The talavera of Puebla brings together a long artistic tradition with a millenary origin. Traditional poblano pottery has its origin at the time of the conquest. The process of realization of the talavera was influenced by the indigenous hand and that of the Middle East; Together they made this craft an ancient tradition.
Talavera pottery is a Mexican and Spanish pottery tradition named after the Spanish Talavera de la Reina pottery, from Talavera de la Reina, in Spain. The Mexican pottery is a type of majolica (faience) or tin-glazed earthenware, with a white base glaze typical of the type. It comes from the town of San Pablo del Monte (in Tlaxcala) and the cities of Puebla, Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali (all these four latter in the state of Puebla), because of the quality of the natural clay found there and the tradition of production which goes back to the 16th century.
Much of this pottery was decorated only in blue, but colors such as yellow, black, green, orange and mauve have also been used. Majolica pottery was brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the first century of the colonial period. Production of this ceramic became highly developed in Puebla because of the availability of fine clays and the demand for tiles from the newly established churches and monasteries in the area.
The industry had grown sufficiently that by the mid-17th century, standards and guilds had been established which further improved the quality, leading Puebla into what is called the “golden age” of Talavera pottery (from 1650 to 1750). Formally, the tradition that developed there is called Talavera Poblana to distinguish it from the similarly named Talavera pottery of Spain. It is a mixture of Italian, Spanish and indigenous ceramic techniques.
The tradition has struggled since the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century, when the number of workshops were reduced to less than eight in the state of Puebla. Later efforts by artists and collectors revived the craft somewhat in the early 20th century and there are now significant collections of Talavera pottery in Puebla, Mexico City and New York City. Further efforts to preserve and promote the craft have occurred in the late 20th century, with the introduction of new, decorative designs and the passage of the Denominación de Origen de la Talavera law to protect authentic, Talavera pieces made with the original 16th-century methods.
The talavera of Puebla
During the first years of the conquest, indigenous pottery techniques continued. Gradually the process of refining the novohispana ornamentation demanded the importation of majolica.
The Mexican Talavera acquired a soul of its own in a gradual process. Initially it received a strong indigenous influence, which was added to the influence of jobs imported from China and the Middle East.
The tradition of poblano pottery was consolidated in the 16th and 17th centuries. This majolica became so popular in the new world that it required the institution of ordinances that regulated quality standards to avoid counterfeiting.
With this, the current definition of talavera was formulated: “Ceramics typical of the Puebla area, made with mud and made up of a ceramic body covered with staniferous glaze, decorated with metallic colors and worked manually on site”. To the above it is added that this majolica poblana must always be made by hand.
Currently, the glazed ceramic of Puebla does not mean the same as the Spanish one, Mexican production strengthened its spirit and presence in different sectors of Mexico’s life. In contrast, Spanish talavera is no longer a cultural symbol.
Therefore, the talavera plays a leading role in the artistic life of Mexico; Its presence inhabits the sacred centers of Novohispano Catholicism, embellishes the typical dishes and adorns the homes. When thinking about the talavera of Puebla, we visualize the beauty of mestizo Mexico. Talavera is as sacred as everyday; in her two artistic expressions meet: the one of Mexico and the one of all the humanity. Thanks to this, today the talavera of Puebla is recognized by travelers as the best Mexican crafts.
History of Pottery
Pottery is one of the oldest activities of mankind, long linked to divine motherhood. Its value has allowed it to develop different artistic and religious expressions, giving rise to ceramics. Such is the case of Talavera de Puebla, a ceramic that fuses the artistic spirit of the whole world.
Glazed pottery has its origin in imperial China, when the ornamentation arisen among the Arabs was perfected. When cobalt oxide was discovered, the Chinese developed Hui-ching or Mohammedan blue; technique rejected among the high Chinese culture for mixing white clay with blue dye. Shortly after, ornate pottery successfully returned to Muslim peoples, who introduced it to Europe during the fifteenth century. Work in Europe was designated as majolica; a corruption of the word “Mallorca” made by the Italians.
