’ve been dreaming about since they were young... When we opened Mundo Piñata, we assumed we would be catering to a largely Hispanic customer base. But the American [non-Hispanic] market is 80 percent of our business. They can text me [or Facebook message] and they know they’re going to get what they’re asking for.

AS AN ARTIST, ARE YOU CONTENT PUTTING A LOT OF WORK INTO SOMETHING THAT’S MADE TO BE RIPPED APART?
I do it to make the children smile. My satisfaction is seeing the kids fall in love with the piñata. It’s what the kid wanted... It’s beyond actually just selling a piñata or piece of art, it’s more about fulfilling a client’s wishes. It is a little bit of magic to transform an idea that someone has and actually materialize it into something real.

-PM