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Buying Trip to Mexico, Part 1

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My recent buying trip to Mexico felt a bit like an anniversary celebration. It’s hard to believe, but I started Emilia Ceramics right after my first buying trip to Mexico in November of 2007… That’s seven and a half years ago!! On that trip, I visited six different artists and their workshops. Since then, three of those six have become popular staples in the Emilia Ceramics collections. Not only do my customers love the work of Gorky Gonzalez, Capelo, and Talavera Vazquez, but I love working with these three family-run businesses. They are always welcoming when I visit, interested in my suggestions, and helpful in my quest for new pieces to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection.

mom_and_dad_sqLucky for me, I was able to bring along my two best employees, advisers, and long-time lovers of Emilia Ceramics: My parents! They came with me on my first adventure in 2007, so it was fitting that they’d return on this, my 4th buying trip to Mexico. My parents have a lot of knowledge about art in general and ceramics in particular. They have a great perspective on what customers will appreciate and what they’ll actually use. And like me, they love interacting with the artists, understanding their techniques, and appreciating their skills.

We spent the first few nights in Guanajuato, which is one of the most colorful cities I’ve ever visited. All the buildings are painted shockingly bright colors and the jacaranda trees were in full bloom! It was literally impossible not to take tons of photos! Check out my Instagram Feed >>

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One of the best parts of staying right downtown in Guanajuato, is being only a ten minute walk from Gorky Gonzalez’s studio and showroom. That’s where we went the first morning. It took me at least four hours to look through all of Gorky’s beautiful plates, bowls, pitchers, platters, and ginger jars, hand-selecting the best of the best for Emilia Ceramics! Believe me, Gorky fans, you have a lot to look forward to… the new pieces will be available soon!

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After a long morning of pottery-shopping, we went out back, through the lush gardens where a few parrots were talking excitedly in their old-fashioned cages, and into the studio, where the magic happens. There were 4 painters (including Nicolo, in the above photo on the left, working to re-create an antique tile pattern), as well as a woman delicately loading the kiln for its next firing (see photo below). Gorky Jr. is pictured with me in the above photo (on the right). Gorky has learned the trade from his father and now mostly runs the business himself.

I love seeing how each piece, regardless of its size or shape, goes through all the same painstaking stages… being thrown or molded, fired, dipped in a base glaze, carefully hand-painted, and then re-fired. It is no easy task, but requires a lot of time consuming work and tons of artistic skill.

It was a fun and fulfilling first day! I went back the following day to make some final decisions and then we were off to visit Capelo… more on that visit soon!

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See Part 2 of our Buying Trip to Mexico >>

Update: New Arrivals are Here!! Shop Now >>

 

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The Perfect Mexican Ceramics to Celebrate the Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) was last week, so it’s no surprise that I have had Mexico and Mexican ceramics made by my favorite Mexican artists—Talavera Vazquez, Gorky Gonzalez, and Capelo—on my mind.

day of the dead skullsThe Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2, right after Halloween. The purpose of Día de los Muertos is to remember and celebrate one’s ancestors and friends who have died. The celebration has ancient roots in Aztec, Purepechas, and Totonacs traditions as well as links to the Catholic All Souls Day. Its two days of celebration are full of feasting, traditional foods, and lots of skulls. You’ve probably seen the joyful skeletons, especially the iconic couple of Catrina and Catrin. These dandy skeletons have a long tradition in their own right and are found in all kinds of art from sculptures and dolls to Mexican ceramics.

Mexican ceramicsOne of my favorite expressions of the Catrin figure is on this tile hot plate by Gorky Gonzalez. This smoking skeletons might be associated with the Day of the Dead, but he will bring Mexican charm to your kitchen all year round.

hot_plate_smoking_skeletonThe sugar skulls, cookies, and chocolates made for Day of the Dead celebrations are more than just eye-catching. By eating these sweets, people take a symbolic “bite of death” to rid themselves of the fear of death. Intricate altars are another important part of the holiday, decked in yellow and orange marigolds or chrysanthemums, food, sweets, photos, and religious amulets. Traditionally people also journey to their relatives’ graves on November 1 to decorate them with flowers and candles, then picnic there in celebration of the dead.

