I received a question from a reader this week along with a photograph of a vintage Oaxaca ceramic figure for sale by a Southern California gallery, asking “Is it real?” The California dealer is selling a Dolores Porras pottery figure measuring 28″ high x 14″ wide, and the price is $500. Of course, the reader wanted to know if it was worth it!
She received a photo of the front of the figure along with this description from the dealer:
“Along with her family, Dolores Porras has been creating pottery for over 60 years. She lives in the village of Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico. She worked with renowned Mexican potter, Teodora Blanco. In the early 1980s, she began exploring more colors beyond the traditional green that the area is known for. She developed a translucent white glaze that makes her pieces almost iridescent. She uses it as a background color behind details that are painted in rusts, cobalt blues and yellows.
She develops each piece, adding the raised elements such as flowers and decorates them with her distinctive glazes. Her production has been curtailed by the recent death of her husband, as well as her advancing age.”
I was skeptical since I know that Dolores died in November 2010, almost two years ago, something that the dealer was not aware of although there is plenty of information available on the Internet through good research. I was not certain that Dolores worked with Teodora Blanco as the dealer suggested. Folk art families tend not to cross-pollinate (so to speak). In fact, in looking at the clay dress patterning, I thought the piece looked more like the style of Teodora Blanco or one of her children. Although, I also know that once a new design is introduced in a village it can spread quickly and all the artisans begin using it. This is true for weaving, clay and carved and painted wood figures.
There was also no photo of the signature. I have several Dolores’ pieces that I was fortunate to acquire in the last few years before she passed. Her signature is very primitive. I recommended that the reader ask the dealer to send her a photo of the signature, too. For $500, the reader deserved to see the signature!
Here is the signature we received, and indeed, it looks like how Dolores signed her pots. I am not an expert in Dolores Porras pottery by any means. The best expert is Michael Peed, a ceramic artist and teacher, who made a documentary film about Dolores. It is featured on this blog and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you order a copy. The proceeds go to Dolores’ surviving children.
My suggestion to the reader was to ask the dealer whether there was any negotiating room and to include the packing and shipping in the price of the piece, which IS a wonderful example of Dolores’ work. It’s likely it was a piece done at the height of her creativity, since her late-life pieces are much simpler and more primitive.
How would you go about authenticating a piece like this? Do you think it’s worth $500 USD?