Techniques and designs of Islamic pottery were brought to Spain by the Moors by the end of the 12th century as Hispano-Moresque ware. From there they influenced late medieval pottery in the rest of Spain and Europe, under the name majolica. Spanish craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina (Castile, Spain) adopted and added to the art form. Further Italian influences were incorporated as the craft evolved in Spain, and guilds were formed to regulate the quality.
During roughly the same time period, pre-Hispanic cultures had their own tradition of pottery and ceramics, but they did not involve a potter’s wheel or glazing. There are several theories as to how majolica pottery was introduced to Mexico. The most common and accepted theory is that it was introduced by monks who either sent for artisans from Spain or knew how to produce the ceramics themselves. These monks wanted tiles and other objects to decorate their new monasteries, so to keep up with this demand, either Spanish artists or the monks taught indigenous artists to produce the glazed pottery. A significant number of secular potters came to Mexico from Seville and Talavera de la Reina, Spain during the very early colonial period. Later a notable potter by the name of Diego Gaytán, who was a native of Talavera, made an impact on pottery after he arrived in Puebla.
From the time that the city of Puebla was founded in 1531, a large number of churches and monasteries were being built. The demand for tiles to decorate these buildings plus the availability of high-quality clay in the area gave rise to the ceramic industry. It was soon produced by indigenous people as well as Spanish craftsmen, which resulted in a mixture of influences, especially in decorative design. The new tradition came to be known as Talavera Poblana to distinguish it from that of Talavera pottery from Spain. By 1550, the city of Puebla was producing high-quality Talavera wares and, by 1580, it had become the center of Talavera production in Mexico.
During the seventeenth century the Spaniards entered the bicolor ceramic industry with the intention of competing with the Dutch monopoly. It was in the town of Talavera de la Reina in Spain, where the majolica that arrived in Mexico was developed.
From 1580 to the mid-17th century, the number of potters and workshops kept growing, each having their own designs and techniques. The colonial government decided to regulate the industry with guilds and standards. In 1653, the first ordinances were passed. These regulated who could be called a craftsman, the categories of product quality, and norms of decoration. The effect was to standardize the production of ceramics and increase the quality of what was produced. Some of the rules established by the ordinances included the use of blue cobalt on only the finest, quality pieces, the marking of pieces by craftsmen to avoid counterfeits, the creation of categories of quality (fine, semi-fine and daily use), and yearly inspections and examination of master potters.
The period between 1650 and 1750 was known as the Golden Age of Talavera. Puebla became the most important earthenware center of New Spain. Pieces were shipped all over the territory, and were sent to Guatemala, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Venezuela and Colombia. During this time, the preferred use of blue on Talavera pottery was reinforced by the influence of China’s Ming dynasty through imported Chinese ceramics that came to Mexico via the Manila galleons. Italian influences in the 18th century introduced the use of other colors.
During the Mexican War of Independence, the potters’ guild and the ordinances of the 17th century were abolished. This allowed anyone to make the ceramic in any way, leading to a decline in quality. The war disrupted trade among the Spanish colonies and cheaper English porcelain was being imported. The Talavera market crashed. Out of the forty-six workshops that were producing in the 18th century, only seven remained after the war.
In 1897, a Catalan by the name of Enrique Luis Ventosa arrived to Puebla. Ventosa was fascinated by the history of the craft which was unique from other art forms in Mexico. He studied the original processes and combined it with his knowledge of contemporary, Spanish work. He published articles and poems about the tradition and worked to decorate ceramic pieces. In 1922, he befriended Ysauro Uriarte Martinez, a young potter, who had inherited his grandfather’s workshop. The two men collaborated to create new decorative designs, adding pre-Columbian and Art nouveau influences to the Islamic, Chinese, Spanish and Italian influences that were already present. They also worked to restore the former levels of quality. Their timing was good as the Mexican Revolution had ended and the country was in a period of reconstruction.