Day of the Dead skullsAll parts of this Mexican holiday blend the dead with the living. Maybe next year I’ll host my own Day of the Dead celebration… Invite people over to feast on my favorite Mexican dishes and share our memories of loved ones who are no longer alive. A playful Mexican ceramic skeleton bowl or trivet adds the perfect Day of the Dead touch. I especially love the effect of mixing these special Mexican ceramics with more oridinary dip bowls, serving platters, and pitchers of drinks. Felicidades!

skeleton bowlCandy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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Gorky Gonzalez, a Lesson in Making the Traditional Modern

Gorky GonzalezWorking with artists that are practicing a craft hundreds of years old, I’m always amazed to see how modern their pieces can feel. It goes deeper than the idea that beauty is timeless. Mixing form and function with elegant shapes, rich colors and patterns has long been the hallmark of majolica ceramics. Just look at Gorky Gonzalez. He basically resurrected an art form that had almost died out, drawing on a mix of other ceramic traditions to make Mexican pottery that is as unique as the artists that create it. Instead of being a slave to tradition, Gorky Gonzalez is an innovator who is constantly thinking up new designs and new pieces with the help of his family and the other artists who are part of his workshop.

The Gogo Mexican pottery line is the perfect example of this new era of Mexican ceramics. Contemporary in shape and colors, the pieces still have the weight of tradition firmly behind them. I quickly fell in love with the serving platters, mugs, and colorful plates designed by Gorky’s son, known as Gogo. (And stay tuned because I just received a shipment with brand new Gogo pieces like fun pasta bowls and dessert plates). Based on our conversations together, here are three tips for taking tradition and making it feel a bit more modern.Gogo Mexican pottery

1. Repeat what works. This is a cardinal rule in business as well. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For Gogo’s Mexican pottery, this means using the same local clay, gorgeous glazes, and firing techniques as more traditional Mexican ceramics. The similar colors make these pieces easy to mix and match with the more decorated ceramics Gorky Gonzalez is known for.

Gogo bowls

2. Keep it clean. Too many unnecessary additions can make a ceramic piece feel dated. For example, think about heavy baroque curlicues look today—completely overwhelming. That’s why Gogo’s ceramics don’t have much in terms of ornamentation in either glaze or shaping. Purity of line is much more likely to last, whether in ceramics, furniture, or clothing.

3. Take risks. Of course, you can’t be a slave to tradition if you want to innovate. The single dominant color of Gogo Mexican pottery feels classic, but the shapes are more playful (like Gogo’s espresso cups). Experimentation can lead to lovely design, so give yourself time to play.

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Pinterest Finds: Mexican Ceramics

Love Pinterest? The new look is pretty great, making it easy to find all kinds of incredible things. I’ve been exploring Mexican ceramics to add to the Emilia Ceramics Mexico board and wanted to share some of my favorite findings with you.  The new Pinterest doesn’t have the incredibly easy sharing feature it used to, so simply click on images to take you to the original pin, complete with credentials.

We’ll start with Mexico City.

I love these colorful Mexican ceramic plates, but the majolica toilet might be a bit much.

Mexican ceramics pair beautifully with Mexican food (no surprise, right?). Just check out this salsa set up. And a blue and white plate is the perfect compliment for mole.

Of course, some of my favorite Mexican ceramics are those made by Gorky Gonzalez.

Gorky Gonzalez PlatesGorky Gonzalez Pottery

Mexico itself is a stunningly beautiful place.

I think Capelo‘s unique Mexican ceramics are just as beautiful as the views from his studio!

Capelo Ceramics

Capelo Mexican ceramics

Then there are Talavera Vazquez’s ginger jars

And, of course, there’s always the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) full of colorful and almost friendly-seeming skulls.

Have some Mexican-themed pins of your own? Share the link in a comment below to your favorite pins or boards so we can check them out. And follow Emilia Ceramics for the latest new Mexican ceramics, decorating ideas, and more!

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Making Handmade Mexican Pottery Truly Your Own

gorky_paintWith a laid-back charm, cheerful patterns, and vibrant colors, the handmade Mexican pottery from Gorky Gonzalez is the ideal blend of tradition and a unique, modern feel. These ceramics always make me think of Gorky’s bustling studio in Guanajuato with ceramics in every stage all over the place. Whether a red plate for serving or indigo bowls, contemporary serving platters or dinner plates with fanciful animal designs, Gorky pottery is one of my consistent best sellers here at Emilia Ceramics and it’s easy to see why given their innate appeal.

Unsurprisingly Gorky pottery is a popular choice for registries. People love using the variety of colors and patterns to create table settings that reflect their own aesthetic.

