The beauty of Mexican ceramics

José is 83 years old and his hands still transform clay into beauty thanks to his talent, but mostly, because of his desire to keep alive the art and to preserve its legacy

The beauty of Mexican ceramics
One of their unique pieces – Photo: Taken from the Bernabe Gallery's website
English 20/09/2018 11:51 Mariana Castillo Mexico City Actualizada 12:00
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Decanters, shot glasses, plates, bowls, cups, vases, and other things are in the shelves of the small shop owned by the Bernabe family, in Tonalá, Jalisco. Although some are made of filigree or high-temperature clay, other, the most special ones, are made out of petatillo ceramic, a pottery technique that requires expertise and years of experience because of its precision.

This is the fourth family generation who has worked patiently. José, the father, is 83 years old. His hands still transform clay into beauty thanks to his talent, but mostly, because of his desire to keep alive the art he learned since he was a child, and to preserve its legacy.

A single plate can cost over MXN $5000, and although for some people it could be “expensive”, its creation implies hours worth of effort and dedication; they're collection pieces and are worth their price, as each piece involves time, energy, and knowledge. Painting each piece takes a whole day.

“Before, in big parties hosted in big properties, they used 200 or 300 plates for a special dinner. That's over. Everything is very different now”, says José. “The truth is they're not meant to be used every day, their context is different. This is meant to be used on special occasions”, he explains.

He is proud to say that his creations have been used by presidents, priests, actresses, models, writers from different countries, so many that they have a room full of pictures, newspapers, magazines, and even books that mention his legacy, at their home-workshop.

His 10 children, 7 men, and 3 women learned the whole process since they were kids, from clay to brushes, and decided to keep the trade alive. Daniel, Ramón, and Ismael paint using different brushes and by hand. Their creations are full of delicate strokes: the almost millimetric decorations are similar to the petate's composition, and which gives its name to the method.

It's important to mention that the drawings: animals, plants, places, and more, have been modified in time, and part of a personal imaginary.

The tarraja, the potter's wheel used for the petatillo, was created by José and a friend. Tradition has been innovated, as artisans also experiment and implement new technologies, without losing the handmade quality.

José was named as one of the best 150 Popular Arts Masters in Mexico in 1999, won the Jalisco Award in 1964, and the list goes on. The Mexican anthropologist Juan Briseño once said that: “those who make spoons, comales, or tortillas made them with their hands, and those are to be respected”, and this is true: they're part of the body that allows them to create wonders.

Address: Hidalgo 29, colonia Centro, Tonalá, Jalisco

[email protected]


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