Suitcase and World: Pottery.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Talavera pottery from Puebla.
Okay, I admit it, I'm a sucker for handicrafts and my house is filled with stuff I've picked up on all my travels. Considering that I work in an international organization, I even have a collection of things that my friends and colleagues have picked up on their travels. So, I need more handicrafts like I need a hole in the head.

But one look at the pottery in Mexico and I know it's going to be really, really hard for me to resist buying a piece or two. I'll stop at two....maybe.

Ceramic art is big in Mexico and there are many different forms and styles but I already have my heart settled on talavera pottery from Puebla and black pottery from Oaxaca.

Talavera is a type of majolica earthenware, distinguised by its white base glaze.  Majolica is a form of ceramics that is distinguished by its opaque, white glaze containing tin oxide usually painted in several colors.

The Spaniards brought the technique of making talavera to Puebla.  Highly acclaimed throughout the world, talavera remains an important part of Puebla's history, and is used as tiles on the façades of buildings, on the domes of churches, on the walls, floors, and sometimes even on the ceilings of homes, and is also used to create dishes, sinks, and other decorative pieces.

Talavera is hand made.  All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter's wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times. The glaze must be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white. There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments.

The hand painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath.

An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.

The making of talavera is steeped in history and is a painstaking, and time consuming process.  As a result, it is more expensive than other types and imitation products from countries like China are common.  But, only pieces made by designated areas and from workshops that have been certified are permitted to call their work "Talavera."  Certification is issued by the Consejo Regulador de la Talavera, a special regulatory body. Only nine workshops have so far been certified: Uriarte Talavera, Talavera La Reyna, Talavera Armando, Talavera Celia, Talavera Santa Catarina, Talavera de la Nueva Espana, Talavera de la Luz, Talavera de las Americas, and Talavera Virglio Pereza.

Barro negro black pottery is a style of pottery from Oaxaca.

The origins of barro negro date back to the ancient Zapotec and Mixtec cultures and obviously, is still a a popular still to today.

The color of barro negro is due to the properties of the clay, and is not colored. The earth used to extract the clay is cleaned to remove impurities, which can take a month of soaking and settling out the clay from the rest of the soil. After this process, each piece takes about twenty days to complete.

Like talavara, barro negro is all hand made. 

Artist: Adelina Pedro
Originally barro negro pottery was matte and grayish. In this form, the pottery is very sturdy, allowing it to be intricately carved.  Of course, these pieces are only for decorative purposes.

In the 1950s, a potter named Doña Rosa discovered that she could change the color and sheen of the pieces by polishing the clay pieces and firing them at a slightly lower temperature. Just before the formed clay piece is completely dry, it is polished with a quartz stone to compress the surface. After firing, the piece emerges a shiny black instead of a dull gray.  The result is a piece that is more fragile, more expensive and for some people, more desirable.  I think both forms are beautiful.  It may be difficult to bring back a vase but maybe something like these birds would be perfect!