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Edge patterns, animal details, and solid colors create seemingly endless possible combinations. And since registries work by the piece, it’s simple to request exactly what you’d like: Like one of each color plate or a matched set of the Las Flores dinner plates.

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But what if the pieces you want are out of stock? Or if you love a certain design but want it on a different piece? Then it’s time for a special order. Special orders are easy (especially with Gorky’s pieces), which means you can have your favorite animal design like Gorky’s fish or bird handpainted on your dinner plates or a set of cups and saucers with your favorite blue and white design around the edge; it’s another way to make handmade Mexican pottery your own (though all of the Emilia Ceramics artists can accommodate special orders if Italian or French ceramics are more your style). Just contact me with your desires and we’ll take it from there.

Sometimes I even get ideas for new pieces from customers. Take the Gogo salad plate. These came as a request of Jennie and Sean who were getting married and wanted the cheerful colors in a smaller size. I worked with Gorky and loved these plates so much that I made them part of the Emilia Ceramics collection. The result? Jennie and Sean’s cupboard is full of colorful Gorky pottery since their wedding about a year ago. The rainbow of colors just begs to be mixed and matched, from red plates to yellow mugs to blue bowls, totally fitting their style.

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I like to think that Emilia Ceramics makes a personal registry even more personal. With my close relationship with our artists, these kind of special requests are fairly easy to negotiate. Getting customers’ feedback is great because sometimes their idea or request can become the next best design idea or new piece in the collection. I think everybody involved from artist to customer loves it when that happens; I know I do!

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Serve It Right with Blue and White Mexican Pottery

Whether it’s a white serving bowl or a white platter, everyone needs a few pieces of go-to serving ware that can adapt to any occasion from causal to formal. When it comes to pieces that are clean and crisp, you can’t do better than white pottery platters. They really show off your food without taking up too much attention, whether canapés during cocktail hour, scones at brunch, or a succulent side dish at dinner.

Of course, there are lots of stark white platters out there, like those mass-produced in China. To me, the feel of these pieces is impersonal and almost clinical. And who wants to serve their food on something that seems like it belongs in a hospital? White serving ware that uses natural glazes has a warmer tone, giving an authentic, at times rustic look, which is a much better compliment for your home-cooked meals. Pieces like the Gogo oval platter, long serving platter, or round white platter are just some examples of white platters that really showcase your cooking.

White all the time can get a bit monotone, however. That’s why the blue and white combo of Mexican pottery is a surefire winner. It’s a simple equation: blue and white Mexican pottery has the crisp neatness of white, along with the rich contrast of blue. There aren’t many blue foods out there, so most items will really pop on blue serving ware. The end result? Food that looks even tastier, no matter the meal or occasion. Blue and white Mexican pottery like Gorky’s oval serving dishes or Talavera Vazquez’s blue and white serving platter will enliven any table. They’re also sturdy enough to be used everyday for family dinners, not just special occasions.

Want to add some unique serving dishes to your collection of blue and white Mexican pottery? When it comes to blue and white platters, I love the unexpected shape of El Mar and Las Flores pottery platters.

Not quite rectangle, not quite oval, these unique serving dishes are a fantastic example of what makes blue and white Mexican pottery appealing to so many people. The border detail isn’t overpowering, but it makes the perfect frame for your desserts, appetizers, or cheeses.

Do you have favorite pieces of blue and white Mexican pottery? Let us know about your go-to serving ware pieces by leaving a comment below.

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Summertime Zig Zag Pattern Love

There’s something very summery about the zig zag, especially blue and white zig zags, which remind me of the ocean (like waves) and Mexico itself (where it always feels like summer). While I was visiting Talavera Vazquez recently, I couldn’t help noticing all the zig zags: From tall vases to pieces destined to become ceramic table lamps, chevrons are one of their favorite patterns to paint… And I couldn’t be happier. So in addition to all the other fun patterns and designs I couldn’t resist, I added even more blue and white, orange and white, as well as black and white zig zag ginger jars to my stock! Perhaps it’s because Talavera Vazquez was my last stop in Mexico, but I still can’t seem to get their creative zig zags out of my head!

The classic and popular large blue and white ginger jars are an obviously place to start. With the addition of extra large blue and white ginger jars that measure 21 inches tall, these are statement pieces that work well indoors or outdoors. The artists at Talavera Vazquez make even taller ginger jars, which are truly massive (not to mention heavy). Customers regularly buy black and white zig zag jars, and I think it’s because the clean lines and bold pattern make them elegantly modern.

