Tag Archives: pottery

Extraordinary: Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca and Ceramic Artist Manuel Reyes

Off the beaten path and definitely a must-see, Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan is a small Mixtec pueblo located about an hour-and-a-half north of Oaxaca city, off the Carretera Nacional toll road to Mexico City.

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It is the home of an extraordinary Dominican Church whose massive stone architecture is reminiscent of the finest European churches, complete with flying buttresses and elegant arched ceilings. Six thousand indigenous people constructed it beginning in the mid-16th century.

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Ceramic artist, sculptor and painter Manuel Reyes lives here, too, with his wife Marisela, also an accomplished artist, and their two children. They are what draw us to this place since their work is not sold in Oaxaca city. They have been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States and recognized in numerous contemporary art journals and books.

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Manuel understudied with potters from throughout Oaxaca state and has been working with clay for fifteen years.  He uses a gas kiln and fires his work at 900-1,200 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, unusual for the region where most clay work is low fire, cooked in a shallow wood-fire kiln.  Manuel gets his red clay from pits in San Jeronimo Silacayoapilla, not far from his home in Tlaxiaco.  He says the clay from here is the strongest, the best.

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Yanhuitlan is Marisela’s home.  This is where they have created their life and work together.  The children are also collaborating, making small clay figures and painting on canvas.

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The clay is painted with natural mineral pigments that Manuel gets from the local region.  Some of his work is primitive.  Other pieces are highly polished polychrome with three or four colors.

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Pre-Hispanic designs on clay come from pottery shards that Manuel finds in the region.

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Marisela and Manuel invite us to join them for lunch.  It is a homemade red mole with rice, black beans, fresh tortillas, and another type of tortilla, rougher, denser, made with wheat flour by Marisela’s mother.  I pass on the mezcal because I’m driving!  The head sculpture is a napkin holder.  Magnifico.

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The church is one of the most important colonial sites in Mexico. Why was it constructed in this tiny town that seems to  have little or no importance today?  Yanhuitlan was on a major pre-Hispanic trade route and the Mixtec temple there was a very important indigenous religious site.

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The Spanish imported the European silk worm and Yanhuitlan became the center of silk cultivation for export.  Silk, along with cochineal, made Yanhuitlan an important economic center.  Hence, this imposing church — extraordinary and definitely worth the visit in its own right.  Note the Mixtec carving embedded into the church wall.  A practice for attracting and converting locals.

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Couple the stop with a visit to the home studio of ceramic artist and sculptors Manuel and Marisela Reyes and you have a very satisfying day-long excursion to explore the art and creativity that is Oaxaca.

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How to get there:  Go north from Oaxaca on the Cuota–toll-road–to Mexico City.  Exit at Nochixtlan.  Turn left and go over the toll road bridge.  Continue northwest. Follow the road signs to Yanhuitlan.  The church can be seen from several miles away.  To find Marisela and Manuel Reyes, go to Aldama Street which faces the side entrance of the church.  Drive until the end.  Their house is across from the Calvario church (metal dome), which is part of the original convent.  coloresdeoaxaca@yahoo.com.mx or call 951-562-7008 for an appointment.

Special thanks to Francine, Jo Ann and Tom for guiding me there!

Sunday Tlacolula Market: Getting There, Being There

Every Sunday, with the exception of Easter, all the Teotitlan del Valle buses and collectivos go back and forth from the village to the tianguis at Tlacolula de Matamoros.  If you want to get from Oaxaca City to Teotitlan on a Sunday, that’s a different story (see below).

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The regional street market draws thousands of sellers and shoppers from throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.   It is a confusion of blue and green tarps that cover probably ten square blocks of the town center, a protection from sun and rain.  It is also a cacophony of stuff: farm tools, meats, vegetables, household staples, garden plants and tourist treasures.

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I’ve been to this market enough times to recognize the regulars. Among my favorites are the sellers of brightly colored plastic woven baskets, embroidered aprons, and dried hibiscus flowers that I use to make agua de jamaica (ha-my-kah).

