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Talavera Pottery from Mexico
Talavera Pottery from Mexico
Zanzibar Tribal Art gallery proudly offers authentic Mexican Talavera pottery crafted by the Alvarez family workshop in the village of Dolores Hidalgo. Crafted with mineral pigments, they won’t fade in the sun and they are all 100% lead-free.
To see the step-by-step process of crafting Talavera, and meet our artisans, click here.
Talavera pottery is the Mexican variation of the Spanish majolica earthenware, a white and glazed type of ceramic. Although the Spaniards introduced this type of pottery, ironically the term Talavera is used much more in Mexico than in Talavera de la Reina, Spain. In fact, Talavera is the oldest tin-glazed ceramic in America and it is still being manufactured with the same techniques as in the 16th century.
The craft was brought to Mexico immediately following the Conquest of the 1500s when the Spanish settled the town of Puebla. This very beautiful glazed pottery was originally produced in Puebla only by Spanish artisans under strict guild control. Glazing had been unknown in pre-Hispanic Mexico. The stylish pottery and tiles were produced in great quantities by well-organized potters to meet the need for tableware, architectural tiles, and utilitarian pottery in the New World.
Today Talavera pottery (named for its Spanish city of origin) is made in the towns of Puebla and Dolores Hidalgo. You can often see the influence of Moorish designs in Mexican Talavera, but the Mexican influence is there also in floral designs and copies of famous Mexican paintings and other images. Many cultures including the Chinese have inspired new colors and designs and today, the artists are still experimenting with new colors, designs and materials.
Puebla and Dolores Hidalgo, both within a couple hours of Mexico City, are beautiful colonial towns, populated with well preserved churches, ex-convents and monasteries. Puebla was not only was the second most important city in Mexico, after the country’s capital Mexico City, it was the most important earthenware center of the Nueva Espańa, which was the name of Mexico in Colonial times. The village of Dolores Hidalgo is also known for its Talavera Pottery and is a short distance away.
Authentic Talavera pottery is hand-painted with intricate designs using dyes derived only from natural minerals (i.e. blue, black, yellow, green and reddish pink). The originally Moorish technique was brought to Puebla by 16th century Dominican monks from Talavera de la Reina in Spain, but 17th century Italians introduced new colors, namely yellow, green and black, and Chinese imports inspired new designs depicting animals or floral scenes. The village of Dolores Hidalgo was known originally for their blue and white Talavera.
Making the Pottery
SEE THE STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS OF MAKING TALAVERA POTTERY WITH PHOTOS
Two kinds of clay are mixed together (traditionally with one’s feet) and the mixture is left to stand to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. Each piece is made manually on a potter’s wheel or in a mold and left to dry for between eight to twelve weeks. Once dry, pieces are fired at a temperature of 850'C, during which they take on the typical color of clay. This color is called Jaguete. The pieces are then submerged in varnish to give them the gloss and color of an authentic piece of Talavera pottery. Once glazed, the pieces are painted with special mule hair brushes and are decorated with mineral-based paints that allow them to remain outside without losing their color or gloss. Finally, the pieces are fired yet again, this time at 1050'C to give them the characteristic gloss of true Talavera pottery.
The production of tiles and ceramic ware in Puebla started almost immediately the city was established in 1531. Thanks to the abundance of quality clay in the region and to the splendor of the arts at that time in Puebla, in a short time the Talavera Poblana achieved such quality and beauty that it was soon exported to the rest of the continent.
There are several theories about its origin in Mexico, but the most accepted explanation is that Spanish monks from the Santo Domingo monastery in Puebla sent for craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina to teach the indigenous people of the region how to work the clay so they could create pieces similar to the ones produced in Spain. They wanted to decorate with tiles and religious sculptures their monastery and church.
The indigenous people of Mexico were very accomplished potters and already had a very long tradition producing earthenware. But they did not know how to use the potters wheel or tin-glaze their pottery, which is one of the main characteristics of the majolica ceramic.