These ginger jars (or tibores in Spanish) are so popular that I started working with the artists to turn them into ceramic table lamps a few years ago. The blue and white lamp (whether stripe or zig zag) sheds light beautifully next to a bed or as a living room accent. One of my personal favorites is the burnt orange and white zig zag pattern lamp. The contemporary color adds warmth (along with the glow of the light itself) to any space, large or small.

But while blue and white ginger jars and lamps are popular, I think zig zags add something unexpected to plants. From tall vases with stunning blooms to a playful planter, these bright and bold ceramics are great indoor accents. Looking at all the vases in the studio, it’s difficult to narrow in on the ideal blue vase. There’s the blue striped vase and the intricately patterned blue and white Cristina vase, both with graceful curves. Another tall vase is the narrow Paloma, a blue vase with slim elegance. All of these look fantastic filled with flowers or empty on a shelf or table, no matter the season. I’ve given up trying to choose the perfect one, enjoying the personality of each.

With planters, the round zig zag pattern has returned, along with a charming sunflower pattern, stripes, and other geometric patterns. Drainage holes ensure function, not just fun with these planters, giving your porch, window, patio, or garden a special kick this summer. Why not make your plants as fashionable as you are?

What zig zag pattern uses are your favorites? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Finding New Ceramic Wall Plates and Pottery Dishes in Mexico

I’ve been in Mexico visiting artists like Gorky Gonzalez and can’t get enough of the sun, the food, the… roosters. From ceramic dishes to the blue and white rooster that stand alone, I’ve seen roosters (and other fowl) everywhere.

But it doesn’t end with blue and white rooster plates; that’s just the beginning. New triple dishes feature hummingbirds and roosters to join the cactus, palm tree, and fish motifs already in my Gorky collection. I love these ceramic dishes because they’re so versatile: good for dips, condiments, olives, or nuts, they also function as a place to keep jewelry, keys, or the contents of your pockets (no more lost wallets and phones for you!). With both double and triple ceramic dishes, use a variety to add spice to your next fiesta.

With the new black rooster plates from Italy, I’ve been struck at the global nature of animal motifs in ceramic wall art. Chickens, frogs, fish, and flamingos join butterflies (like the pottery dishes by Angélica Escarcega), flowers, and people for quirky and lively decorative plates and bowls. Visiting the artists let’s me not only stock up on popular pieces (like those fun salt and pepper shakers) but also see new ideas from ceramic wall plates to tibors (ginger jars). One of my favorite things is seeing the painted but unfired pottery dishes – the kiln totally transforms them from pale, flat ceramics into the glossy, touchable pieces we all love.

Watching the artists paint every piece is also incredible. Whether it’s geometric patterns or those blue and white roosters, plates, bowls, trays, and other dishes come alive with every brush stroke.

Whether you prefer monochrome or full color decorative plates, look for new arrivals from Gorky, Angélica, Capelo, and Talavera Vazquez in the next few months. There’ll be some old favorites and some new surprises with ceramic dishes that are truly works of art.

Want to see more of my Mexico adventures? “Like” Emilia Ceramics on Facebook for photos and updates.

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Mas de Mexico!

Capelo is the definition of a ‘Jack of all trades.’ Trained (and renowned throughout Mexico) as an architect, he now splits his time between teaching classes at the University of Guanajuato, managing the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, supervising a team of artists in his ceramic studio, and occasionally fulfilling some very special commissions — While I was visiting yesterday, Capelo showed off the gold ‘key to Guanajuato,’ which he was commisioned to make for the Pope during his visit to celebrate Mexico’s 200 years of independence. One copy of the key (which is made of gold and nickel) was gifted to the Pope and the other (which I held yesterday) will soon be exhibited in the museum. In his downtime, Capelo enjoys riding his horses in the beautiful mountains surrounding his home.

But enough about Capelo, let’s talk about his ceramics. There is something so unique and captivating, so soft and inviting about the glazes that Capelo uses… it really is difficult to explain. I asked him what it was about his glazes that made them so different. He said simply that he used all-natural glazes, without any modern-day additives, which we are more accustomed to seeing these days. Sounds almost too simple, but it fact it fits Capelo’s shy, old-school personality perfectly. Capelo has refused to compromise or change his glazes or technique over the years. He does things the right way, or not at all. He’s definitely much less interested in sales than he is in creating beautiful artwork. I still think there’s got to be something more to his technique — some secret that makes the colors run together like watercolor, with a glass-like sheen.

