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?
Order Dolores Porras Video on New Website: Ceramics Education
Dolores Porras: Artista Artesana de Barro is a 31-minute documentary video made by Michael Peed, a university ceramics professor. This link takes you to a new website where you can buy the DVD. When the DVD was released in 2010, I reviewed it here on my blog because it offers an outstanding discussion of the traditional clay making process in Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca, by one of the grand masters of Oaxaca folk art, Dolores Porras, who died in November 2010.
Michael is the perfect person to have made this video. He is a potter and taught ceramics at the University of Montana. He knew Dolores intimately and followed her career, interviewing her and capturing her during various stages of the clay making process for twelve years. The video is a treat to watch, is ideal for educational purposes at the middle, high school and university level, and documents one of the most important folk artists in Oaxaca. I was fortunate enough to visit Dolores just a few months before she died and took this photo below.
I encourage you to buy a copy and watch it. It is a treasure to have and to gift to anyone interested in ceramics, pottery and folk art.
The new website where you can order the DVD was created by Shannon Sheppard who lives in Oaxaca.
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Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Pottery, Travel & Tourism
Tagged blogsherpa, ceramics, Dolores Porras, Mexico, Oaxaca, pottery