However, by the 1980s, there had been a further decline in the number of workshops until only four remained. Talavera had been under pressure in the latter part of the 20th century because of competition from pottery made in other Mexican states, cheap imports and the lack of more modern and imaginative designs. In the early 1990s, the Talavera de la Reina workshop began revitalizing the craft by inviting artists to work with their artisans to create new pieces and new decorative designs. Among the artists were Juan Soriano, Vicente Rojo Almazán, Javier Marín, Gustavo Pérez, Magali Lara and Francisco Toledo. They did not change the ceramic processes, but added human forms, animals, other items and traditional images of flowers to the designs.
Since then there has been some resurgence in the craft. In the 2000s, seventeen workshops were producing Talavera in the old tradition. Eight were in the process of becoming certified. These workshops employed about 250 workers and exported their wares to the United States, Canada, South America and Europe.
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, its namesake. In 1997, the Denominación de Origin de la Talavera was established to regulate what pieces could be officially called Talavera. Requisites included the city of production, the clay that was used, and the manufacturing methods. These pieces now carry holograms. One of the reasons the federal law was passed was that the remaining Talavera workshops had maintained the high quality and crafting process from the early colonial period, and the goal was to protect the tradition.
However, the tradition still struggles. Angelica Moreno, owner of Talavera de la Reina, is concerned that the tradition of the craft is waning, despite her workshop’s efforts. One problem the craft faces is the lack of young people who are interested in learning it. An artisan earns about 700 to 800 pesos a week, which is not enough to meet expenses.
Authentic Talavera pottery only comes from Talavera de la Reina in Spain, the town of San Pablo del Monte (in Tlaxcala) and the cities of Puebla, Atlixco, Cholula and Tecali, as the clays needed and the history of this craft are both centered there. All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times. This glaze must craze, be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white. There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments. The painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath. An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.
The design of the pieces is highly regulated by tradition. The paint ends up slightly raised over the base. In the early days, only a cobalt blue was used, as this was the most expensive pigment, making it highly sought after not only for prestige but also because it ensured the quality of the entire piece. Only natural clays are used, rather than chemically treated and dyed clays and the handcrafting process takes three to four months. The process is risky because a piece can break at any point. This makes Talavera three times more costly than other types of pottery. Because of this, Talavera manufacturers have been under pressure from imitations, commonly from China, and similar ceramics from other parts of Mexico, especially Guanajuato. Guanajuato state petitioned the federal government for the right to share the Talavera designation with Puebla, but, since 1997, this has been denied and glazed ceramics from other parts of Mexico are called Maiolica or Majolica.
Today, only pieces made by designated areas and from workshops that have been certified are permitted to call their work “Talavera.” Certification is issued by the Consejo Regulador de la Talavera, a special regulatory body. Only nine workshops have so far been certified: Uriarte Talavera, Talavera La Reyna, Talavera Armando, Talavera Celia, Talavera Santa Catarina, Talavera de la Nueva España, Talavera de la Luz, Talavera de las Americas, and Talavera Virglio Perez. Each of these needs to pass a twice-yearly inspection of the manufacturing processes. Pieces are subject to sixteen laboratory tests with internationally certified labs. In addition, there is a test done by the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Puebla to ensure that the glaze does not have lead content of more than 2.5 parts per million or cadmium content of more than 0.25 parts per million, as many of the pieces are used to serve food. Only pieces from workshops that meet the standards are authorized to have the signature of the potter, the logo of the workshop and the special hologram that certifies the piece’s authenticity.
The process to create Talavera pottery is elaborate and it has basically not changed since the early colonial period when the craft was first introduced. The first step is to mix black sand from Amozoc and white sand from Tecali. It is then washed and filtered to keep only the finest particles. This can reduce the volume by fifty percent. Next the piece is shaped by hand on a potter’s wheel, then left to dry for a number of days. Then comes the first firing, done at 850 °C (1,560 °F). The piece is tested to see if there are any cracks in it. The initial glazing, which creates the milky-white background, is applied. After this, the design is hand painted. Finally, a second firing is applied to harden the glaze. This process takes about three months for most pieces, but some pieces can take up to six months.