Vendors haul their goods wrapped in the plastic tarps they will use to cover their stalls.  Most will use the public vehicles provided by their villages, all pointed to Tlacolula on Sunday.

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It is wonderful to catch the bus at the corner of my street and join the pack. At 11 a.m. it’s hard to find a seat unless you get on at the village market origination point.  Today, my traveling companion is my eight-year-old niece Ixcel Guadalupe, who we call Lupita.  She is wearing her best Sunday-go-to-church-dress, adorned with the green felt flower we made together the day before.

Today, my shopping list is a pretty mundane: a bell for the front gate, a rope to hang it, a tightly woven bamboo basket with tray lid to adapt as a packing container for the gifts of mezcal bottles.  I’m always open to whatever else may present itself.

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I have in mind to get Lupe a smaller version of my shopping basket and perhaps a new apron.  First, we come across a costumed Pancho Villa selling art posters of the revolutionary army.  We look and move on.

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What catches my eye is gorgeous black clay pottery that I recognize from the  village of San Bartolo de Coyotepec. But, these pots are different, more authentically rustic, with lots of interesting variegation in the clay.  My dad was a potter and I know pottery!  I ask the vendor about them.  As I suspected, he hand-makes these in the old waterproof style originally used for holding mezcal. Hand-polished. Beautiful.  I bought a large one for 400 pesos (that’s about $32 USD).  He invited me to come visit him.  I extend the invitation to you:

Leopoldo Barranco, Calle Galiana #3, San Bartolo de Coyotepec.  No phone. Leopoldo is home all day during the week, he says.  A lovely man, definitely worth supporting this ancient craft.  His pots are much more interesting, in my opinion, than the commercially produced pieces one sees all over town.

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These tools (above) are all hand-forged.  The picks are incredibly sharp.  I bought two of the golden bells, and two stakes with rings that I am using to secure my roof-top laundry line.

DanceFeather_Aeromex-10After lunch at Comedor Mary (opposite church side-street on permanent market side) and wandering around, Lupita and I stop for ice cream at Neveria Rosita.  She has tuna (hot pink fruit of the nopal cactus) with lime sorbet.  I order chocolate and tuna.  (Both these places are clean and the food is excellent.)

By this time, I’m hauling the clay pot, the basket, the metal stakes, and bells.  She is carrying two aprons in her little basket.  I decide it’s easier and faster to take the Teotitlan collectivo back to the village.  The collectivo station is behind the Tlacolula Zocalo. Turn right, then left. Or ask anyone!

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When we get home at 4 p.m., we are greeted by a herd of grazing toros in the field next door.  Now, it’s time to pack those bottles of mezcal!

Getting to Tlacolula from Teotitlan del Valle by bus:  All the village buses go to Tlacolula on Sundays.  They run about every 30 minutes starting early in the morning. Catch it either at the mercado or anywhere along Av. Benito Juarez. Cost is 7 pesos (under 10 cents) each way. Last bus leaving Tlacolula for Teotitlan is at 5 p.m.

The collectivos leave from the parking lot on Benito Juarez.  They go when they are filled with five people — two in front (plus driver) and three in the back.  Take the back seat if you get the chance.  Much more comfortable.  Cost is 5 pesos one way per person.

Getting to Teotitlan from Oaxaca on a Sunday:  You can take a private taxi that will bring you right into town to your particular destination for 250 pesos. For 10 pesos, catch a bus at the baseball stadium headed toward Tlacolula or Mitla.  Ask to get off at the Teotitlan crucero (crossroads).  Take a collectivo, or bus or moto-taxi from the crossroads into town.  Don’t pay more than 10 pesos for the moto!  The bus will cost 7 pesos and the collectivo 5 pesos.

