More than 300 years Later, Talavera Pottery Still Endures

tgj040Travel across Mexico, and you’ll see all sorts of signs of Spanish influence that date back to the colonial era. Architecture, of course, is chief among them—those ornate churches and stately, airy casonas that still demand admiration– but there’s also Talavera, a type of pottery that was introduced to Mexico from Spain in the mid-17th-century. More than 300 years later, the popular style endures.

Age-old techniques have been passed down from generation to generation by master craftsmen.  These techniques produce unique pieces that are truly works of art.  Vibrant colors and delicate details are trademarks of Talavera pottery that give it the characteristic color and brilliance known only to Talavera ware. The detail is outstanding, and due to the kiln’s high firing temperature all our Talavera dishware is also crack and chip resistant.

Within Mexico, this style dates back to the 16th century colonial era when it was first introduced to Mexico by Spanish guild artisans. Thus today, Mexican Talavera reflects the diverse cultural heritage inherited from the Orient, the Italian Renaissance, the Moors, Spain and the indigenous people of Mexico.

Every jar and vase available at La Fuente Imports is handmade of clay in the classic Talavera style and then hand-painted by specialized artists outside of Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico.

Talavera Potters in History

There were a number of potters in sixteenth-century Puebla who were originally from the Spanish city of Talavera de la Reina: Gaspar de Encinas and son, as well as their in-law, Diego Gaytan. Though the birthplace of certain potters has yet to be determined, in some cases their last names correspond to families of potters in Puebla.

	 Talavera Jar w/ Butterflies

In the seventeenth century eight Spanish potters were identified (four of whom were orig­inally from Seville, two from Cadiz, one from Barcelona and the other from Galicia), as well as a potter from Portugal and two from Italy. Some emigrated at an early age, completing their apprenticeship in Puebla with established pot­ters, as was the case of Damian Hernandez who studied under Alejandro Pessaro in 1601; and Miguel Perez who studied under Sebastian de Villardel in 1609, both of whom later became important potters in their own right.

Others arrived in Puebla already trained in their craft and consequently influenced the shape and design of ceramics in Puebla, including potters such as the elder Gaspar de Encinas, Alejandro Pessaro. Juan Rodriguez de Herrera, Juan Bautista SalomOn, Antonio de Vega, Diego Gaytan, Jose Escoto, Sebastian de Villardel and Diego Salvador Carreto. No Spanish potters have been identified since the eighteenth century. Those identified were originally from Puebla though they consid­ered themselves Spanish, that is, chaos. There were also potters who identified themselves as “dark-skinned” or mestizo. Its important to em­phasize the Ordinances which, in fact, deter­mined that only Spaniards could take the exami­nation which would afford them the title of mas­ter potter, even though workshop artisans and servants were mostly indians, mulattos and blacks. By the late eighteenth century, mestizos and mulattos were eventually allowed to qualify for this examination.

On August 5, 1652, “light and dark skinned” pot­ters from Puebla gathered and authorized Diego Salvador Carreto to ask that the viceroy establish examinations and publish Ordinances “determin­ing the conditions, grievances, obligations and circumstances required for the benefit of the craft.” Viceroy Luis Enriquez de Guzman, Count of Alva de Liste, answered the petition and issued an order addressed to the mayor of Puebla ask­ing him to arrange a meeting so that potters could elect an inspector and two deputies to write the Ordinances.

Article excerpt from Artes de Mexico Magazine – June 1992


Talavera Clay Pottery from Mexico

Authentic Talavera Pottery from Puebla, MexicoAlthough 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 Tiles for Day of the Dead Style

Day of the Dead Ceramic Tile is each beautifully handcrafted and feature images which represent the annual celebration of El Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). A common symbol on our Day of the Dead Talavera Tile is the skull (calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for skeleton). These skeletons or “calacas” are meant to depict a joyful and active afterlife, and are often used as home decor.

Day of the Dead Tile

Every November in the villages of Mexico, communities gather in local cemeteries to honor departed loved ones and to celebrate the joy of living. The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal, often varying from town to town.