Other versions state that the Dominican friars were the ones that knew how to produce this type of ceramic and that they were the ones that taught the Indians how to do it.
The truth is there are documents that record the presence of several craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina in Puebla during the 16th century, which established their workshops to produce tiles and ceramic wares. It was a very profitable business since there were so many churches and monasteries being built.
In time, a potter’s guild was formed and ordinances were laid down, that all of the potters who wished to produce Talavera had to follow. This was done so that the quality of the ceramics called Talavera was uniform, and that this earthenware had a distinctive style and excellence.
When we look at the plates, jars, vases, and tiles, we can detect the confluence of several extraordinary cultures in this type of art. We can easily observe distinctive characteristics of Spanish, Arabic, Italian and Chinese origin, and of course the magnificent creativity of the Mestizos and Indigenous people of Mexico.
Arabic: in its designs and use of mineral pigments. Keep in mind that the Moors conquered Spain and had tremendous influence on all the artistic expressions of Spain.
Italian: it is from this Mediterranean country that the term Majolica originates, and it refers to a process that the Italians used since the 14th Century to produce ceramics. This technique consisted of applying or brushing pigments on raw or unfired glaze.
Spanish: It is from Spain that the technique is brought to Mexico, with a distinctive style that came from Talavera de la Reina.
Chinese: Because of the extensive imports from China to Mexico, Chinese ceramic was soon imitated, particularly their designs. You can observe this similarity especially on the blue Talavera.
Mexico: It is Mexican artistry and creativity that makes of Talavera, a contemporary art form.
It was during the 18th Century that Talavera ‘dresses up’ with colors: green, mauve, yellow, in addition to the blue tones so popular in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Talavera was not limited to the production of pots, plates, jars and religious figures. It reached other spheres of life in Puebla. The azulejos, tiles, decorated splendidly cupolas, façades of monasteries and buildings, and was the quintessential element of Puebla’s baroque architecture. They were splendidly used in kitchens, this fantastic culinary ‘laboratories’ from which so many dishes were created. The use of azulejos denoted the prosperity of the owners of a particular house or building. So much so, that a popular saying at that time stated that someone that wouldn’t amount to anything in life would never have a Casa de Azulejos or a ‘house of tiles’.
Talavera is still very popular, and pieces of extraordinary quality that are very expensive are still being produced in and around Puebla. These pieces are truly collector pieces and can sell for 10 to 20 times the prices of pieces from nearby Dolores Hidalgo. There are also many imitations, some of good quality and some not. Most of our pieces are produced in the village of Dolores Hidalgo and are of superior quality for production in this village. We rather like the large, freehand style of this village and we aim to hand pick every piece, thus assuring it is of the best quality for our customers. We would love to sell exclusive Talavera from the village of Puebla; however we feel that by hand selecting the best pieces from the village of Dolores Hidalgo it is a better value. For example a Talavera frog that we sell for $35 from Dolores Hidalgo would sell for about $400 from Puebla. If you are interested in authentic Puebla pottery, we suggest visiting this charming community and arranging one of the many galleries to ship your ceramics home.
Did you know that before the second firing, a true Talavera piece must sound like a bell when slightly stroked with a small metal bar? This sound is difficult to reproduce, but if you strike a pot just right or two bang together, the pots will often sound like a gong or bell!
Our Talavera is trucked all the way from Dolores Hidalgo to Sacramento - a distance, door-to-door from the Alvarez workshop to our store of 3,001 miles!
When they ship the Talavera pottery, they place it in paper bags - usually empty flour bags that are used by a nearby tortilla factory! So when we receive our Talavera, there is often a light dusting of flour on the pots!
At the border, the truck is CT scanned (X-Rayed) and often the entire truck must be unloaded by the driver. A duty is paid and services such as drug and explosive sniffing dogs must be used to ensure no items are being smuggled into the U.S. Pots are often broken to verify that there are no false bottoms in the pots hiding items.
Is it really Talavera?
