In Mexico there is a craft that is a true artform and a tradition of cultural pride: pottery. Mexican pottery is internationally recognized for its great artistic, cultural, and historical value. The work that these dedicated craftsmen do is renowned around the world; from Mexicans to foreigners, everyone seeks to collect pieces of their artistry.
Pottery in Mexico has its roots in the pre-Columbian period, with the first cultures and civilizations of Mesoamerica. After the Spanish conquest, European techniques and designs were introduced to the population mixing with indigenous traditions, resulting in the creation of spectacular pieces of art that are veneered for both daily use and museum displays.
Mexico has several famous ceramic craft traditions. Starting with the impressive Talavera in Puebla and Tlaxcala, the lively Majolica from Guanajuato, the provocative Tree of Life from Metepec, the festive Dotted Pottery from Michoacán, and the always-cheerful Xalitla art, in this week’s blog, we would like to highlight the work of five different styles of pottery that mix the artisans' ability to mold the clay with their painting talents creating spectacular and colorful pieces that puts each artisan’s imagination and creativity on display and reflects the rich, cultural history of our country.
Talavera from Puebla (and Tlaxcala)—with a special mention to Joyce, a Talavera collector who enjoys our weekly blogs!
The origin of Talavera pottery is a shared one between Mexico and Spain. Talavera owes its name to the city of Talavera de la Reina, in Spain, which has a long pottery tradition dating back to the period of Islamic establishment in the Iberian Peninsula. The pottery of this city met their splendor in the 17th-18th centuries when they adopted the color combinations of white and cobalt blue as predominant colors by Chinese influence.
When the first Spaniards settled in the city of Puebla, around the 16th century, the teaching of this technique from the province of Castilla-La Mancha combined with the skill of potters from Puebla, created an immense boom and recognition of this art. The motifs that are represented in the Talavera pieces are stunning and elaborate geometric designs and patterns, mostly inspired by Moorish and Chinese art, which give a refined and very beautiful appearance that is unique in this world.
In fact, Talavera pottery is recognized by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity in both countries alike. The regions in Mexico that traditionally make Talavera are the municipalities of Atlixco and Cholula in Puebla and San Pablo del Monte in the neighboring state of Tlaxcala. The work of these talented Talavera artisans is protected by a Denomination of origin.
Manufacturing Talavera comprises five stages: first the forming or modeling of the piece, followed by a first firing, glazed enamel, designing and painting the piece—in cobalt blue for the finest pieces and multicolored for the rest of the pieces—, and then the piece goes back in the oven for a second firing at 1,050°C. High temperatures transform the colors of mineral paints by reacting with the enamel which provide an unrivaled, textured glazed finish.
Majolica Pottery from Guanajuato
Majolica is a richly colored, heavyweight clay pottery that is ornamented with paints, and coated with a heavy, shiny glaze. The name derives from the Spanish island of Majorca, where the first of these pieces were made.
During colonial times, Guanajuato was an important mining center, and, just like Puebla, its economic thrive resulted in the flourishing of pottery workshops that focused on the making and production of fine pottery.
Everyday earthenware such as plates, pots, bowls, jugs, and pots, were made with the distinctive majolica pottery decorations alluding to animals, plants, and delicate lines that form stripes, fretwork, and scrolls. Many of their designs are based on Spanish pieces, but, inevitably, the creativity of Mexican potters imprints their own style, resulting in the creation of fresh and spontaneous pieces of art.
The process of making majolica from Guanajuato is very similar to that of Talavera: a paste is made with mud and clay from the area, it is shaped by hand with the help of a potter's wheel. The piece is left to dry for days, and it is then baked for the first time. At this stage it is called “jahuete”, a name that comes from the Aztec word to describe a cooked piece or “cookie”. Subsequently, the enameling or glazing is carried out by the immersion method and enters a second firing, to later touch it up and decorate it, and bake it for a last time.
