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IDAHO PINATA MAKER PUTS SMILES ON KIDS' FACES WITH PAPER-AND-GLUE CREATIONS

His hands move quickly: Paper. Glue. Paper. Glue.

This is the stuff Antonio Orozco's dreams are made of.In a trailer in St. Anthony, Orozco builds pinatas: bears, rabbits, stars, elephants, Ninja Turtles, Batman, Mickey Mouse. There is no pinata he can't build, given enough time, Orozco says.

Most of the time, it doesn't take long. Usually, he can churn out a colorful, intricately detailed pinata in a couple of hours.

The 25-year-old potato company employee makes pinatas in his spare time and sells them to friends and Hispanic grocery stores.

He moved with his wife and children to Idaho two years ago from Juarez, Mexico, after his sister who lived here convinced him the market would be good for pinatas.

But business has been slow in the winter. He has discovered that snow prevents kids from having as many parties outdoors, which is where pinatas are often broken.

Still, Orozco has found outlets for his work in the Andante grocery store in Rexburg and Morenitas in Idaho Falls.

One day, he hopes to open his own workshop and make a living off his craft.

"It's my dream," Orozco says in broken English. "The pinatas are my life."

What fuels such zeal for a paper-and-glue creation?

Kids.

"I like it when the kids see it and they smile," Orozco said, with a huge grin of his own.

Being a pinata guy brings a certain prestige among kids, too: "When I'm (nearby) all the kids tell me, `Hi!' " Orozco said.

A Mormon church in St. Anthony invited Orozco to teach kids how to make pinatas one afternoon.

He learned the craft from a friend in Juarez 13 years ago and built his first pinata, "one big rabbit," he said.

He went to work for a company in Juarez that made pinatas for sale to Wal-Mart and Kmart; there he learned to assemble one quickly.

Orozco doesn't use wire or balloons inside the pinatas like some do. To start a pinata, he rolls a section of newspaper into a cone, applies a paste made of flour and water to keep it from unraveling, and stands it on a table. Then he rolls more newspaper into cylindrical and conical shapes and attaches them to the cone, forming crude body parts, like arms, legs, nose and body. He sticks a wire through the top of it for hanging.

Once he has the basic "skeleton," he pastes strips of paper to it one-by-one, giving it shape.

While letting it dry overnight, Orozco uses a paper cutter to make small cuts along the edges of colorful sheets of paper. The next day he glues the paper to the pinata, sometimes rolling or folding it to alter its appearance.

Finally, he cuts eyes, noses and other details out of construction paper and glues them to the pinata.

For most pinatas, the entire process usually takes about an hour on each of the two days. When he has time, Orozco can make about 15 in two days. Some take less time; he says he can make a clown pinata in about 10 minutes.

Others take much longer. Back in Juarez, he and a partner were once asked to build a giant turkey for a Sam's Club in El Paso, Texas, to use in a parade. It took 21/2 weeks.

But he says none, even the biggest, are more difficult to make than any other. Among the most-requested are his goofy bears and Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

But Orozco has a problem. He can't get purple China paper in St. Anthony to make the most popular one of all: Barney, the purple dinosaur.

"I tried it in blue. They didn't like it," he said.

"We've been trying to find purple for him," said Bertha Moreno, owner of Morenitas. "He has made so many Barneys for me."

Orozco is the only local pinata maker Moreno knows of. He sells the pinatas to her for $18 a pop, and she resells them for $22.

The characters he makes from Disney movies, such as Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" and Belle from "Beauty and the Beast," often are among her biggest sellers, she said.

"Probably this year it'll be the lion from `The Lion King,' " she said.

She likes the fact that Orozco will make any pinata, so kids can have one to match the theme of their birthday party.

"It's nice for people to know they can get any figure they want," she said.

"This lady, her little girl wanted the Little Mermaid. When she found out I had the Little Mermaid, she was so thrilled."

Moreno prefers the detail and quality of his to others she orders, too. "I ordered some (from someone else) and all I got was a cardboard box with paper on it."

She knows she's getting the real thing with Orozco. "He's talented."