Dot by Dot: Colectivo Jafet's Skillful Capulineado

In this week's blog we tell you all about capulineado technique from a first-source, María Inés, master potter from the Jafet Collective in Capula, Michoacán. Read all about her community in Capula, insights into the capulineado technique, and the story of how she started making these impressive pieces of art!

Join us in highlighting the incredible work that María Inés, along with her family, do every day to bring us their stunning pieces of pottery. 

Capula is a beautiful town in the state of Michoacán, mainly recognized for preserving its classic architecture of adobe and gabled tiles; as María Inés puts it, “this is a town of traditions.”  Likewise, Capula is the only town in Mexico that preserves capulineado, this unique pottery decoration technique.

María Inés explained that “[in Capula] approximately 80% of the population is dedicated to pottery. Here in Capula, we handle 3 traditional branches of pottery: functional pieces for the kitchen; the Catrina, which are decorative Catrinas and by which many here in Capula are recognized; and the capulineado, which are functional and ornamental pieces, like the ones we make.”

The beginnings of María Inés and her workshop, Colectivo Jafet, date back to her parents who moved to Capula when she was very young. She said, “we have been in this trade for around 40 years. My parents were born near here, on a ranch where they could easily get to Capula with a 4-hour walk. They came to live in the community of Capula a long time ago and together with other couples they learned the trade of pottery and made their own oven. It was by watching them that I acquired the knowledge when I was 6 or 7 years old.”

So, by watching her parents’ talent, María Inés was able to develop her own technique of pottery. Being as innovative as she was, she began looking for new techniques to differentiate her work from others:

“In '96 or '98 we learned a new ceramic technique, processed ceramics, and I was the one who learned to make the pieces using it. The most difficult thing was handling the glaze in the oven, since it is lead-free and that makes it more difficult to bake, but with the help of another artisan who taught me how to master the technique, I learned to use it and it is what we have used ever since.”

With this new knowledge, María Inés was able to undertake her own business and trade. She told us her beginnings: “In the year 2000 I formally started working on my own, but I kept looking to innovate since what I wanted was for the pieces I made to be unique and also useful pieces; this was given to me with capulineado.”

Decorating with the capulineado technique consists of making intricate patterns with the help of small dots of different sizes that gives rise to psychedelic-like designs that resemble flowers, mandalas, or simple fretwork that make the pieces appear to take life. As María Inés explained, the capulineado technique with its little dots is inspired by the capulín flower and its fruit, which also give the picturesque town its name.

When speaking about the process to make her pieces, María Inés pays attention to both functionality and beauty, as she constantly mentioned and demonstrated. She said, “the paints and varnishes we use are lead-free, so utensils can be used with peace of mind.” However, these materials make them highly difficult to handle once they are in the oven. She explained the process: “to make a capulineado piece, everything starts with the molding of the clay pieces. Then the first painting is done, which follows a glazing by immersion. The piece then enters the oven for a second firing, to later touch it up and decorate it, and we bake it for a third and last time.”

So, naturally, knowing the difficult process it takes to make one of these pieces, we asked how she started working with this technique. She told us the sweetest story:

“The first capulineado pieces I made were in 2004 when I was invited to participate in a pottery contest. I was just starting out, but I decided to participate with two sets of water, one as a back up in case one didn't work out. On the day of the contest, we had to wait outside while the jury walked around the room looking at the pieces deciding which would be the winning pieces. Everyone already knew that when the doors opened, the winning pieces would have a bow on them. So, we went in and one of my sets had a bow, but I didn't know what it meant. I didn't understand that I had won until the end when they said my name and I was very surprised! That day I left with a diploma for third place in new designs ​​with a game of water in capulineado, which is still a very popular set to this day.”

From 2004, María Inés has put all her innovative designs in several contests and won more. She has also work hard to open a workshop that would help her take on larger projects. When talking about her workshop she explained that “[they] have a family workshop in which 6 people work, my parents and some of my sisters. In addition to that, sometimes, I also work with other artisans who mold the pieces and I decorate and glaze them.”

Artisans of Capula, like María Inés, who preserve this technique do not skimp on using the capulineado in a variety of different pieces; one can find it all, from simple clay pots, to complete tableware, molcajetes, catrinas, trinkets, potters, and much more! Be sure to check out our capulineado collection from Colectivo Jafet Here.

Did you like María Inés story? Where you familiar with this painting technique? What other artisan would you like to see a highlight from? We love to read your comments, which you can make in the comment section below. Also, as usual, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter if you would like to receive more articles like this one and to check out our shop to get the latest from Mexico, you can view our Mexican Ceramics Collection Here.

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