Shop Mexico–Josefina Aguilar Clay Figures, Oaxaca

Here is an amazing assortment from my personal collection of Josefina Aguilar clay figures for sale. Josefina is from Ocotlan, Oaxaca, and creates clay sculptures in herr home pottery studio on the road leading into town. She is famed for her whimsical interpretation of the world, including the life of Frida Kahlo.  I also have a few pieces for sale by her sister Guillermina, equally talented who lives right next door. What’s amazing is that I got all these back to the U.S. intact, whole, with no cracks or broken pieces!

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1. Calavera Lady with Purple Boa. $165. Signed Josefina Aguilar.  She stands almost 12″ high.  Blue umbrella is attached.  The boa is a series of purple glittery petals, and the detail work is extraordinary. In perfect collectible condition. Price does not include shipping or insurance.  It includes excellent packing.

 

 

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2.  To the right, Foxy Lady of the Night with Glitter Dress and Red Hair.  $95. Signed Josefina Aguilar. She is wearing a fox boa — indeed you can see the fox head and tail!  Her fingernails are painted bright red to match her hair.  The glitter is shimmering purple, and she sports a yellow flower in her hair.  Price does not include shipping or insurance.  It does include excellent packing.

 

Aguilar_42313_Frida-53.  Serene Woman with Flowers and Bowl on Her Head. $95.  Signed G.A.A. (Guillermina Aguilar). Stands almost 13″ high.   Stunning sculptural figure in natural clay, unpainted, holding a water bowl on her head.  The bowl is filagreed and is balanced and held on the head by two metal prongs that protrude from the clay braid.  The flowers and stars that decorate her body are also solidly held by metal rods that are baked into the clay. Price does not include shipping or insurance.  It does include packing.

Aguilar_42313_Frida-6 4.  Day of the Dead Calavera with Flowers and Bowl, $50.  Signed G.A.A. (Guillermina Aguilar) 9-1/2″ tall in natural clay.  That bowl rests securely on her head. She is a wonderful representation of the lightheartedness by which Oaxacans celebrate this October holiday — with marigold flowers, lots of good food and fond memories of their departed loved ones.  Price includes packing.  Does not include shipping or insurance.

 

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5.  Frida Kahlo with Three Monkeys.  $60. Josefina Aguilar.  I loved the sculptural quality of this piece which is why I bought it at Josefina’s studio before she painted and signed it.  Any collector would recognize it as pure Josefina just by the sculpting of the nose!  You can see how she attaches the pieces of the leaves and monkeys to the body with slip clay because this is a different color from the clay body.  Price includes packing. It does not include shipping or insurance.

Please send me an email to let me know you want a piece BEFORE you make a PayPal payment.  Include your shipping address and let me know if you want insurance.  I will confirm it is still available and send you an invoice based on your location and desire for insurance.  Thank you.

Shopping in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca

My sister and I set out for San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca, to visit the potter Don Jose Garcia Antonino who makes life-size human figures sculpted from local red clay called barro rojo.  We decided to go before everyone arrived for the wedding so that we could focus on the shopping day at hand.  Barbara has been wanting to get one of Don Jose’s sculptures for years.  She was set on getting one she could see eye-to-eye with.  Yes, they are that big!

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Jose Garcia Antonio‘s daughter dusts off the figure Barbara selected while his granddaughter watches us.  He is featured in the recently published book, Grand Masters of Oaxaca.  Calle Libertad No. 24, San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Telephone (951) 539-6473.  email Jose Garcia’s son at josemiguelgarcia2010@gmail.com

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San Antonino is mostly known for it’s intricate multi-colored embroidery with designs of flowers and birds that embellish blouses and dresses.  The quality and amount of the embroidery plus the finish work determine the price of a garment that can range from 200 pesos to 6,000 pesos (that’s about $17 USD to $525 USD).  The white on white version is known as the Oaxaca Wedding Dress.

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Here at Artesanias Viki on Calle Libertad No. 1, (telephone 571-0092) sister Barbara models a manta (natural cotton) blusa with hot pink embroidery on the bodice.  Dueña Virginia Sanchez de Cornelio and her daughters, also included in the Grand Masters of Oaxaca folk art book, have a stash of stunning blouses and dresses in all types of colors, sizes, intricacy of embroidery, and prices.   Note the pansies and the little figures that make up the smocking on the bodice of the white dress.  These can take six to nine months to embroider, we are told.