In many American communities, especially those with a large Hispanic population, Day of the Dead celebrations are very similar to those held in Mexico. In some of these communities, such as in Texas and Arizona the celebrations tend to be mostly traditional. For example, the All Souls Procession has been an annual Tucson event since 1990. The event combines elements of traditional Day of the Dead celebrations with those of pagan harvest festivals. People wearing masks carry signs honoring the dead and an urn in which people can place slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned. Likewise, Old Town San Diego, California annually hosts a very traditional two-day celebration culminating in a candlelight procession to the historic El Campo Santo Cemetery.

Share your love of this annual celebration by incorporating Talavera Tiles which have been decorated with eye-catching Day of the Dead designs. Decorative ceramic tiles are also perfect to simply use as a drink coaster or trivet.

Colonial Mexican Pottery

Talavera from Puebla MexicoThe production of glazed earthenware pottery was one of the earliest and most developed industries of New Spain, as colonial Mexico was called. The principal center of production, Puebla de Los Angeles, located south of Mexico City, was making wares by 1573. By the mid-seventeenth century, the Spanish had established a number of workshops in Puebla, and a potters’ guild was formed to control quality.

The pottery from Puebla was called Talavera de Puebla because the wares were intended to rival the Spanish pottery from Talavera de la Reina, a city near Toledo, Spain. Although the Mexican Indians had a thriving pottery industry at the time the Spanish arrived, the Europeans produced wares using their own techniques of wheel-thrown ceramics and tin glazing. The pottery from Puebla belongs to the majolica type, having an earthenware body that is covered with a white lead glaze that is then painted with colored glazes. Established in Europe by Islamic craftsmen in Spain, this technique is the same for Italian majolica, French faience, and Dutch delftware.Colonial Mexican ceramics are distinguished from the Spanish by the original ways in which Mexican potters absorbed artistic traditions from the East and West. European ceramics were imported to Mexico beginning in the late sixteenth century, and Chinese wares were plentiful since Mexico was on the Spanish trade route with China.

The impact of Chinese blue-and-white ceramics can be seen in the number of pieces from Puebla with a cobalt blue glaze. And the forms of the drug jar and vases were inspired by Chinese vessels. Other influences came from the Spanish colonial experience. Two tiles depict Native American warriors with feathered skirt and cape. An interesting substitution can be seen on the vase with iron hardware, where a stylized Mexican quetzal appears instead of a Chinese phoenix. The tiles with religious subjects remind us that tiles were made by the thousands to decorate Mexican churches, monasteries, and graveyards.The freedom Mexican artists exercised is seen best, perhaps, in the large vase that juxtaposes a European woman in a chariot with a host of animated Chinese figures. The humans and animals are filled with dots, an Islamic tradition for indicating living figures. This surprising, vibrant creation unites several worlds of art in one object.

Philadelphia Museum of Art – Summer 1992

Talavera: An Essential Component in Southwest Mexican Rustic Home

Authentic Talavera Pottery - Fruit BowlWhen creating a southwest Mexican rustic home decor, talavera pottery can add a gorgeous finishing touch. Talavera pottery plays an important role in Mexican decor because of the unique styles, colors and designs of each creation. Your home will be the talk of the neighborhood and no one has to know you didn’t pay a fortune. Here’s some information about talavera pottery and ways you can use it for home decoration.

What is Talavera Pottery?

Talavera pottery is created with majolica earthenware, which is a type of ceramic that is glazed and white in color. The pottery was introduced to Mexico by Spaniards. It is used to decorate many patios, commercial and residential buildings, social and business squares, and even homes in Mexico.

A city in Mexico called Puebla was established in 1531 and almost immediately became the center of earthenware production. Today, the pottery is still being made with the same techniques that were used during the 16th Century, and it is the oldest tin-glazed ceramic in America.

Talavera Products for Home Decor

When shopping for talavera pottery, you must think out of the box. Look around for a variety of products, such as talavera plates, jars, pots, vases and religious figurines. You can create a southwestern decor in every room of your home using various types of pottery. Talavera pottery can be placed in room corners on the floor or next to pieces of equipal furniture such as sofas, chairs or floor lamps. Add Talavera plates to your kitchen hutch or China cabinet display along with Mexican glassware (such as blue rim margarita drinking glasses).