Whatever it is, I’m hooked. I couldn’t stop finding pieces I thought belonged in the Emilia Collection. I was especially drawn to some large vases and pitchers. Here are a few of the pieces I chose:

Because Capelo doesn’t deal with shipping, we had to fit my purchases in the cab I had hired. (Capelo lives and works about 15 minutes from Guanajuato, perched on top of a beautiful hill overlooking the city). But nobody else seemed concerned. Four helpers appeared out of nowhere to help us count, price, and wrap up my selections. And then we fit them neatly into the trunk and backseat of the cab. It all fit so easily, I wondered if I should have bought more!

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Gorky Gonzalez: Better Than Ever

I admit it… I forgot just how much I love Gorky Gonzalez’s pottery. I first visited Gorky over four years ago and have been importing more and more of his ceramics ever since. I sell a ton of Gorky’s work, I blog about it often, am surrounded by it on a daily basis, and when I’m at my parents’ house, I even eat off it! But still, I forgot the excitement of visiting Gorky’s workshop in Guanajuato and seeing all the creative and colorful genius spread in piles around me. I forgot the pure joy of looking through those piles and discovering the gems: A perfectly painted rooster or fish, a serving dish begging to be filled with fresh guacamole, a new shape or design that I know my customers (not to mention my mom) will love.

Mrs. Gorky Gonzalez met me at the door and brought me upstairs to the showroom. We exchanged pleasantries and I reminded her that we had met about 2 years ago (the last time I was here in Mexico). I asked about Gorky Sr., her husband who founded the business and is renowned for reviving the majolica tradition in Mexico. Gorky Jr. (or Gogo), who runs the business now, joined us a few minutes later. He took me on a tour, visiting about 6 artists, either working on the wheel or painting. I spent a few minutes talking with one young man who said he’s been painting for Gorky for 9 years and still loves it. I was slightly disappointed to learn that he does not use Gorky pottery in his own home!

Then is was back to work… I spent more than an hour digging through each stack in every corner of Gorky’s showroom, selecting on the best plates, bowls, pitchers, and even a few gravy boats I could find.

All I can say is this: Get excited, get very excited! I’m pretty sure these new pieces will remind you just how much you love Gorky Gonzalez pottery. That is, in case you had forgotten.

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Historical Roots of Blue and White Mexican Pottery

Archeologists recently discovered a kiln more than 1,300 years old in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Used by the Zapotecs to make ceramics, it’s one of the best-preserved kilns found to date, says Mexico Today. Not surprisingly, a strong pottery tradition still exists right down the road from the discovery, and in fact, throughout this region of Mexico. From the all black pottery associated with Oaxacan artisans, to the multicolored and blue and white Talavera-style made in Puebla and Dolores-Hidalgo, Mexican pottery is definitely thriving. Modern day artists have put their own stamp on the craft, while adhering to some techniques the Zapotecs would have used over a thousand years ago.

This link between past and present in Mexico creates truly unique pieces, from serving dishes to pottery platters. Reading about this kiln made me think of Gorky Gonzalez pottery, which combines traditional Mexican techniques with Japanese, Spanish, and Italian influences. The resulting fusion is something unique, yet still invokes an ancient pottery past.

Of course, being tied to the past doesn’t need you mean to be stuck there. Nothing exemplifies this concept more than the Gogo line, created by and named for Gorky Gonzalez’s son. When it comes to blue and white Mexican pottery, Gogo serving pieces might not be what you expect. Sleek and modern, these contemporary pieces speak to a design aesthetic of today while staying true to techniques honed for hundreds of years.

But serving ware needs to have more than an interesting past. For me when it comes time to choose pottery platters or serving bowls, I’m concerned about how the piece will look and function with food on it. Blue and white consistently looks clean and sharp, making Mexican pottery in these colors great for showing off your favorite dishes.

Shape also matters when it comes to unique serving dishes. Round pottery platters are versatile; use them for main dishes, finger foods, or even as a charger to give your table a pop of color.

The length of this white platter is striking filled with fruits or snacks at a party. And an oval serving dish handles a roast or an array of cupcakes with equal ease. Having a variety of shapes is a simple solution that certainly packs a design punch.

By mixing blue and white Mexican pottery together, you’ll create a distinctive table or party spread perfect for so many occasions. Historic, stylish, and modern – now those are some unique serving dishes!

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Gorky Gonzalez: Why Style Matters

Maybe it’s red plates for your holiday party. Or charming salt and pepper shakers for your table. Or modern espresso cups for your coffee. When it comes to Gorky Gonzalez pottery, there truly is something for everyone.