This process is so complicated and plagued with the possibility of irreparable damage that during colonial times, artisans prayed special prayers, especially during the firing process.
Some workshops in Puebla offer guided tours and explain the processes involved. The oldest certified, continuously operating workshop is in Uriarte. It was founded in 1824 by Dimas Uriarte, and specialized in traditional colonial-era designs. Another certified workshop, Talavera de la Reina, is known for revitalizing the decoration of the ceramics with the work of 1990s Mexican artists.
Talavera ceramic is mostly used to make utilitarian items such as plates, bowls, jars, flowerpots, sinks, religious items and decorative figures. However, a significant use of the ceramic is for tiles, which are used to decorate both the inside and outside of buildings in Mexico, especially in the city of Puebla.
The Puebla kitchen is one of the traditional environments of Talavera pottery, from the tiles that decorate the walls and counters to the dishes and other food containers. It is a very distinct style of kitchen. In monastery kitchens of the area, many of the designs also incorporate the emblem of the religious order. Many of the facades in the historic center of Puebla are decorated with these tiles. These tiles are called azulejos and can be found on fountains, patios, the facades of homes, churches and other buildings, forming an important part of Puebla’s Baroque architecture. This use of azulejos attested to the family’s or church’s wealth. This led to a saying “to never be able to build a house with tiles”, which meant to not amount to anything in life. Being able to show this kind of wealth was not restricted to Puebla.
In Mexico City, the church of the Convent of La Encarnacion and the church of the Virgin of Valvanera both feature cupolas covered in Talavera. The most famous example of Talavera in the capital city is the Casa de los Azulejos, or House of Tiles, which is an 18th-century palace built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family. What makes this palace, in the City of Palaces, distinct is that its facade on three sides is completely covered in expensive, blue-and-white tile – sensational at the time the tiles were applied.
Museum of Popular Art in Mexico City
The Museum of Popular Art is an institution dedicated to promoting and preserving Mexican folk art.It is located in the Historic Center of Mexico City on a site that belonged to an old fire station, the museum contains a collection that includes rugs, ceramics, glasses, piñatas, alebrijes, furniture, toys, kitchen utensils, among other objects. However, the museum is known primarily as a sponsor of the annual Alebrijes Night parade in which fantastic creatures are built on a monumental scale and then parade from the Zocalo to theIndependence Monument, competing for prizes.
The Museo de Arte Popular opened in March 2006. Its purpose is to serve as a reference for Mexican crafts as well as promoting them through workshops, and other events to both Mexico and foreign tourism. and dignify Mexican crafts though restoration of older works and the promotion of their creation both inside and outside the museum itself.
The permanent collection contains both older and newer craft pieces from the various traditions that make up Mexican culture. The collection was gathered through the generosity of individual donors. Some of the principal private donors include Alfonso Romo of Grupo Savia, who had promoted crafts for a number of years. He donated 1,400 pieces towards the opening of the museum. The second donor was Carlota Mapeli, who came to Mexico from Italy in the 1970s and dedicated herself to collecting embroidered garments and other textiles. She donated 400 pieces, many of which were weaved on backstrap looms.
The collection is organized into five permanent halls divided by theme, and two dedicated to “grand masters” each of which contains various kinds of crafts. The five themed halls are called “Las raices del arte mexicano” (Roots of Mexican art), “Las raices del arte popular” (Roots of crafts or popular art), “Lo cotidiano” (Everyday things), “Lo religioso” (Religious items) and “Lo fantasmagico” (Fantastic and magical things). The collection fills three of the four levels of the building, for a total of 7,000 square meters. There is also a temporary exhibit hall and an “interpretation” room which has pieces from all 32 federal entities (states and Distrito Federal) of Mexico. Crafts displayed here are of many different types including pottery, basketry, wood carving, precious metal working, glasswork, textiles, papier-mâché and others. The museum also has a research center with a library and a periodical archive.