Oaxaca is a culturally rich region in southern Mexico. Throughout the year, the people of Oaxaca host different festivals honoring their traditions and culture. Apart from these celebrations, the Oaxacan indigenous communities like the Zapotec, Mixe, Mixtec, and Mazatec continue to preserve their culture through arts and crafts like pottery.
The Oaxacans are known to produce elegant clay pottery pieces using ancestral methods. These clay pieces feature designs and cutouts that represent their culture. What is the process behind the Oaxacan pottery?
Preparing the clay
The artisans collect and prepare the clay to be used in the pottery process. The types of clay to use vary depending on the availability and outcome they wanted to achieve. For some pieces, our artisan partners use jicara shells or calabash.
The clay is then cleaned, purified, and sometimes mixed with other materials to achieve the desired texture and consistency.
Shaping & carving
Traditionally, the clay is molded by hand or on a potter’s wheel. The artisan uses a sharp tool to create cutouts and designs that represent the culture of the Oaxaca people. One example is the cut-out design in the shape of a water drop. For the Oaxacan, the shape symbolizes prosperity and peace.
After it is shaped, the pieces are set to dry. The duration varies depending on the size and thickness of the pottery. The process is crucial to remove excess moisture preventing it from cracking and warping during the firing process.
Baking & Coloring
The pieces are then fired in this above-ground kiln, using wood fires that heat the objects to extremely high temperatures. Each piece is unique and each time they bake, they are at the mercy of the elements around them. If the wind picked up unexpectedly, the entire batch could break.
After baking the pottery, they cover the pieces in sawdust to reduce the oxygen. This technique darkens the pottery and gives each piece its unique color tone. They need to keep the flames down to avoid the pieces getting too hot. Too much temperature will make the pottery pieces completely black without color variations.
For some pottery pieces, artisans apply glazes on them. Glazing will create a smooth glossy effect on the pottery. The process also lets the pottery hold beverages like water and mezcal.
Pottery elegantly molds the essence of a culture, preserving its stories, beliefs, and artistic spirit through timeless clay creations. This is how the people of Oaxaca keep their stories alive. Their dedication and perseverance in embracing and preserving their culture and artistry are worthy to be recognized. We aim to help these local communities of artisans to continue their culture and livelihood for the years to come. You too can support them by purchasing the products they have created for you.
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