Alfonso Hernandez’s piñatas transcend the disposable party staple. In his Dallas garage, he constructs life-size, museum-worthy papier-mâché creations depicting everything from superheroes to horror icons (the eyes on his terrifying Pennywise the clown light up). He made his first piñata in 2016, after his sister told him she planned to spend $100 on a piñata for a celebration. Hernandez, who holds a technical drafting degree, persuaded her to let him try to make one instead. Now, through his line, No Limit Arts and Crafts, he designs custom piñatas that cost about $100 per foot. “Parents don’t want to break them,” he says. “My clients still go buy an inexpensive piñata and fill that with candy to break. Mine becomes a showpiece.”
Texas Monthly: Your first piñata was for a family birthday party. What was the first one that you sold to a customer, and for how much?
Alfonso Hernandez: I sold a Little Mermaid piñata for thirty-five bucks and went to El Ranchito. The meal was fifty bucks. So I was like, “Man, I can’t even pay for the meal with that.” But I was good. It was a start. Once people started talking, it kind of blew up.
TM: It must be difficult working out of your garage.
AH: It’s like musical chairs in here. I’m constantly moving things. I wear knee braces when I work. I tape up all of my fingers. The more practice you put in, the better you get. In five years, I’ve probably watched the sunrise one hundred times.
TM: You don’t advertise. In fact, your Instagram page is more of a portfolio chronicling the development of your art than anything else. You’re an underground artist. How do you get clients?
AH: The term “underground” fits me perfectly. I would say probably seventy-five percent of my customers are small-business owners, but it’s mostly word of mouth. One person sees it. They take it to their house. They have a party. Now four or five people see it. I’ll randomly get like four or five followers and one of those four or five people buy one. They’ll take it to their party. And then here we go. It’s one of those things where it just kept growing and growing, but it’s mostly underground.
TM: Piñatas are becoming forms of political statements and manifestations of public debate. I’m thinking of the piñatas resembling politicians, coronavirus structures, and the colorful anthropomorphic houses that Dallas community activist Giovanni Valderas placed across his neighborhood to draw attention to local housing issues. They’re pop art just as much as they are party staples. Do you agree?
AH: Yes. A lot of people turn into collectors. I’ll post something, and they’ll tell me “Hey, I still have mine.” I get a lot of those messages.
TM: Are you thinking about opening an art gallery?
AH: My personal goal is to get a real shop, one that I can work out of and one that has a storefront. I want it to be the only place people think of when they think of piñatas, preferably somewhere where a lot of people travel through. You go in, you take pictures, you buy something. Whether you’re buying a gift, whether you’re buying a piñata, or whether you’re buying a statue. An actual studio and actual business place will give me peace. It will allow me to not play musical chairs anymore with my tables and my work setup, and hire people.
TM: What else are you thinking about for No Limit Arts and Crafts?
AH: I’m working on do-it-yourself piñata kits. They’re going to have a YouTube video with [steps]. So right now I have thirteen original designs. Each one is going to have an instructional YouTube video that shows customers how to build the piñata. Anything and everything that you need to build a piñata will be in the box. Everything from the glue, from the pan that you mix the papier-mâché glue in, the little stick, and sponge so you can apply the glue. All of the pieces to the piñata are precut, measured, tested. When I say tested, I mean like I built it like three or four times already, worked out all of the kinks, just everything measured. Everything’s going to line up. Within ten minutes, customers will have a piñata structure. They’ll have a full haunted house. They’ll have a shark. They’ll have a boat, whatever it is.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Art of the Piñata.” Subscribe today.