Black Pottery, an Ancient Tradition
One of the things I like most about Mexico are its crafts and all the different techniques used to create them. I admire the techniques that our ancestors have perfected and passed from generation to generation with the knowledge necessary to continue ancient traditions.
Black Pottery from Oaxaca
Many states in Mexico like Oaxaca are defined by keeping alive their ancient traditions, their music, dance and of course their crafts. Crafts, for the most part, were created as practical and everyday tools, but today represent the cultural greatness of their people.
Made in San Bartolo Coyotepec, a town located 8 kilometers from Oaxaca City, the world famous black pottery of Oaxaca is the product of an ancient technique in which the fabrication time is the key to quality.
The method of manufacturing uses the traditional lathe without wheels, consisting of two concave clay plates, one down supporting the other. This method is a pre-Hispanic heritage, the parts are molded on this lathe. The process takes about 20 to 30 days, ranging from the casting, set, to the slow drying in closed rooms.
The black mud, extracted from nearby rivers, is prepared specifically to be burned, it’s worked around a mold and allowed to dry in the sun for four days, this step provides the mud the consistency to polish it and make the drafts of the design, it takes another four days to dry and it’s ready for the oven that gives the black metallic color finish.
The most common designs are flowers, some of them include birds or other natural life. As well it is common to use this technique to make pieces that store mezcal (a common home made alcohol), whistles and a variety of chandeliers and pitchers.
Who was Doña Rosa?
Doña Rosa Real de Nieto, was recognized with medals and diplomas for her work as an artisan in San Bartolo Coyotepec. Her works were appreciated by collectors and her fame grew beyond the borders of Mexico. She gave brightness to black mud, when she accidentally discovered that the ceramic could be polished with quartz stones, thus the black pottery we know today emerged as a shiny form of black pottery. In her later years she continued to transform clay into beautiful pieces with the strength and ability of her best years. She worked in her workshop demonstrating her skills to those who came to visit her until the day of her death in 1980.
When I visited Oaxaca someone recommended that I go see the workshop of Doña Rosa, it is one of the most interesting things to do in the state. Doña Rosa’s son continues working in the shop and made a small exhibition showing the process of the molding of black pottery, outside the exhibition there is a huge gallery where you can buy all sorts of everyday objects and some very interesting sculptures. I was fascinated with the quality and beauty of all of them.
One of the things I like to do while traveling is to buy jewelry that is made locally. Bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings made of black ceramic is a must have.