Old and new traditions in Jalisco

Display at the Regional Museum of Ceramics in Tlaquepaque

Mexico has a myriad of local pottery styles, with a number regions having national and internationally-known varieties.

One of these is the state of Jalisco, mostly concentrated in an area just southeast of Guadalajara proper. Most Jalisco pottery is of two types, “traditional” and the more modern high-fire.

Although there was pottery here in the pre Hispanic period, it was overwhelmed by the introduction of European pottery in the early colonial period. Interestingly enough, this introduction did not mean the domination of glazed wares, common in other parts of colonial Mexico, but rather burnished pieces, where the shine comes from the use of a clay slip, and rubbing the dry surface with a hard, smooth stone or similar tool.

There are several varieties of this kind of pottery, mostly distingushed by painting styles. The best-known of these is called “bruñido,” which means burnished. Most pieces of this type are jugs and lamp bases, often decorated with animals with somewhat distorted features and a surreal look. Dominant colores include various shades of rose, gray-blue and white over a light coffee-colored background, but sometimes backgrounds can be light gray, green or blue.

Bruñido plate by Angel Ortiz Arana of Tonala at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City
Decorative pot by Arnulfo Vazquez Carmona of Tonala

Canelo ( from cinnamon) pottery is so-called for its color palate, focusing on tan and ochre tones. It is also distinguished by the clay used to make it, which has a reputation for keeping water cool, and even giving it a pleasant taste.

L:Flask by Jose Isabel Pajarito Fajardo of El Rosario and $. small tub by Juan Gerardo Ramirez Mateos of El Rosario

Bandera (flag) is so named for the red, white and green motifs of the pottery, based off the Mexican flag. Generally, the background is red ochre, with white and green designs painted with slips with kaolin and copper respectively. This pottery has become rare, but what can be found is generally of very high quality.

L: Decorative piece and R: Jar with quetzal birds, both by Jose Rosario Alvarez Ramirez of Tonala

Petate or petatillo pottery is distinguished by having the background of the piece filled in with finely-painted cross-hatched lines, generally done in a light yellow. This style got its start in the mid 19th century and was popularized by the Bernabé family of Tonalá. The paining and firing processes involved in this pottery is highly skilled and time-consuming, making petatillo one of the most expensive ceramics in Mexico.

L: Close up of cross-hatching on piece by Jose Bernabe Campechano of Tonala and R. view of full piece called a “tibor” by Francisco Javier Ramos Lucano of Tonala.

One other noted pottery style of the state is called betus, but its production is limited to the Santa Cruz de las Huertas neighborhood of Tonalá. This is a rustic type of work, distinguished by its very bright colors, as well as the fact that it focuses on the making of toys and whimsical items rather than containers and cookware.

Top left:masked tastuan (demon) on rooster (author unknown), Top right:bull figure by Serapio Medrano Hernandez and Bottom: toy train by unknown author

These traditional pottery styles are still highly representative of Jalisco handcrafts. However, in the mid 20th century, the area attracted two modern ceramicists, Mexican Jorge Wilmot and American Ken Edwards. Both had been trained in modern high-fire and stoneware techniques, not only setting up their own shops in Tonalá, but also teaching new firing, glazing and decorating methods to the traditional ceramic community. In both cases, Mexican and other influences are mixed in the work produced by these artisans and their apprentices, but Wilmot keeps more of the feel of local pottery. Wilmot died in 2012, but Edwards is still somewhat active, directing the workshop where the work is done by in-house apprentices.

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This introduction of high-fire work has not stayed with the artisan community, but has also spurred a ceramics industry here, making bathroom fixtures, tiles and the like.

All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia or Leigh Thelmadatter. Featured image is of Pablo Pajarito in his workshop.




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