On the patio, use colorful outdoor equipal patio furniture along with talavera planting pots. These look lovely on wood, brick or stone patios…whatever fits your style. Hang a relaxing hammock nearby and complete your yard decor with matching bird feeders and birdhouses, garden statues (with Mexican flare), fountains and stepping-stones!

Buy pottery products to match your other southwest home decor items in color and theme. This will give every room a true southwest Mexican rustic home decor. You can buy authentic or imitation talavera pottery. Either way, make sure you’re getting quality items and buy only from a reputable retailer. There are many websites offering pottery, but beware of those that don’t guarantee the quality of their products. Also, look for other great items such as rustic sconce light covers and Mexican tin mirrors. These make great gifts for anyone that appreciates Mexican decor. You’ll want a beautifully crafted piece that will last for many years!

Puebla’s Talavera Pottery

Talavera Serving Bowl - Made in MexicoWorks of art good enough to eat off – that’s the essence of Talavera pottery.

The Mexican pottery, which has been around for 400 years and is primarily made in Puebla City, is an artistic and practical achievement. Vases, cups, plates, serving bowls, and tiles, called azulejos, are some of the items I saw being made in Uriate Talavera factory where the highly regarded, expensive pottery is hand made. The factory, which was established in 1824, is one of Puebla city’s most renowned because it is one of the few authentic Talavera workshops left today. Talavera is one of Mexico’s most unique items, making it a worthwhile gift to bring home.

Puebla City is located sixty miles southeast of Mexico City, making it a convenient hop, skip, and a jump away – and a convenient escape – from Mexico City, which is the world’s largest. Puebla City, which is also the capital of the same name state, is the country’s fourth largest urban center. Approximately two million people live there. The residents, who call themselves poblanos, live in the most European of all of Mexico’s colonial cities. The Spanish established and planned the 16th century city from the  ground up, rather than building it within an existing indigenous community. They did this because the location was on the main route between Mexico City and Veracruz, which was at that time the most important port in the country. Puebla City is situated at a height of 7,000 feet above sea level and is  blessed with a temperate, year round climate.

While the Spanish may have first introduced the highly decorative art from their home country when they settled in the heart of Mexico, diverse artistic styles, including Moorish and Oriental cultural nuances transformed the colonizer’s craft to what it is today. The Moorish influence of cobalt blue patterns on white appeared on Mexican pottery around the late 15th century, while the Oriental styles of animals and floral designs were first seen in the mid-16th century. To be authentic, Talavera pottery (named after a town in Spain) must be hand-painted in intricate designs using natural dyes derived from minerals. The colors used include blue, black, yellow, green and reddish pink.   During a ninety-minute tour of the factory, we learned just how long it takes to make these detailed works of art. And while the pottery is expensive to purchase, even at the point of production, our tour helped us understand why. The factory usually offers free tours that are shorter, but our group of writers was interested in learning minute details about how the pottery is made.

First, black or white clay is soaked for several days in water to soften it, said Angela Garcia, the cheerful tour guide who patiently answered all our questions. Both colors give the same end pink result, she said, but only clays from four areas, Puebla, Cholula, Tecalli and Amococ, are used in making Talavera pottery. A sieve is used to strain the clay, which breaks it into fine, uniform particles that will give the earthenware a smoother finish. The clay is then left in vats for several days to separate out the water.

Next, a potter molds the clay, sometimes by hand, and at other times with a potter’s wheel, after which he or she rubs it with a damp sponge to create a fine finish. The molded clay is left in the sun to dry for up to five days, depending on its size. Once the pottery is thoroughly dry, it is baked for about eight hours at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in a handmade brick oven. We observed employees banging the pottery with a steel stick to check if there were any tiny hidden cracks. “The pottery should sound like a bell” if there  are no cracks, Garcia said. The fire-worked clay is then dipped for about three seconds in a lead-free yellow-like glaze which turns to white once dry, and “any tiny imperfections are reglazed,” Garcia said. “The fingerprint made while lifting the item out of the glaze is also filed down,” she added.

The individual creative paintwork which is done on each piece by the factory’s fifteen painters comes next. The designs are transferred to the ceramic by the use of carbon paper on a paper stencil, and the resulting dot pattern is then used as a guide for the handpainted designs. The length of time it takes to finish painting a ceramic piece depends on how intricate the design is and the size of each piece, the guide explained. When we visited, artists were painting huge urns, small serving dishes and 18 tiles that comprised the picture of the Virgin Mary.

