Global Day of Clay, Video and National Ceramics School, San Marcos Tlapazola

My father was a potter so I have a special affinity for clay. My kitchen in Teotitlan del Valle holds an assortment of San Marcos Tlapazola barro rojo from for cooking. Shelves are stacked with elegant, simple red clay dishes and bowls from which to dine. I love this clay and the women who make it. The village is up the road from where I live.

For centuries, since pre-Hispanic times, San Marcos women have made clay cooking and eating vessels, forming the shapes by hand after digging (a man’s job) and mixing the clay. They constructed outdoor wood fires to “cook” the low-fire ware, all the while breathing in the fumes.

Recently the cooperative built a smokeless kiln designed by Japanese engineer Yusuke Suzuki.  Maestra Macrina Mateo Martinez and 16 families in the cooperative, Mujeres de Barro Rojo, can now produce higher temperature ceramics, more pieces at once, and have better quality respiratory health. This was possible through help from Fundacion Kasuga, Tajin, Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu, and Andares del Arte Popular FAHHO.

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

They started the non-profit Escuela Nacional de Ceramica (National Ceramics School), to teach others how to build and use the same type of kiln, and celebrate Global Day of Clay with the release of this video.

Mujeres del Barro Rojo, San Marcos Tlapazola

In addition to the women, the video features my godson Eric Chavez Santiago, general manager of Andares del Arte Popular gallery where the ceramics are sold.

While the video is in Spanish, the visuals tell the story. Here is a brief English explanation that goes with the Facebook video narrative:

Today, we join to the celebration of the Global Day of Clay #GlobalDayOfClay we’d like to recognize the work, the passion, ability and interest of all the artisans in our country that make clay a way of life; that every day make an effort to preserve their traditions, maintain the quality of their craft and pass their knowledge, for the new generations to continue this path.

México, concerning clay, is rich in raw materials as techniques and designs that date prehispanic ages.

Today we release this video, a work done by the great editor Martha Úc and part of her talented video recording team conformed by Mercy Portillo and Claudia Pasos. This video is the result of the training that took place last July in San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca with the group “red clay women” and artisans of other pottery entities of the state, to build a “smokeless wood kiln”. This video shows the riches of the clay traditions in the country as the strength of our women.

14 responses to “Global Day of Clay, Video and National Ceramics School, San Marcos Tlapazola

  1. I see this pottery in Oaxaca and I always wonder if it is lead free and if the distinctive brownish coloring is lead free. How do they get that coloring. It almost looks painted on–is it burnish with something?

  2. To respond to Kate, some women potters in the village are new En Via borrowers and are taking the requisite financial education course before getting their first loan. They will not be part of our tours until completing their first loan cycle. This is to give them a couple of months to really feel themselves a part of of EnVia and to make adjustments to their business (using the education and the loan) before meeting with groups of tourists. If you want more information about this specifically or En Via more generally, Norma can give you my contact information.

  3. Beautiful pottery. Wish I had gotten some while there. Hard to carry home though.

  4. Is it possible that this group might be part of an EnVia tour? It’s great news, in any case.

    • Kate, I think EnVia is working on bringing potters into the EnVia micro-financing program and after they are established, will put them on a tour. I don’t think it is this group, however, because they are pretty well established.

  5. Great video. Such lovely women. Hope I can meet them someday!

  6. Norma, I have been wondering and maybe you can clarify…is the cooperative Mujeres del Barro Rojo one of several cooperatives in San Marcos or is it the only one? Do all women potters belong to this cooperative, or to others, and thus have access to new kiln, or do some work independently at their own kilns?

    • This is the only kiln of its type in the village. Yes, Mujeres del Barro Rojo is one of several groups and many woman work independently, too. No, not all women belong to this cooperative. It is mostly made up of extended family members. I think the idea is to teach others to build kilns like this for improved public health and better quality product. Although, what is lost with this kiln is the black flash on the unglazed surface of the fired pots (an aesthetic preference of many), since the clay bodies don’t come in direct contact with the fire any more. Small price to pay for breathing clean air. Women who do not belong to this co-op fire their wares using the traditional open-fire method.

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