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In Oaxaca, black ceramics (barro negro) are produced only in the pueblo of San Bartolo Coyotepec. There is a vast range of quality and style. Some are extraordinary works of art—highly sophisticated collectors’ pieces—treating complex themes or recording pueblo life of the past. Other artists create more modestly priced, but well-designed pieces; some are purely decorative and others are utilitarian, such as vases and bowls.
Black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca is world famous and you cannot miss it if you visit Oaxaca even if you don’t get chance to visit the village of San Bartolo. The process of making the black pottery pieces is lengthy and requires enormous skill on the part of the artisan. Firstly the clay is kneaded until it becomes soft and then the clay is moulded to the form that the piece needs to take. The primitive clay form is then dried in direct sunlight for four days after which if there is any cutting out needed, or the piece needs to be shinny or have shinny patches on it, the necessary work is completed. Should the piece need any cutting out this is done by steady hands and is very precise work. The shiny effect is achieved by polishing the piece by hand with quartz crystals. The piece is then scraped and left to dry in the sun for another for days. After this the piece is placed in a kiln (normally wood fired) for a day where the black pottery takes on its black colouration. This property of taking on a black colouration upon firing is unique in Oaxaca to San Bartolo Coyotepec.
The economy of San Bartolo Coyotepec is highly dependent on the production of black pottery and as direct consequence tourism, so why not take a few pieces back as souvenirs for your friends. The black pottery craze was started by a lady known as Doña Rosa and many of her pieces are now in museums. Her family has kept up the family business and the workshop is still there to invite visitors to San Bartolo to have a look around the workshop and purchase a souvenir of their trip to Oaxaca. There are of course hundreds of families selling black pottery in San Bartolo now who will offer to do the same, and all have their own styles.
San Bartolo gets its name from Bartolomé Sanchez (A soldier of Hermán Cortéz), ‘Coyotl’ (Coyote in the indigenous tongue), and ‘Tepec’ (Hill in the original tongue). Roughly translated then, San Bartolo is ‘Saint Bartholomew of Coyote Hill’.
Ceramics in terracotta range from purely decorative sculptural works to utilitarian pieces. Several families produce outstanding artistic work, each member introducing unique design elements and themes. Some record pueblo life and others express philosophical ideas, myths and fantasies. Most artists who work in this ceramic style are found in Santa María Atzompa, with the exception of one very talented family residing in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.
José Antonio García was born on August 10, 1947. He is originally from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Ocotlán, Oaxaca. He loves his work and also the beauty of Oaxaca, its people and especially his beautiful wife. He often sculpts his wife in pigtails and her rebozo (shawl). José says, «The woman has always been beautiful. She brings beauty to everything.» So, when you purchase one of his figures depicting her, you are taking away a bit of the beauty of the maestro’s wife.
El maestro José García has a vision problem and is almost blind. One would think that the art of this clever, humble man would be lost to the world. Not so. Jose still continues working in clay, the memory of what he wishes to create expelled from his hands into the clay. He faces his inevitable blindness with a mature attitude and continues to devote all his time to creating with his hands. He sees through his fingers. » The truth,» he says, «is that I love my work and cannot give it up.»
Don José works with a special clay obtained in the area. He prepares it following the timeless tradition of his predecessors, grinding it into a fine powder and then sifting it several times through a sieve. When clean and free of impurities, he moistens the clay, covers it with plastic and places it in a dry place to “rest.” He later take out small quantities needed for the piece he is working on, kneading it and adding more water until the clay is the proper consistency. For some of his large-format pieces, don José combines a number of techniques such as molding, modeling, graffito (etching) and pastillaje (appliqué).
This class of ceramics, necessitating a two-step firing process, was innovated by the late Dolores Porras and her husband, Alfredo Regino. It is now carried on by their many children and grandchildren, as well as by a great number of fellow residents of their pueblo, Santa María Atzompa. Some pieces are of museum quality while others, for sale in abundance in Atzompa’s doorways, are far less ornate and not as well executed. Pieces include decorative figures, as well as objects of daily living such as planters, large urns, and plates. Decorative motifs include stripes, geometric forms, and figures such as mermaids, faces, flowers, fish and animals.
This type of ceramics (called loza verde) is the signature of Santa María Atzompa, where its production extends back for many generations. It is used both for domestic and decorative purposes by local residents and tourists. A yellow-colored glaze (greta) is applied which turns a brilliant green when fired.
Painted red ceramics—sculptural pieces beautifully painted in a wide palette of colors—are primarily found in Ocotlán de Morelos where they have been produced by four generations of the Aguilar family. In varying ways, each generation carries on the traditions of their ancestors. In San Antonino del Castillo Velasco, the Valencia family produces work in an entirely different style of painted red ceramics.
Utilitarian red clay ceramic pieces, such as casseroles, plates, and mugs, are created in San Marcos Tlapazola. Yellow clay from a nearby mine is initially worked by hand and then painted with red clay found at a higher location; this is often mixed with river sand to create a sparkling effect.Share this tour