Talavera History

Talavera plates made in Pueblo, MexicoTechniques 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.[5][15] Spanish craftsmen fromTalavera 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.[2][6] 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.[5]

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.[14] 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.[1]

Talavera Snack Tray by Studio Tomas HuertaThe 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.[4] 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 wereJuan 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.

How Talavera is Used

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.talavera_tilesThe 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.

Talavera Production

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.MH453a Talavera

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.

Hand Thrown Talavera from Mexico

Talavera Plates from MexicoTalavera:  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 demonimation with Puebla, but, since 1997, this has been denied and glazed ceramics from other parts of Mexico are called Maiolica or Mayolica.
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.

 

Authentic Talavera Pottery

Authentic Talavera pottery only comes from the city of Puebla and the nearby communities of Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali, 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. Authentic Talavera Plate - MH469a

Maiolica 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, during which the number of workshops were 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.

Article excerpt from Wikipedia

Puebla: Pottery Production

Puebla was the most prominent of the Mexican centers of pottery production to employ the technique of tin-enameled earthenware, known in Europe as maiolica, or faience. This technique produced a hard opaque white glaze, which served as a background for colorful, enamel-painted designs.

MH456a - Talavera PlateThe name Talavera, as applied to this ware, alludes to the city of Talavera de la Reina, the major producer of colorful maiolica in Spain from the sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century. One tradition holds that the technique was introduced to Puebla by immigrants from the Spanish pottery center before 1653, the year in which the Pueblan potters’ guild was founded. However, the majority of surviving eighteenth-century maiolica from Puebla, with its blue-and-white palette, reflects the position of this city on the Spanish trade route from the Far East via the Philippines and across Mexico. A vast quantity of Chinese export porcelain carried by galleons from Manila remained in New Spain and served as models for the potters in Puebla (who were undoubtedly also conscious of the vogue for blue-and-white pottery in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe).

This collection of tin-enameled earthenware from Mexico was the gift of Emily Johnston de Forest, one of the Metropolitan Museum’s early patrons and a founder of The American Wing. Her pioneering interest in this material inspired the acquisition of similar collections by other American museums in the early twentieth century. In a letter to the Metropolitan at the time of her donation in 1911, Mrs. de Forest remarked:

The collection is important, in my opinion, not only as representing an artistic ceramic development, but, more particularly, as representing such a development in America. It seems to me to form a part of a collection representing the arts of Mexico which I hope will some time be fully represented in the Museum, as an American Museum.

Article source: Johanna Hecht, Dept. of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Five Centuries of Talavera

Of the tin-glazed earthenware made in colo­nial Spanish America, the variety known as Talavera Poblana is perhaps the most important. It has certainly enjoyed the longest con­tinuous tradition and is still manufactured today as it was .several centuries ago. It was also the pottery that achieved the widest distribution in America, precisely because it was one of the most important products in the trade established between colonies.

Puebla’s pottery workshops were held in especially high esteem and their production included objects of everyday use, as well as orna­mental pieces of particular artistic value. During the eighteenth century some workshops in Puebla even took part in decorating certain buildings in tile which consequently gave the city’s architecture its unmistakably local color.

The origin of earthenware production in Puebla has interested authors for decades. In his book entitled The Majolica of Mexico (1908), Edwin Atlee Barber upheld the popular belief that Talavera was instituted in the recently found­ed City of Puebla by monks at the Santo Domingo Monastery. It was thought these friars had sent for potters from Talavera de la Reina in Spain to circulate their techniques for producing ceramics.  This theory has long been prevalent and is still reiterated, if often spiced with a dash of legend.

