Tag Archives: clay

A Day of Clay: Visiting Santa Maria Atzompa with Innovando la Tradicion

In their own words, Innovando la Tradicion is a creative platform where artisans, designers and artists share skills, knowledge and stories to rethink and honor the ceramic traditions of Oaxaca.  The group helps potters and pottery communities in Oaxaca with support to develop their trade.

Francisco finishing the clay comal (griddle)

Francisca finishing the clay comal (griddle)

Before the new year, my sister and I joined a one-day excursion to Santa Maria Atzompa sponsored by Innovando la Tradicion and hosted by Gregorio Desgarennes Garzón who everyone calls Goyo. The idea was to spend time with a local family, part of the Innovando la Tradicion collective, and learn how they work with clay to make functional and decorative pieces.

 

This was not a shopping trip. It was a meaningful educational and cultural experience to go deeper into Oaxaca’s indigenous traditions. In Atzompa, craftsmen have worked in clay for centuries. They shaped religious articles, storage and cooking vessels for the Monte Alban ruling class, long before the Spanish conquest.

  

These same traditions continue today with some modification of the ancient technologies.  In addition to firing the wood kiln, there is also a modern propane oven for cooking clay at higher temperatures. Traditional shapes take form alongside innovative contemporary sculpture.

 

Our multi-national group spent the day with Francisca, her husband Guillermo and their three daughters Karina, Vianney and Maité. Clay has always been in my family, say the couple. We added our impressions: It is the material of possibility, the smell of the earth, it evokes chocolate, bread, eating, family and nature.

Guillermo took us into the yard first to demonstrate how the large clay chunks are broken up with a mallet made from a hardwood tree limb. He digs the clay himself from a pit not far from the village center. Some of us volunteered to give it a try and didn’t last too long.

 

After the clay is pulverized to a fine powder and put through a sieve, it is mixed with black clay that comes from the bottom of a nearby lake. This gives it strength and elasticity. It is Guillermo who does all the heavy prep work.

How do you know when it’s ready? someone in the group asks. We can tell by touching it, was the answer. There is no written recipe.

My sister and I loved watching all this because our dad was a potter in Los Angeles and the entire process reminded us of our growing up years, watching dad knead the clay, then work it on the wheel into functional and whimsical objects of beauty.

 

Just as we did, the children here play with clay when they are young, forming simple shapes made with the coil or pinch pot method.

Each day, Guillermo prepares a batch of clay that Francisca will make into comals for sale to clients or at the local market. They make only enough for that day. Francisca is known for her fine clay comals. Her mold is a 12-year old comal that is the correct diameter and thickness. She will make about eight comals in a day. Each one, used for making tortillas or their variation, may last for about two months.

 

Her tools are trees and gourds. She uses her fingers to feel the thickness of the clay, testing it, determining if she needs to add more to the center for strength.

Her children know how to do this, too, now. But she dreams that her children will go to university and have a profession. Yet, she also wants them to make ceramics.

As Francisca pulls and shapes the clay, we watch mesmerized as she forms a beautifully round, perfect comal with lip that is desired by all who work with corn, another artisan craft.

The comals will sell for 55 to 70 pesos each. It takes about an hour to make a large one.  In the currency exchange rate of pesos to dollars, that’s about $3 to $4.50 each. At the rate of eight per day, the gross is $24 to $36 USD per day including labor and materials.

 

When the comal is finished, Guillermo carries it to the sun to dry. Francisca and Guillermo can fit about 36 comales into the adobe kiln, stacked vertically. The kiln is covered and fueled with wood. After about two hours the temperature reaches a low-fire 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire burns out and the clay contents cool, then are removed and prepared to transport to market.

After the demonstration, we took a lump of clay and began to form our own pieces. Some of us used a small wheel the size of a plate, balanced on a rock, to turn our work. Others shaped the clay using forefinger and thumb or rolling coils and stacking them. The pieces were primitive and imaginative. It was like being a child again! Totally freeform.

Then, the tables were made ready and Francisca served us a wonderful lunch of sopa de guias, tlayudas and horchata water that she prepared. The family joined us in celebrating the end of a very satisfying day.

A special thanks to Goyo for translating everything from Spanish to English and giving us great insights into the clay making process.

Contact Innovando la Tradicion at the little clay shop 1050 Grados, Rufino Tamayo 800, Oaxaca Centro, phone 951-132-6158 to find out when their next clay tour is scheduled. It’s a wonderful experience. Don’t miss it.

 

 

 

 

Santa Fe, New Mexico Gala Supports Oaxaca Ceramic Arts

It was two days after the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market closed but the celebration continued.  Los Amigos de Arte Popular de Mexico hosted a gala fundraising dinner at a private home filled with folk art treasures within walking distance of the city’s historic center.