When dry, the paint’s mineral colors change composition. Orange changes to yellow, black to green, brown to red, and light blue becomes dark blue, Garcia said. The earthenware objects are once again oven-fired, resulting in a hard, brightly colored surface. The pieces are now ready to be sold, either in the factory’s on-site shop or abroad, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, and Peru. About 70 pieces a day are made by the approximately 200 employees, a sign of just how labor intensive the creative process is.

Jose Luis Hernandez from the local tourist office scraped the surface of a tile to demonstrate the high quality workmanship. The tile showed no signs of damage, a proof of its high quality, said the official who’d accompanied the writing group to the factory. “Although the prices are high, the pottery is  genuine” and not all local shops are selling the real thing, he emphasized.

Besides a visit to the pottery factory, the city’s compact, historic downtown is famous for the many 17th and 18th century colonial buildings that are ornately decorated with Talavera tiles. With more than seventy churches and one thousand colonial buildings in the central area alone, visitors feel like they are walking around an open air museum.

An outstanding use of 16th century Talavera tile is found in the former kitchen in the Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa de Lima. The building is now the state artisan museum, or Museo de Artesanias del Estado. The kitchen’s huge, multi-domed interior is covered from top to bottom with the famous tilework.  However, what may be even more interesting for the locals is what’s said to have been invented there – Puebla’s renowned mole sauce. The dark colored sauce, which can contain up to one hundred ingredients, is supposed to have been invented by the Dominican nuns as a surprise for their demanding gourmet bishop. Mole sauces, which have many different flavors, generally contain fresh and smoked chile, pepper, peanuts, almonds, tomato, onion, spices, and, of course, chocolate, of which the best known is made with a bitter variety. Food supplies in the kitchen were cleverly kept cool by a double wall that had water running in between.

The Museum of Santa Monica is another worthwhile stop. Generations of nuns secretly hid there when the Reform Laws of 1857 closed church-owned buildings after Benito Juarez separated church and state. To survive, the nuns sold candies and embroideries during almost eight decades of clandestine activity.

The museum houses religious art and items of self-flagellation, including whips and crowns of thorns in some of the former nuns’ penance rooms.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is considered one of Mexico’s best proportioned cathedrals, is the second largest in the country, and also has the highest towers. Built between 1575 and 1649, the main altar has sixteen marble columns, and the large floor and several statues are also made of the same  material. Gold leaf decoration is used in some of the many chapels, and a huge bronze statue of the Virgin Mary weighs 300 tons. When I visited, a priest was hearing a penitent’s confession without the usual private door separating them.

The Amparo Museum has an excellent collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial artifacts displayed in two linked colonial buildings whose architecture was influenced by indigenous designs. A glass case displayed an unidentified animal and perhaps a man about to be sacrificed in Veracruz some 2,500 years  ago, and there were also Olmec masks, a feature of Olmec civilization three millennia ago. The museum, which opened in 1991, was the first in the world to have a computerized touch screen that answers visitors’ questions about museum artifacts.

The House of the Puppets, near the main square, is the city’s most comical structure. The building’s exaggerated statues are a caricature of the city fathers who took the house’s owner, Agustin de Ovando y Villavicencio, to court because his building was taller than theirs. He added the statues, which represented various officials, to get his revenge on the small-minded officials.

The Barrio del Artista, on the pedestrian-only Calle 8 Norte, is a lovely place to wander around while looking at artists at work in their open studios. Their paintings can also be purchased. The imposing principal theater, or Teatro Principal, is nearby.

Other unusual but-worth-visiting-places, which I didn’t have time to see, include the African Safari Park, reputed to be one of the best places in Mexico for African wildlife. The park is located about ten miles southeast of the city. I also didn’t have time to visit the house of culture, or Casa de la Cultura, a classic brick and tile Puebla building that occupies a block facing the cathedral. Formerly the bishop’s palace, it is now home to the tourist and other government offices. The Palafox Library upstairs has thousands of valuable books, including the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle which has more the 2,000 engravings.