So what is it that makes Gorky Gonzalez so popular in the United States? The blend of fun motifs with sophisticated techniques is one reason people turn towards Gorky Gonzalez pottery. His complex background brings together defining elements of Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Indigenous-Mexican roots, casting these traditions with a modern flair, particularly with the Gogo line. Gorky pieces have appeared in publications and exhibitions worldwide, just another proof of his universal appeal.

But what I love about Gorky Gonzalez pottery are the subjects he paints. Since every piece of handmade ceramic is handpainted, no two pieces are exactly identical, adding to their charm and unique character. Here are some of my favorites, from Gorky Gonzalez plates to mugs to platters.

The Gorky Gonzalez wedding collection

This collection centers around the Amor Platter, one of my most popular pieces. The not-quite-rectangular, not-quite-oval, shape makes it versatile as a centerpiece, serving dish, or wall hanging. “The wedding couple” as this design is typically called is, unsurprisingly, popular as a wedding gift. Other pieces in the Gorky Gonzalez wedding collection (also great for engagement or anniversary gifts) are the Amor oval serving dish and octagonal serving dish. The La Mexicana motif around the border makes the pieces in the Gorky Gonzalez wedding collection easy to mix and match with other examples of his work.

Gorky Gonzalez animals

Bunnies, roosters, chicken, fish, frogs, and birds — All of the playful animals motifs of Gorky Gonzalez pottery are sure to make you smile. I love the rooster creamers that just came in recently, as well as the bunny salt and pepper shakers.

The blue frog cream and sugar set brightens any kitchen counter while serving bowls and plates add personality to any meal. Animal pieces are also great gifts since you don’t need to worry about matching existing kitchen wares; they truly hold their own in any setting.

Gorky Gonzalez original designs

From multicolored borders to just simple blue and white, Gorky Gonzalez plates, bowls, platters, serving dishes, and mugs easily go with any kitchen colors and style. Layer different plates for a truly personalized table setting, mixing and matching Rama Azul with El Mar, Las Flores, and your other favorite patterns. Know someone who loves the mix of traditional technique and modern lines? The Gogo collection has platters, mugs, espresso cups, and plates that would make the perfect Gorky Gonzalez pottery for them. The vivid colors also mix easily with favorite patterns that may already exist in the kitchen.

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Feliz Día de los Muertos!

I love visiting Mexico. The people are so friendly, the food is delicious, I get to use my Spanish, and on top of all that, I can see Mexican artists make ceramics, weave all manner of gorgeous cloth, work metal or leather, and create other beautiful traditional crafts. With Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) starting today, my mind is wandering both to Mexico and my favorite Mexican artists — Talavera Vazquez, Gorky González, Capelo, and Angélica Escarcega. I have heard so much about the colorful festivities surrounding Day of the Dead and have always wanted to experience the nation-wide celebration in person!

What is the Day of the Dead exactly? First off, it’s actually two days (November 1 and 2) during which people remember and celebrate ancestors and friends who have passed away. This celebration has roots in Aztec, Purepechas, and Totonacs traditions as well as the Catholic practice of All Souls Day. People visit their relatives’ graves on the first day, decorating them with flowers and candles. It’s a sort of picnic in the cemetery, with friends and family sharing stories about their loved ones buried there. It’s a celebration of the dead, as well as a celebration of the community they helped create.

These graveside picnics usually feature tamales and pan de muerto, a special bread. Bakers hide a toy skeleton inside (usually plastic) and it’s good luck if you bite into it. Sweets are another important tradition, with cookies, chocolate and sugar skulls. By biting into the skull shapes, people symbolically “take a bite of death” and inoculate themselves against the fear of death.

Another important aspect of the Day of the Dead are the intricate altars constructed and dedicated to deceased relatives. These are often decorated with yellow and orange marigolds and/or chrysanthemums; yellow is the Aztec color for autumn as it’s the season when nature begins to die. There are both home and public altars, where people leave offerings of favorite foods of their loved ones who have passed (candy skulls are a popular choice), photographs, and religious amulets. The altars show the cycle of life and death as part of the human experience. Day of the Dead celebrations also can include processions (like this one in San Francisco), music, or dancing; but the main idea is to celebrate life and death together.