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About forty people attended to support Innovando la Tradicion ceramics cooperative. We were from all over, including Oaxaca, New Mexico, Texas, California. Of course, it was a huipil fashion show, too!

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The food was prepared in the Oaxaca clay cooking vessels made by Macrina Mateo and her family in the indigenous Zapotec village of San Marcos Tlapazola, just a few miles from where I live. I’ve visited Macrina and took photographs of the firing process, which you can see here.

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Susana Trilling, famed Oaxaca chef, cooking teacher and cookbook author prepared the multi-course meal. She was assisted by local culinary school faculty, students and friends. Everyone donated their time and talent!

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When Susana left Oaxaca for Santa Fe, her suitcases were loaded up with Oaxaca cheese, mole coloradito, sea salt, poleo, spices and condiments. Her bags just reached the weight limit, she said.

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The meal was spectacular, of course, because it featured these ingredients which were also available for sale under Susana’s private label.  If you click this link, you’ll get recipes, too.

Here is the Menu:

  • Corn fungus taquitos, pumpkin seed dip
  • Fondue of string cheese, pork, and purslane in green sauce
  • Ensalada de la milpa
  • Oaxacan coloradito mole with chicken, or
  •  Yellow mole with oyster mushrooms and vegetables (vegetarian option)
  • Baked, spiced potatoes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
  • Layered mango pudding or “charlotte”
  • Oaxacan chocolate chile truffles
  • Hibiscus flower and ginger cooler, sangria punch
  • Poleo tisane

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John Waddell, one of the organizers, said he made a liter of sangria for each attendee. We started off with huitlacoche tacos and finished with Susanna’s Oaxaca chocolate truffle paired with a mango raisin cream pudding.

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The first course was a pork stew floating in salsa verde, topped with Oaxaca string cheese, garnished with wild greens and served in one of Macrina’s handmade clay duck bowls.

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The entree was chicken with mole coloradito served with Isthmus of Tehuantepec style tangy potatoes, mashed with peas, carrots and onions.

For dessert, we dove into the mango cream pudding and exhaled.

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After dinner, Susana and Macrina presented the culinary school with a gift of their largest cooking vessel. Then, Eric Mindling talked about his book, Fire and Clay, a bilingual journey into the traditional ceramics making culture of Oaxaca.

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The gathering was relaxed, informal and fun. We hung around to sip more sangria, visit with new and old friends, and just savor the experience of welcoming Oaxaca folk artists to Santa Fe.

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There was just enough remaining after the folk art market of the beautiful, lead-free black and red pottery to present tonight for sale at a free gallery opening at Santa Fe Clay gallery and workshop. If you are in town, don’t miss it. Call to check times.

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During my visit, I made a day trip to Taos to visit friends Jane and Adam. On the drive, you pass through the Rio Grande River canyon. It was so beautiful, I stopped several times just to get that special inspiration from the landscape. It is sacred space that offers renewal, healing and enlightenment.

See you soon in Oaxaca!

Where to find this pottery in Oaxaca:

  1. 1050 Degrees ceramics shop, Rufino Tamayo 800-c (Xolotl), 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Call us: +52 951 132 61 58
  2. Tlacolula Market every Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find Macrina and her family at the intersection of the main road and church. They lay out a straw mat to display their work and sit cross legged on another
  3. At the family studio any day in San Marcos Tlapazola

 

 

 

 

 

Penland School of Crafts in Ocotlan de Morales, Oaxaca

Our Penland School of Crafts group travels through Oaxaca arts and artisan villages this week.  One destination is the regional town of Ocotlan de Morales where we met artist Rodolfo Morales through the murals he painted in the municipal building during the mid-century. These frescoes depict the rich agricultural tradition of the Ocotlan valley and honors the labor of the campesinos — the people who till, plant and harvest.

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The Morales home is a treasure trove of 1930’s and 1940’s collectibles and folk art. It includes a traditional tile kitchen with walls adorned in tiny clay cooking vessels. Every room opens to a central, plant-filled patio.PenlandBest91-3

The primary caretaker of the home is nephew Alberto Morales, who greeted us at the front gate and let us inside. He is also the head of the Morales Foundation that keeps the house renovated and open to the public. On our request, he generously opened the private bedroom and studio where his uncle slept and worked.

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With more than an hour to explore the always diverse and culturally delicious Friday Ocotlan market tianguis …

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we went off to San Antonino Castillo Velasco to visit folk art potter Jose Garcia Antonio.  Jose and his family work in red clay sculpture and he is recognized as a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art.

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Next, a quick stop to the women’s embroidery cooperative.  The quick stop became an hour-long shopping forage through the piles of gorgeous Oaxaca wedding dress style blouses and shirts, preceded by a demonstration about pattern making and stitching techniques. This coop is excellent quality with affordable prices!