MH473a  - Talavera Plate

The archival research published by Enrique Cervantes affirms that the production of earthen­ware in Puebla began in the sixteenth century. Cervantes appropriated the hypothesis advanced by Antonio Peirafiel which states that among the first citizens of Puebla were several artisans from Toledo who established the pottery industry in 1531. Completely discarding the myth that the first potters were commissioned by monks at the Santo Domingo Monastery, Cervantes concludes (without citing his sources), that there is enough information to assume that pottery began to be manufactured between 1550 and 1570; and that moreover, between 1580 and 1585, Gaspar de Encinas, a potter from Puebla, had already set up a workshop on the Calle de los Herreros. Closely examining these documents, however, we can only affirm that by 1573 the potter Alberto de Ojeda began working in Puebla and that the fol­lowing year he and Bartolame de Reina estab­lished a business partnership to make earthen­ware of all varieties, including tiles.” In 1573, another artisan from Puebla by the name of  Diego Rodriguez (referring to himself as a master potter), effected a contract in Mexico City with the friar Hernando de Morales to make 1500 tiles and verduguillos (rectangular tile pieces) for the Santo Domingo Monastery. That same year Rodriguez made arrangements for ceramics-painter Domingo de los Angeles to decorate the tiles that had been bought for the monastery. Rodriguez remained in Mexico City until at least 1582 which allows us to assume that he was the first to bring earthenware and tiles to Mexico City, and later to Puebla.

In 1579, “a master potter” by the name of Antonio Xinoves began working in Puebla and by the following year formed a seven-month partnership with JerOnimo Perez to do business, and profit from making earthenware.” That same year he contracted the services of someone named Juan Portuguez to help him with the work.

By 1580 many other potters had begun to set­tle in Puebla where they not only found the materials needed to produce quality earthen­ware, but were also furnished with a business center which facilitated the sale of their products to various cities in New Spain.

The production of earthenware became so important that by the late sixteenth century it sparked the interest of ecclesiastical authorities at the Bishopric of Tlaxcala who wanted to impose a tithe on these products. Potters were naturally opposed and eventually won the dispute by arguing that in Spain earthenware was not subject to any tithe.

MH461a -  Talavera Plate

It is hard to determine exactly how many “white ceramic workshops” could be counted in Puebla during the first half of the seventeenth century. Though quite a number of potters and craftsmen are mentioned in archives, many of them established companies to produce pottery and tiles for varying—often very short lengths of time—which makes it difficult to specify how many workshops there were, and how long each lasted. Nonetheless, documents regarding commercial operations and services (as well as personal letters and those drawn up to contract apprentices) give us a partial idea of their activities.

In the early seventeenth century, some pot­ters must have produced their earthenware with the help of only a few apprentices and craftsmen. By the end of the century, however, this began to change as the number of craftsmen gradually began to increase. These artisans were primarily Indian and in some rare cases, black or mulatto slaves. By the eighteenth century, workshops be­gan evolving into actual factories, including a master potter and artisans and apprentices under the control of an owner who wasn’t always a pot­ter himself—or herself, as was often true when ceramic workshops were run by the widowed wives of potters with the help of craftsmen and servants.

Article excerpt from Artes de Mexico Magazine – June 1992

Talavera Poblana: Nomenclature & Production

The eighteenth-century chronicler Ferrindez de Echeverria y Veytia claimed that Talavera was the finest pottery produced in the City of Puebla, and wrote about ‘these workshops of white earthenware called Talavera that can be found within the city limits. With a white clay…they make all kinds of pieces that are so polished and original, so well glazed and painted that they are just as good as any imported from Europe, which are copied perfectly.

Today, tin-glazed pottery from Puebla is still referred to as Talavera, but no one seems to agree about the origin of this term. A rather obso­lete theory affirms Talavera was the surname of the first potter in Puebla to produce a ceramic piece of this kind, but this theory has yet to pro­duce any documentary evidence. Another states that it was given this name in honor of those pot­ters who came from Talavera de la Reina in Toledo to teach techniques to their counterparts in Puebla.Authentic Talavera Pottery from Puebla, Mexico

Resorting to oral tradition, some scholars have affirmed that Dominican friars in Puebla, who were aware of a lack in local skills (and were anxious to tile their monastery) asked the Order in Tdlavera de la Reina to send friars who could teach potters the art of tin-glazed ceramics. There are no documents, however, to support this belief. The most widely held opinion is that Talavera was given this name very simply because of its similarity to the earthenware pro­duced in Talavera de la Reina.