While I won’t be in Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead this year, I will be surrounded by the festive pottery of Talavera Vazquez. I’m especially inspired to bring out my Vazquez pottery this time of year — the bold beauty reflects traditional Mexican decorations and the bright colors evoke the change of seasons. While you might decorate for many different fall events (Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving come to mind), putting Mexican artist ceramics like a Vazquez pottery vase or ginger jar into the mix makes for the perfect fall touch. Felicidades!

Day of the Dead altar image courtesy of Ute Hagen.

Candy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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A Closer Look at Mexican Ceramic Art

There’s such a rich history of Mexican ceramic art: Like how Talavera Vázquez started a revolution that continues today, how Mata Ortiz pottery was first developed by Juan Quezada, and how Gorky Gonzalez revitalized the Mexican tradition of majolica. There’s always something more to learn about and while Mexican ceramic art has been around for thousands of years, you can see striking similarities between what archeologists have found and the ceramics being produced in Mexico today. Let’s take a closer look at some additional examples…

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Oaxaca

Located in the south of Mexico, Oaxaca ceramics are distinct because of the black clay found in the region. The “barro negro” (black clay) pieces have a beautiful black finish that started out matte but have been polished to an almost metallic sheen, a technique created by potter Doña Rosa in the 1950s. The other striking ceramics of this region are the green-glazed pieces from Santa María Atzompa, another tradition that started after the Spanish conquest.

Jalisco

This tradition of Mexican ceramic art also goes back thousands of years, but modern production uses high temperature firing techniques to create both ceramic and stoneware pieces. The Jalisco “bruñido” style is characterized by a piece that is burnished (rather than glazed) to make it shine. These are often jugs or jars with slender necks. Traditional designs are quite detailed and multicolored, though the antique pieces are faded because of not being fired after painting. Modern stoneware ceramics are brightly colored with a variety of global influences, making Jalisco another rich contributor to Mexican ceramic art.

Majolica

While not a region in Mexico like the others, this technique is widespread in the artistic cities of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende. A versatile form decorated with rich glazes, and continually incorporating modern influences, I think this is the most timeless of all Mexican ceramic art. The thick glaze looks and feels super inviting, whether it’s a vase or a coffee mug!

No matter the origin, Mexican ceramic art is traditionally made by hand, often in family-run workshops. The wide range of cultures and mix of traditions present in Mexico truly sets its ceramics apart. I believe it is an art form that is always worth further exploration.

Oaxaca image and Jalisco image both courtesy of AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

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The Allure of Gorky Gonzalez Pottery

Packing boxes as I prepare to head to France for my buying trip this month, I’ve found myself handling a lot of Gorky Gonzalez pottery. I love the mix of fun and technical sophistication that’s a Gorky pottery trademark. Each piece combines elements from Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and Indigenous-Mexican cultures, giving it a unique depth and character. When it comes to Mexican artist ceramics, Gorky Gonzalez pottery has a richer and more compelling story than any I know.

In fact, I think what really draws people to Gorky pottery is its fusion of modern accents with traditional motifs. Dishware is an easy way to brighten every day, particularly if it’s something fun and playful like the La Mexicana motif. With vibrant leaves, bright fruits, and an inherent dynamism, these pieces are some of my favorites in the Gorky Gonzalez pottery collection.

From salad plates to mixing bowls, serving platters to tibores (or ginger jars), you can create an entire set in this motif alone.

But why stop there? The beauty of handmade pottery is layering pieces to reflect your own style, and Gorky’s patterns and colors are meant to be mixed, adding depth to the table and home. That’s one of the reasons ceramics make such good gifts – they add dimension and a note of pizazz where it’s least expected. Mixing a motif with solid colored pieces is easy to do with Gorky pottery, particularly with its wide array of platters, dishes, bowls, and mugs.

Take the Amor Platter, one of my most popular pieces. The not-quite-oval, not-quite-rectangular shape makes it versatile enough to serve appetizers or use as a centerpiece on the table. Its central depiction focuses on love, something that never goes out of style. Unsurprisingly, this piece is a popular gift for engagements, weddings, and anniversaries, adding an original and festive note to the theme of love. Like the idea? Check out the Amor octagonal serving dish and oval serving dish, other beautiful examples of the traditional couple design with a variety of functions. No matter if it’s a gift for yourself or someone else, you’re certain to enjoy these distinctive pieces of Gorky Gonzalez pottery for years to come.

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Butterfly Migration in Mexico: An Impressive Tradition

Reading up on monarch butterflies, it’s not surprising that they play a special role in Mesoamerican cultures. Every fall there is a massive migration where millions of these delicate creatures congregate on every available surface in forests throughout central Mexico. The butterflies mate in late February and then, after their winter of rest, the females take off for Canada.