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Fortified by a delicious lunch at Azucenas Zapotecas at the San Martin Tilcajete crossroads, we backtracked to Santo Tomas Jalieza for a visit with Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art weaving family of Abigail Mendoza.

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A long day, but not too long to return to enjoy a lovely dinner at Casa Crespo. I put together a tasting menu with Oscar Carrizosa made up of  an array of first courses.  It was just perfect.

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator organizes arts workshop study tours for groups of up to ten people. Please contact us for more information.  Norma Hawthorne Shafer has over 30 years experience developing award-winning university programs.

 

Sleek, Functional Contemporary Oaxaca Pottery with Classical Influences: Innovating Tradition

Oaxaca’s cultural identity is defined, in part, by her ceramic arts. For thousands of years before the Spanish conquest, indigenous artisans were giving shape to local clay to form functional cooking and eating vessels, images of dieties for worship and jewelry for personal adornment.

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Now, after six years of operating from various temporary locations, La Tiendita del Barro/1050 grados and Innovando la Tradicion recently opened a gallery to promote its ceramic arts cooperative and new eco-tourism program. It is located at the corner of  plaza de la cruz de piedra, Rufino Tamayo 800-C and Xolotl, near the 16th century aqueducts and Calle Garcia Virgil.

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I want to say that this is social entrepreneurism, activist art. The program, developed by talented young Oaxaqueños, is committed to sustainable development.  Here you will find stunning pottery that satisfies both a classical and contemporary aesthetic. The work is sculptural and refined, smooth and simple. Emphasis is on form followed by function. The result is timeless beauty. The cookware and serving pieces are lead-free and can be used over a gas burner or in the oven.

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If you’ve never seen a Oaxaca potter at work, here’s a video of a traditional technique:

Rufina Ruiz haciendo una chilmolera from Innovando la Tradición on Vimeo.

Innovando la Tradicion is organizing half-day public tours to various villages, where visitors will meet potters, participate in hands-on demonstrations, and have an opportunity to buy directly from the artisans. Artisans receive 50% of the participant fees that go toward improving their workshop/studio space. The rest goes toward program administration.

                 Join Norma’s Pottery Tour with Innovando la Tradicion                                 Monday, January 5, 2015, Cost: 629 MXN pesos

I can’t participate in any of the January public programs already scheduled and I really want to go on this tour.  So, I’m inviting YOU to join me for a private tour on January 5.  Are you interested?  Send me an email. All the funds go directly to Innovando la Tradicion and I will send you registration information as soon as I hear from you!  Space for 5 people. Reserve before December 15.

1050 Mezcal Cups

 

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. Join us!

Oaxaca Folk Art: Jose Garcia Antonio Ceramic Figures

Jose Garcia Antonio, one of Oaxaca’s best clay sculptors, participated in the 2014 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this July. This is no small accomplishment. This juried exhibition invites only the most accomplished artisans from all over the world to show and demonstrate their craft.

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Last Friday, we drove out to San Antonino Castillo Velasco as part of an all-day excursion to celebrate my friend Carol’s birthday. She wanted our first stop to be with Don Jose.

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It’s dark inside the studio, atmospheric. Don Jose works intuitively, feels the clay, feels his wife’s face, the faces of his children and grandchildren. He inspires creativity for those with physical limitations.

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While we were there, he received a call from TV Azteca in Oaxaca. They wanted to come out to interview and film him that afternoon. He is becoming very famous.

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I remember going to his studio years ago when not many knew about him and he was far off the beaten path, long before tour guides had him on their radar to bring clients there.

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I remember when we drove into the entrance of San Antonino and inquired from a moto-taxi driver if he knew where Don Jose lived. We paid the driver 10 pesos to lead us there.

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I remember when I bought a life-size figure of a Juchitan woman carrying a basket on her head, hips swaying, braids hanging, skirt flowing, knowing she was too heavy to ever bring back to the USA, and putting her in the home of friends until the Oaxaca home I was to live in was completed — years later.

Each time I visit Don Jose Garcia Antonio, I am amazed how his magic hands inspire and create work his eyes cannot see. Each time, I am tempted to add something to my collection. This time, it was a pig planter, which my travel mates called Wilbur.

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His daughter, Sara, makes expressive clay face-mask planters to hang on a wall. All the children work the clay. The grandchildren are growing up in this clay culture, shaping simple figures of butterflies, mermaids, and winged angels. Small treasures to pack into suitcases to remember the artist, his family and the experience of being in the arts and artisans mecca of Oaxaca.

How to Find Jose Garcia Antonio: Turn into the village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  Turn right on Calle Independencia. Turn left at the first street. Go several blocks. Look on the left side of the street for the clay lion on the roof. There you are!