On 13 January 2017, Mexico lost a ceramic legend.
Born in 1939 in Morelia, Gonzalez was the son of sculptor Rodolfo Gonzalez. His interest in art appeared early, and he learned his father’s work, including sculpting clay, metal casting and lost wax techniques. However, Gorky’s lifelong passion would be the rescue and promotion of the traditional majolica glazed pottery of neighboring Guanajuato.
In the early 1960s, he moved to San Miguel Allende to set up a metal casting workshop. Later, he added a ceramics workshop to reproduce the designs of Canadian artist Gene Byron in terracotta. At this time, he also met Japanese ceramicist Hisato Murayama, who was in the city to study Spanish and Mexican culture.
The men shared what they knew, and this inspired Gonzalez to pursue and receive a two-year scholarship to study ceramics in Japan, first studying with Tsuji Seimai then with nationally-known master Kei Fijiwara among others. The trip not only resulted in learning some very ancient techniques and designs, but also marriage to his wife Toshiko Ono. This marriage produced two sons, with the younger, Gorky Gonzalez Ono taking over day-to-day operations of the workshop some years ago.
Returning to Mexico, Gonzalez opened an antique shop, where he came into contact with colonial-era majolica. Intrigued, he began to investigate the ware, eventually dedicating himself to saving Guanajuato majolica full-time. He established a workshop dedicated to the purpose next to his house. This workshop has maintained traditional materials and techniques, mostly with traditional designs, but with some experimentation with more modern ones. Color schemes also remain traditional and with glazes made from traditional minerals.
The workshop has a client base that extends throughout Mexico and various parts of Mexico. During his lifetime, Gonzalez’s work was exhibited extensively in Mexico and the United States from the 1960s into the 2000s. He also had several exhibitions in Japan. Gonzalez won numerous awards for his work over his lifetime including the 1992 Mexican National Prize in the Sciences and Arts (Popular Arts and Traditions category) specifically for his work in reviving the pottery.
All photos used with permission of the Gonzalez family.