Trees of Life from Metepec
Although the trees of life are produced in different states such as Puebla and Oaxaca, their origin was among the Mazahua, Otomi, Nahua, Tlahuica, and Matlatzinca communities that settled in the central region of the country, more specifically in the current Magical Town of Metepec, Estado de Mexico, home of this Mexican craft.
The story tells that the Catholic missionaries took the pottery tradition of this town and molded trees of life to help them understand the principles of the new religion that was imposed on them. Its composition usually represented an image of God in the highest part and seven branches that represented the seven days in which the Earth was created, although sometimes it was used for other biblical passages or Catholic teachings.
The current representation of the tree of life includes some of the traditional evangelical elements like crosses, the sun, and the moon that frame figures of Adam and Eve surrounded by animals, fruits, and flowers that symbolized paradise, and other biblical passages. However, potters introduce their own cultural meanings, interpretations, and symbolism as well including other objects important to them and their community, such as toys, hearts, birds, or even their loved ones. The potter's imagination is the limit and not one Tree of Life is alike for that very same reason. (Read more about this craft here).
Capula Dotted Pottery from Michoacan
In Michoacán, there is a community of potters in the small municipality of Capula, a town near the capital’s state in Morelia, in which just over 700 artisan workshops carry out wonderful works of dotted pottery, clay Catrinas, and other traditional objects.
Capula is internationally recognized for the artwork reflected in each of their pieces, so much that many have been presented and awarded in exhibitions and competitions, especially their famous clay Catrinas. However, this town also makes a beautiful work of dotted pottery: a glazed, hand painted pottery that has gained recent popularity and is now one of the most commonly asked-for earthenware.
The famous—and stunning—dotted pottery is a painting technique unique to Capula (whose name means place of capulin trees, in honor of the trees and fruit that grow around it), known as Barro Capulineado, or Flor de Capulin, named after the town. And it is obvious why, as the capulin berries and flowers are evidently reflected in the carefully painted dots.
This delicate technique consists of a decoration with flowers made up of a multiplicity of tiny, painted dots on the clay that seem to give mobility to the designs, all this in a tonality of incomparable vivid colors. Besides the traditional dotted flowers, there are other designs, as like animals surrounded by clouds, figures or dotted lines that seem to support the dots.
These unique pieces are spontaneous creations inspired by the moment by each craftsman. To achieve this technique, the artisans first draw the figure with the largest dimension and then fill in the periphery with different dots painted with brushes of various thicknesses. The most important thing is that each of these pieces is not only a unique work of art, but it is a type of 100% handmade craft that is not made anywhere else in the world. View Capula Ceramics Here.
Xalitla Art from Guerrero
Today, artisans from Xalitla, located in the state of Guerrero, paint impressive birds, flowers, and traditions with acrylics on clay pieces, hats, and amate paper. Xalitla artisanal work is drawn entirely by hand and brush, with no special tools to make their perfect strokes, using only paint or ink of different colors. In their work there are three different styles in the use of color, starting with only black and white, then the use of two contrasting colors, and, lastly, the use of a variety of colors to highlight certain images, such as the feathers of a colorful bird. For some of their drawings, especially those that tell stories, we can observe an elaborate frame, which is perfectly lined by hand. Moreover, for their work on clay, Xalitla artisans have their own workshop where they make their own pieces from scratch and/or sell them to other localities for their own artisanal work. View Xalitla products.
Read More about Xalitla Art here, and about Colectivo Avilés, a Xalitla partner workshop here.
There are plenty other pottery traditions in Mexico that are not mentioned here, like the famous Barro Negro, black clay, made in San Bartolo Coyotepec, in the state of Oaxaca; or the recently recovered tradition Mata Ortiz ceramics of Chihuahua; and even the sought-after earthenware from Jalisco in Tonalá and Tlaquepaque. Mexican artisans continue to impress with their skills and talent and everyone here at Lolo is beyond proud to share their amazing work.
Tell us, do you collect or have any of these pieces at home? Which one is your favorite? Would you like to hear more about any of these or the ones we failed to mention? 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.