Authenticating Oaxaca Pottery — A Dolores Porras Clay Sculpture

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?

 

 

 

 

16 Responses to Authenticating Oaxaca Pottery — A Dolores Porras Clay Sculpture

  1. I found this Dolores Porras pot today, in a thrift store in London, Ontario, Canada – a very long way from where it originated. I was not familiar with Dolores’s work but could tell that it was a special little piece. This pot is 5″ tall and shows a few signs of wear but still seems very collectible. Could you help me value it?

    http://www.ravelry.com/forum-images/beedragon/mrzn-1kbfrn

    If the picture won’t load, please leave a comment and I will email it to you.

    • Hi, please send me a photo of the pot and I’ll take a look at it. Please include the signature. I’m not an appraiser, but I could give you a general idea of its value and authenticity when you send me the signature and dimensions, and note any flaws/imperfections. =Norma

      • Hi Norma,
        thanks so much for offering to take a look! I couldn’t figure out how to email you the images, so I’ve put them on Flickr. They are the first 5 images here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beedragon/
        If this doesn’t work, I’ll get some technical help at work!

        Belinda

        • Belinda, you have a nice little Dolores Porras pot! Congratulations for finding the FIND. I recently sold a Dolores pot from my collection on eBay for $350 USD. It was large, about 14″ high and 36″ in diameter. I would make a fair guesstimate and say your pot has a value of between $50 and $85 USD. You can ask more and always come down or accept a best offer. Good luck.

          • Thanks for authenticating my pot! Shame that I won’t get rich off it so I think I’ll keep it and give it a little place in my motley collection. Someone has a 6″ pot with 2 rows of faces for sale for $395 … they might be waiting a while, but maybe not :)

          • Belinda, it’s always about “what the market will bear.” You have a treasure, whether you decide to keep it or sell it. -Norma

          • I am definitely going to keep it! And I’m going to look for more to go with it :)

  2. I am sorry to hear of Dolores’s passing. I met her several years back, and fell in love with her, and her work. I have several of her beautiful pieces, and will treasure them forever.

  3. HOLA, ME PARECE QUE LE LLAMAN NANCY, SOY EL HIJO DE DOLORES PORRAS MI NOMBRE ES ROLANDO, ES VERDAD LO QUE DICE ERIC MI GRAN AMIGO, MUCHAS DE LAS PIEZAS ECHAS POR ELLA YO PUEDO RECONOCERLAS SOLO CON VERLAS, ESTA EN ESPECIAL ES UNA QUE REALIZO EN EL AÑO DE 2003, ES UNA COLECCIONDE SOLO DIEZ PIEZAS LAMADAS BAILARINAS, EL VALOR ECONOMICO ES MUY BAJO DEVERIAS COMPRARLA, YO TENGO LA PAREJA PERO YA NO LAS VENDO SU VALOR ES MAS O MENOS DE $40,000.00. MN. SON MIAS O QUIZAS NO TENGA PRECIO. PARA CUALQUIER CONTACTO
    TALLER DOLORES PORRAS
    AV. HIDALGO #502
    SANTA MARIA ATZOMPA OAX.
    TEL 951 55 8 95 20
    CEL.951 251 43 73
    ROLANDO REGINO PORRAS
    Y, SI, LA COMPRA MIL FELICIDADES LA PIEZA Y FIRMA ES AUTENTICA.
    SALUDOS

  4. Hello Norma, I’ve been following your blog and find so many of your articles extremely interesting but this one has inspired me to write. As you, Eric and others have said, many times the works sold as pieces by the master are actually done by other family members. A young intern, Mya Dosch, from the St. Paul (Minnesota) Science Museum lived with Irene Aguilar about 2 years ago and found this to be true of many of the Aguilar sisters’ pieces. So there’s no doubt that many of the artisans in high demand do the same. My perspective, as a folk art lover and dealer, is that this piece by Delores Porras (or her family member) is worth it if the potential buyer loves it and accepts that it may never be known for sure whether it was her hand that created it. I always encourage people to buy what they love because folk art is so often a one of a kind piece and will likely never be seen again. This looks like quite a large piece and that it is in very good to excellent condition, it has a recognizable signature and it’s unlikely that the buyer will find this type of thing again. If s/he can afford it, go for it.

    • Anne, I’m so glad to hear from you and welcome your advice and opinion about all things folk art. Thank you for contributing this comment. I totally agree with you that folk art is a one-of-a-kind adventure and when you see something you love, buy it, because you will never quite see anything else like it again. Yes, each piece is unique. I have known people to pass something by, go back again for it, and it is gone, or their itinerary is so packed that it is impossible for them to return. I have learned this lesson myself! And, yes, you are exactly right — the value is based upon whether you love a piece and if you can afford to buy it. Sometimes, even making the stretch to purchase something you can’t afford now is worth it. One finds the resources for something that is treasured. Thank you so much for your wisdom. -Norma

  5. Norma, I considered each and every piece of Dolores’ that I own as priceless….as was Dolores herself.. I knew her and loved her for about 20 years..and every person I took to her home bought and loved the pieces, also.
    Best
    Nancy
    and I will be in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead again this year!

  6. Hi Norma,

    Authenticating one of Dolores’s pieces is tricky because she signed pieces that other people in her family or hired workers made for her. She also produced a great deal. So this piece COULD be done by her, and maybe not. The surest way would be to ask her son Rolando. He’d know perfectly.

    Dolores did work for Teadora Blanco when she was young. She was hired by Teadora to make pieces for her, much in the way that she later hired people to make pieces for her. Dolores used to complain that Teadora kept her working in the back room while she was out in the front room selling pieces as her own. But then Dolores carried on the tradition. So did Dona Rosa in Coyotepec. In fact, if I’m not mistaken you can still buy new pieces signed by her in her son’s house even though she’s been dead since the 80′s! But then the ways of death are mysterious in Oaxaca.

    • Eric, thanks so much for adding your insight and knowledge, and helping to unravel the mystery behind this piece. Your explanation definitely makes perfect sense since the “masters” of the craft always have apprentices who do the work and then the master signs their name. Now, you remind me that you are a potter, too, have written a book on the potters of Oaxaca, and are also expert in these things. Thank you for contributing. Norma

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