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Mexican Pottery: Functional Art

Mexican Pottery: Functional Art

From the moment humanity discovered the serendipitous result of mixing dirt with water, mankind has used clay to form an imaginary world inspired by the divinities. 

Mexican artisans began working with ceramics in the 2300 - 1500 B.C. era, around the time early nomadic inhabitants began to settle down. In time, potters began to replace objects carved in stone with earthenware. 

Five regions of Mexico have evolved the enduring appeal of pottery. 

Talavera - Puebla

The origin of the talavera is shared by Mexico and Spain. Historical records indicate the first Spaniards settled in the city of Puebla around 1550. Their teaching of the talavera technique spread due to the skills of Puebla’s pottery makers. 

The manufacture of these pieces goes through five stages: forming (or modeling), firing, glazing, design and painting. Cobalt blue is reserved for the finest pieces, multicolored for the less desirable pieces. The high-temperature second firing at 1050 ° C transforms the colors of mineral paints by reacting with the enamels applied, producing a glazed finish.

The motifs represented in talavera pieces are elaborate, geometric designs and patterns. Refined and very beautiful, many of these pieces are inspired by Moorish art.

Majolica -  Guanajuato

During colonial times, Guanajuato was an important mining center. The economic boom resulted in flourishing ceramic workshops that produced fine pottery for the aristocracy--and common pieces for the rest of the population.

Everyday items such as plates, pots, bowls, jugs and flowerpots were made with decorations depicting animals, plants and delicate lines that form stripes, frets and scrolls. While majolica designs are based on Spanish pieces, the witty spirit of Mexican potters has resulted in a fresher, more spontaneous look to the pottery.

The process of making majolica in Guanajuato is very similar to that in Puebla. A paste is made with local clays and shaped by hand with the help of a potter’s wheel. The piece is left to dry for five to seven days and then fired. Enameling or glazing is carried out by the immersion method. The piece is fired a second time, touched up and decorated, and then put into the fire for a third time.

Arboles de la vida  - Metepec

Although árboles de la vida—trees of life—are produced in Puebla and Oaxaca, their origin dates to several communities in the central region of Mexico. This is where the magical town of Metepecthe cradle of this Mexican craft, is located.

The story goes that evangelizers took advantage of the town’s pottery tradition and shaped trees of life to help the natives understand the principles of the new (Catholic) religion being imposed on them. 

Its original composition featured an image of God and seven branches that symbolized the seven days in which God created the Earth.

The current representation of árboles de la vida includes the sun and the moon, which are used to frame figures of Adam and Eve surrounded by animals, fruits and flowers. Limited only by their imagination, Metepec potters now conjure their own versions of paradise.

Barro Negro - Oaxaca

Barro negro, or black clay, is manufactured in San Bartolo Coyotepec in the state of Oaxaca using ancient techniques. Its origin dates to the pre-Hispanic era, as evidenced by the remains of black clay pieces found in Monte Albán, an important city of the Zapotec culture.

The clay that’s used to create this unique pottery is extracted from sites on the town’s outskirts. It is molded on lathes and left to dry in the sun for four days. Craftsmen then use quartz to polish and later decorate it. Pieces are then left to dry in the sun for four more days and then fired in an oven.

Until the 1950s, barro negro pottery had a dull gray tone. A two-mouth oven was invented that closed one side of the kiln to reduce the oxygen inside and avoid reddish tones. This technique lends the pieces a metallic shine for which it’s known.

Mata Ortiz - Chihuahua

This stylized pottery originated approximately 600 years ago among the cultures that inhabited the ancient city of Paquimé.

It was not until just 50 years ago that the region’s artisan tradition was rediscovered by Juan Quezada Celado, who found pieces of pottery turned up by the excavation of mounds surrounding the town of Mata Ortiz.

His fascination with the ancient designs him to study the technique. After experiments with different methods, he achieved a perfect imitation. Currently, the quality of this ceramic style places it among the finest in the world.

Its elaboration consists of baked fine sand clay, of great fragility. The symbols and designs of the northern cultures are captured with instruments found in nature. These designs consist of geometric compositions either of pre-Hispanic influence, or are typical of Chihuahua artisans who draw straight and thin lines, curves, diagonals, circles, triangles and squares. These design elements are mixed with animals, plants, birds, fish, men and emblems of nature.