We probably spent an hour or more at the pottery studio and then a good hour-and-a-half with Señora Viki trying on clothes.  Good thing we did this trip sola — just the two of us.  After a lunch on the patio at Azucenas Zapoteca at the San Martin Tilcajete crossroads, we went to Mailboxes Etc. in Oaxaca city to pack and ship the girl, which Barbara nicknamed Viki!

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San Antonino is just before you get to the town of Ocotlan de Morales, about 40 minutes beyond Oaxaca on the way to Puerto Angel.  There’s a sign that directs you to turn right off the highway.  It is beyond San Martin Tilcajete, the alebrijes village and Santo Tomas Jalieza, the backstrap loom weaving village.  You can make a day of it along this route.   Hire a taxi for 120-150 pesos per hour or take a collectivo for 10 pesos per person each way.

Our mode of transportation was trusty Teotitlan del Valle Sitio Zapoteco taxi driver Abraham.  Running errands later in the day, we hopped on a moto-taxi which we call a tuk-tuk.  Here’s a bit of pueblo scenery with Barbara profiled in the rear-view mirror!

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Fortunately, I downloaded these into my computer before I lost my camera, so I’m able to share them with you.  Hope you enjoy.

Chiapas Pottery Village Amatenango del Valle

Bela, of Bela’s B&B, our favorite San Cristobal de las Casas home away from home, invited us to go along with her to the pottery village of Amatenango del Valle on a quest to replace a ceramic chiminea.  The village is about an hour from the city by taxi in the pine forest highlands where sheep graze and Mayan farmers plant their milpas of corn, squash and beans.  

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Our first stop was at the home pottery of Esperanza Perez Gomez, one of the finer artisans in town.  She works with her sister and together they shape and paint fabulous jaguars, chickens, doves and serving dishes.

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Here the pots are made from local clay and fired in a kiln that is a platform of metal grating surrounded by stones, then covered with wood and cow or sheep dung.  It is all “cooked” above ground and probably doesn’t reach much higher than 800 or 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, considered low fire in the pottery world.  The pieces are decorative and not designed for cooking.

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The stalls that line the road entering into town are lined with clay kitsch and women vendors dressed in their hand-embroidered huipiles, which are every bit as interesting as the clay vessels their families produce.

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In addition to making pottery, Esperanza and her sister have a small notions shop where they also make and sell pleated polyester aprons and two styles of huipiles — one is a cotton-candy birthday cake extravanganza of ruffles and lace and the other is a more traditional geometry of squares and rectangles.  The younger women seem to gravitate to the frilly, but it also appears as if it is an individual preference.

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The older women absolutely resist having their photo taken.  Here, behind Fay, you can see Esperanza’s mother running for cover, her chal (shawl) pulled over her head in a quick exit.   Esperanza has more experience with foreign visitors so she agrees to pose.

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We were not successful finding the size chiminea that Bela needed to replace the one in her dining room.  However, while she was looking, Fay and I peeled off to inspect the corn stalls and the women wearing gloriously colored textiles.  In the process, I met a charming young woman selling fresh steamed corn.  I asked for it drizzled with lime juice, salt and a little chili.  A mayonnaise smear is also an option.

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This is traditional, REAL corn!  Huge meaty kernels, filling and delicious.  It’s no wonder that maize is mother earth of Mesoamerica!

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And, did I buy a huipil?  Of course, I did.  Who could resist either the design or this beautiful face?  As I tried them on, all the vendors gathered around me, a cacaphony of color.  As soon as Fay pulled out the camera, they evaporated.

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Since there were four of us traveling together, we were able to share the cost of a private driver, 600 pesos total for five hours!  There is also a collectivo — a shared taxi or combi — that you catch near the market above the Santo Domingo Church.