Puebla is noted for its cuisine, and many consider it to be the best in the country. It’s believed that the Santa Monica nuns (cooking rivals to the mole-making Dominican nuns) invented chiles en nogada, a seasonal dish that’s available from July to September. It’s said to have been created in 1821 to  honor Agustin de Iturbide, the first ruler after Mexico’s independence. To make chiles en nogada, a poblano chilli is filled with ground meats and fruits. It is then covered with a sauce of chopped walnuts and cream, and topped with red pomegranate seeds. The overall effect is colors representing the green, white and red of the Mexican flag.

For deserts, Sweets Street, as its name implies, sells almost nothing but things-bad-for-the-teeth –  candies, including camote, a popular regional treat made from sweet potatoes and fruit, and cochinitos, which is made of bread, molasses and sugar. Famous treats from other regions like crystallized fruits, coconut candies, and bisnaga, a sweet made from cactus and sugar boiled together, are also available in the many sweet-tasting stores.

Sweets Street was a fitting ending to a city well worth a return visit.

How Talavera is made in Puebla :

Majolica Pottery

Majolica Talavera Pottery La Fuente ImportsSince its introduction by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, talavera pottery has become synonymous with Puebla. The beautifully hand-crafted ceramics, which take the form of everything from garden tiles to dinnerware, adorn building fronts in the historic center, replace china sets in Mexican households, and travel home with visitors as souvenirs. Talavera is so revered that President Calderón ordered a special bicentennial pattern last year for his Independence Day state dinner; Governor Rafael Moreno Valle buys centerpieces to give as personal gifts; and collectors worldwide seek out new and historical pieces to display as fine art.

The local tradition of making talavera started shortly after the city of Puebla was founded in 1531. “The Spanish feverishly began building churches, monasteries, and convents,” notes “To decorate these buildings, craftsman from Talavera de la Reina … were commissioned to come to the New World to produce fine tiles as well as other ceramic ware. In addition, these same craftsman were to teach the indigenous artisans their technique of Majolica pottery, in order to increase production levels.”
Nearly 500 years later, artisans continue to produce talavera in Puebla.

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The Origins of Mexican Talavera Pottery

Talavera plates made in Pueblo, MexicoFrom the time of the Olmecs, between 1200 BC and 600 AD, pottery has been a central part of Mexican life.  Their use of clay, knowledge of primitive firing and coloring techniques, as well as designs was passed down to other cultures that followed.  The Olmecs are considered by many as the mother culture of Mesoamerican civilizations.

Talavera de la Reina, a Spanish village, has long been influential in the world’s knowledge of fine ceramics.  When the Muslims conquered North Africa and moved into Europe, their tin-glazed ceramics, known as Majolica, came to Spain.  Majolica was developed in the Middle East but gained cultural diversity through influences from the Chinese, Italians, Moors and Spanish cultures.  Spanish craftsmen learned and further developed this craft and, in the 16th century, introduced it to Mexico.  The term Talavera is used to describe faithful reproductions of the pottery that is made in Talavera de la Reina, Spain.

When the Spanish introduced their stylized pottery to their recently established colony in Mexico, the local artisans blended these new techniques with their established practices to creat the famous Talavera pottery of Mexico.  It is believed that the first workshop was established in the city of Puebla around 1600 AD.  Puebla became the home of authentic Mexican Talavera and is where the first potter’s guilds were formed to establish standards and regulations for the production of Talavera.

Authentic Mexican Talavera

Talavera Ginger Jar by Maximo HuertaSince the 16th century, Mexican craftsmen have been producing Talavera pottery.  This art form has evolved from ancient cultures and influenced the production of pottery in Mexico resulting in the exquisite Talavera pottery that is available today.  True, certified Talavera pottery is produced in the city of Puebla, in the state of Puebla, Mexico however, high-quality, modern Talavera pottery is also available from factories in other Mexican districts such as Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato.

Age-old techniques have been passed down from generation to generation by master craftsmen.  These techniques produce unique pieces that are truly works of art.  Vibrant colors and delicate details are trademarks of Talavera pottery that give it the characteristic color and brilliance known only to Talavera ware.

Talavera is a type of majolica earthenware that is fired at extremely high temperatures producing a very durable product.  Artisans are not limited to the production of tiles and vases.  You will find beautiful pieces to suit your taste in plates, jars, pots, religious figures, animals and more!