The most recent theory is that the term was first used in 1682 when clauses were added to the Ordinances laid down by the potter’s guild in Puebla. One of these clauses stated that ‘fine pot­tery should imitate earthenware from Talave­ra…’ which is to say that the object should be so similar to the other that only with great difficulty can one tell the original apart from the counter­feit.” Other scholars claim, however, that not one of these theories or legends proves why pottery from Puebla is called Talavera. and have conse­quently insisted on the term majolica or white earthen ware. Majolica was the Italian name given to glazed porous pottery from Mallorca, which soon came to designate any similar ceramic piece. Though the term Talavera is no longer used in Spain, it is still very much alive in Mexico, especially in Puebla where potters continue to use essentially the same methods as their ances­tors.

Indeed, the techniques involved in the making of Talavera have hardly changed at all since colonial times. Potters used two kinds of clay: a black variety extracted from deposits in the hills of Loreto and Guadalupe and a pink clay which was found near Totimehuacan. Once the clay’s had been sifted to get rid of all foreign matter—such as plant debris and pebbles—they were mixed and then left in water tanks “to rot”.  The plasticity and quality of the clay improved the longer they were left.  Before the potter could work the clay he had to remove all excess water. He then began to wedge the clay by plating it on a brick floor in a covered area where it was “treaded” barefoot to achieve an even consistency.Authentic Talavera Pottery from Puebla, Mexico

The wedging was finished-off by hand  and the clay was then divided into lumps of different sizes: the bigger ones were called tallos (reeds) and the smaller ones hulas (bullets). The potter worked the smaller lumps on the wheel to create numerous objects and used molds for making tiles. Once the pieces were completed. they were left in a closed room for a long period of time to ensure that they dried evenly. They were then fired in a wood-fueled kiln. After this firing—which lasted from ten to twelve hours each piece was examined carefully in order to separate the good pieces from those with imperfections or those that had been fired unevenly_ net-were then covered with a white glaze—made of a tin and lead base—which gave the enamel finish to each piece, According to the seventeenth-century ordinances, the proportion of glaze lo be used was 1 arroba (25 lbs.) of lead to 6 afro-bas of tin for extra-fine pieces, and 1 arroba of lead to 2 of tin for ordinary white earthenware.

Once the glaze had dried, pieces were decorated with different designs. The range of choices was also designated by the Ordinances and would vary depending on the quality of the ceramic piece. Potters prepared paints from x-ariaus mineral pigments.  Pieces were then ready for the last firing which would take up to forty hours.

Article excerpt from Artes de Mexico Magazine – June 1992

 

Talavera: A Lesson in Fantasy and Sensibility

Talavera Ginger Jar Handmade in Puebla MexicoA glass pitcher, a wicker basket, a buipii of coarse cotton cloth, a wooden bowl—handsome objects not in spite of, but because of their usefulness. Their beauty is an added quality, like the scent and color of flowers. Their beauty is insep­arable from their function: they are handsome because they are useful. Handicrafts belong to a world existing before the separation of the useful and the beautiful.

The industrial object tends to disappear as a form and become one with its function. Its being is its meaning, and its meaning is to be useful. It lies at the other extreme from the work of art. Craftsmanship is a mediation; its forms are not governed by the economy of function but by pleasure, which is always wasteful expenditure and has no rules. The industrial object forbids the superfluous; the work of craftsmanship delights in embellishments. Its predilection for decoration violates the principle of usefulness.

The decora­tion of the Talavera object ordinarily has no function whatsoever, so the industrial designer, obeying his implacable aesthetic, does away with it. The persistence and proliferation of ornamentation in handicrafts reveal an intermediate zone between utility and aesthetic contemplation. In craftsman­ship there is a continuous movement back and forth between usefulness and beauty; this back­and-forth motion has a name: pleasure. Things are pleasing because they are useful and beauti­ful. The copulative conjunction and defines craftsmanship, just as the disjunctive defines art and technology: utility or beauty. The handmade object satisfies a need no less imperative than hunger and thirst; the need to take delight in the things we see and touch, whatever their every­day uses. This need is not reducible to the math­ematical ideal that rules industrial design, nor is it reducible to the rigor of the religion of art. The pleasure that works of craftsmanship give us has its source in a double transgression: against the cult of utility and against the religion of art.