Good question. Technically no, the pottery we sell is not authentic, completely traditional Talavera. Aha you say! But wait! Before you get all upset, let us explain: The champagne you drank at New years - if it didn't come from the Champagne region of France (for example, if it came from California) - technically it wasn't champagne - it was sparkling wine. You can only call sparkling wine that was grown in the Champagne region of France Champagne. Same thing with our Talavera. We sell Tin glazed ceramics from the village of Dolores Hidalgo - A traditional Talavera producing city.
A few years ago, the largest producers in Puebla convinced the Mexican government to certify Talavera (not a bad thing) since there were so many low cost (even Chinese) reproductions - and that it can only officially be called Talavera if it comes from Puebla. There are some other minor differences, such as our pottery is 100% LEAD FREE so that we can sell it in California. Traditionally produced Talavera is hand thrown and used a Lead and Tin glaze - since we can't use the lead glaze, technically our pottery isn't Talavera. The Alvarez workshop that we purchase from is the finest in the village of Dolores Hidalgo - and their quality is superb. Is it as fine detailed as the very best Talavera from Pueblo. No, it isn't. But its also considerably less expensive (a large pot that we sell for $110 would sell for over $380 if it was made in Puebla for example). Most of our pots are molded versus hand thrown, but that and the fact it is made with lead free glazes is where the differences end. The pottery we sell is completely hand decorated with Mineral based pigments that won't fade. It is fairly traded and affordable.
Care of your Talavera Pottery
All of the Talavera pottery that we sell is made by hand with lead-free mineral pigments and glazes. Minor variations are bound to occur and are considered part of the charming hand-made nature of the ceramics. They may safely be used for food. They are also colorfast and may be kept outdoors in direct sunlight without being damaged. They are fragile and can break, like any pottery: so we suggest handling them carefully and keeping them away from high-traffic areas.
Common Questions on Talavera Pottery
This stuff is expensive! Why is it so costly?
Well, we'd argue that our Talavera is actually VERY AFFORDABLE when you compare it to plain pottery sold, especially when you consider the multiple steps and the completely hand decorated nature of the pottery. Making Talavera is a very labor intensive process. Our pottery is produced entirely by hand by a small family workshop and their family and employees are paid living wages. It is NOT produced in a factory by under paid workers - it is fairly traded. Plus - imagine! It has to travel over 3,000 miles! Have you checked the price of gas lately? We have to buy large quantities at one time and store it until we need it - we can't just call them and say "bring us some more pottery tomorrow!).
Can't I buy this cheaper in Mexico?
Sounds like an easy to answer question - but it is a complicated one. In fact, we've found that if you visit MOST American tourist destinations in Mexico (Tijuana, Puerto Vallarta, etc.) you'll find that shops and stores selling similar quality Talavera as what we sell charge 10-25% MORE than what we're selling it for (of course you can usually talk them down 10-20%). But then you STILL have to get it home! Airlines don't handle bags very gently (can you say smashed into a million pieces) and unless you are going to carry it home on your lap (there are lots of new baggage restrictions) you will have to ship it - and shipping from Mexico isn't easy and it is often very expensive!
A misconception that MANY people make is they remember the "old" Mexico - when the Peso was devalued. Things in Mexico are not cheap anymore! And if they are - they probably were made somewhere else (most of the tourist stuff you buy at the Beach from Jewelry to the textiles come from China, Indonesia, Ecuador or Brazil!).
Can you find our pottery in Dolores Hidalgo cheaper? Yes you can. You can even buy it directly from the workshop we purchase from for about the same as what we pay for the pottery. But you have to take into consideration the COST of your trip to get there, the cost of shipping the piece(s) back home (and HOPE that they arrive in one piece) and your time. Since many of the workshops are producing for stores like us, they don't always have the selection that we have so you might not get what size and design you want. We feel our prices are fair and if you feel they aren't, we encourage you to visit Mexico and wish you great success in getting your pieces home.
Zanzibar Tribal Art
1731 L Street
Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 443-2057 www.zanzibar-trading.com