“The miracle of the monarchs’ migration lies not only in the distance that the fragile animals cover, but also in the fact that no single butterfly knows the way from experience,” Ben Harder explains in National Geographic News. Since a butterfly only lives for a few months, each year’s migration is several generations of butterflies removed from the last one. Scientists have studied these fantastic creatures for years, trying to unlock how the migration happens and why.

But of course, monarchs were making the trek to Mexico way before scientists began studying them. The forests of the central Mexican state of Michoacan have hosted these flying wonders for thousands of years and butterflies play an important role in traditional symbolism in the region. The Aztecs considered monarchs sacred and incorporated butterfly motifs on shields and in other crafts. Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of love and beauty, was portrayed with butterfly wings and accompanied by birds and butterflies. In Michoacan, the native Purépecha Indians believe that these butterflies represent the souls of their dead ancestors since the monarchs arrive just in time for la Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) on November 1 & 2.

It makes sense then that butterflies (and monarchs in particular) often show up on Mexican ceramics. While there are many examples of Mexican folk art ceramic with butterfly motifs, I’ve never seen pieces quite like Angélica Escarcega’s. Angélica takes traditions of Mexican folk art ceramics and raises them to a whole new level. Mariposa (butterfly in Spanish) designs are her specialty, but what makes these ceramic butterfly pieces unique are their raised designs. The monarch on her mariposa tibor (ginger jar) looks ready to fly off for its migration. The covered dish adds a whimsical note to any table or counter top. Both highlight Angélica’s light-hearted and personal take on Mexican folk art ceramics.

Like other kinds of Mexican folk art, ceramics enable traditional symbols and patterns to be passed along from one generation and culture to another. I can only imagine how many artists throughout history have been inspired by the butterfly migration. What better way to celebrate this gorgeous creature than by bringing a Mexican folk art ceramic butterfly piece into your home?

Butterfly cluster image courtesy of Agunther.

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Mata Ortiz Pots: What’s the Story behind this Phenomenon?

When a friend said I’d like Marta Ortiz pottery, I assumed it was an artist’s name. Google, however, proved my assumptions (and spelling) wrong. Mata Ortiz (not Marta Ortiz) pottery is a unique art form from a small village of that name in Mexico. Here a revival of an ancient art form has transformed a community and truly enriched contemporary art.

This pottery sensation began when Juan Quezada found pieces of ancient Casas Grandes pottery in the nearby ruins of Paquimé. The form and designs intrigued him so much he began experimenting to see if he could discover how to make this exceptional pottery. Using local clay and trying different techniques with ash, firing, and formation, these pots are made without a potter’s wheel. Instead, they are hand built using a traditional coiling method that is then burnished, sanded down, and painted with natural pigments. Every step relies on what is readily available, from the hair used for the brushes to the cow manure and wood that provide fuel for the firing. It took Juan at least 16 years to get each step right, and he still experiments to this day with techniques and forms.

So how did Mata Ortiz pots find international acclaim? In the mid 1970s anthropologist Spencer MacCallum found some pots in a store in Deming, New Mexico. Their design and quality struck him, but the owner didn’t know who had made them. So Spencer set out to find the potter and ended up meeting Juan Quezada and his family in Mata Ortiz. A partnership was struck and slowly but surely a market built up for these truly one of a kind creations, revitalizing the village as more and more residents became potters in this impressive tradition.

Today there are tons of dealers and galleries for Mata Ortiz pots, both in and out of Mexico. Because the pieces are one-of-a-kind, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what you are going to get though when buying from a dealer online.

For my own collection, I tend to be more drawn to ceramic artwork that is functional.  As much as I love the organic, swooping forms of Mata Ortiz pottery, as well as the history and elaborate process behind it, it’s not very practical for daily usage.

It is the convergence of local tradition, innovation, and functionality that continues to draw me to the work by Talavera Vázquez. This 4th generation, family-run studio in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico, experiments with forms and traditional designs to make contemporary, beautiful pieces that are truly sophisticated. A lamp or vase adds authentic Mexican flavor to any room, but does it in a functional way. I also love their small pieces like candle holders, tissue boxes, and spoon rests that offer handmade Mexican artistry that is actually useful… making it an easy way to incorporate unique ceramics into your everyday life.

Mata Ortiz pot images courtesy of Ant Ware.