Talavera Snack Tray handmade in Pueblo Mexico

In general, the evolution of the Talavera industrial object for daily use has followed that of artistic styles. Almost invariably, industrial design has been a derivation—sometimes a caricature, sometimes a felicitous copy—of the artistic vogue of the moment. It has lagged behind con­temporary art and has imitated styles at a time when they had already lost their initial novelty and were becoming aesthetic cliches.

Contemporary Talavera design has endeavored in other ways—its own—to find a compromise between usefulness and aesthetics. At times it has managed to do so, but the result has been paradoxical. The aesthetic ideal of functional art is based on the principal that the usefulness of an object increases in direct proportion to the paring down of its materiality. The simplification of forms may be expressed by the following equa­tion: the minimum of presence equals the maxi­mum of efficiency. This aesthetic is borrowed from the world of mathematics: the elegance of an equation lies in the simplicity and necessity of its solution.  The ideal of design is invisibility: the less visible a functional object, the more beautiful it is. A curious transposition of fairy tales and Arab legends to a world ruled by science and the notions of utility and maximum efficiency: the designer dreams of objects that, like genies, are intangible servants. This is the contrary to the work of craftsmanship, a physical presence that enters us through our senses and in which the principle of usefulness is constantly violated in • favor of tradition, imagination and even sheer caprice. The beauty of industrial design is of a conceptual order, if it expresses anything at all, it is the accuracy of a formula. It is the sign of a function. Its rationality makes it fall within an either/or dichotomy: either it is good for some­thing or it isn’t, In the second case it goes into the trash bin. The handmade Talavera object does not charm us simply because of its usefulness. It lives in complicity with our senses, and that is why it is so hard to get rid of—it is like throwing a friend out of the house.

Article excerpt from Artes de Mexico Magazine – June 1992

Admiring Talavera: Made by Hand

Talavera – Made by hand, the craft object bears the fin­ger prints, real or metaphorical, of the per­son who fashioned it. These fingerprints are not the equivalent of the artist’s signature, for they are not a name. Nor are they a mark or brand.  They are a sign: the almost invisible scar commemorating our original brotherhood and sisterhood, made by hand, the craft object is made for hands, Not only can we see it; we can also finger it, feel it. We see the work of art but we do not touch it. The religious taboo that for­bids us to touch saints=you’ll bum your hands if you touch the Tabernacle,’ we were told as children—also applies to paintings and sculp­tures. Our relation to the industrial object is func­tional; our relation to the work of art is semi-reli­gious; our relation to the work of craftsmanship is corporeal. In reality, this last is not a relation­ship but a contact.

Talavera plates made in Pueblo, MexicoThe trans-personal nature of Talavera craftsmanship finds direct and immediate expres­sion in sensation: the body is participation. To feel is primarily to feel something or someone not ourselves. And above all, to feel with some­one. Even to feel itself, the body seeks another body we feel through others. The physical and bodily ties that bind us to others are no less pow­erful than the legal, economic and religious ties that unite us, Craftsmanship is a sign that expresses society not as work (technique) or as symbol (art, religion) but as shared physical life.

The pitcher of water or wine in the middle of the table is a point of convergence, a little sun that unites everyone present. But my wife can transform that pitcher pouring forth our drink at the table into a flower vase. Personal sensibility and imagination divert the object from its ordinary function and create a break in its meaning: it is no longer a recipient to contain liquid but one in which to display a carnation. This diversion and break link the object to another realm of sensibility: imagination. This imagination is social: the carnation in the pitcher is also a metaphorical sun shared by everyone.

In its perpetual move­ment back and forth between beauty and utility, pleasure and service, the work of craftsmanship teaches us lessons in sociability. At fiestas and ceremonies its radiation is still more intense and total. At fiestas the collectivity communes with itself, and this communion takes place through ritual objects that almost always are handmade objects. If fiesta is participation in primordial time—the collectivity literally shares out among its members, like sacred bread, the date being commemorated—craftsmanship is a sort of fiesta of the object: it transforms a utensil into a sign of participation.

Article excerpt from Artes de Mexico Magazine – June 1992