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Riding the buses » Cultural travel, Memorable moments, Mexico, Travel itinerary » The art of making Talavera pottery, Puebla, Mexico

The art of making Talavera pottery, Puebla, Mexico

One of the reasons the city of Puebla is so special is because many of its buildings are decorated with talavera tiles, a technique that came from Spain shortly after the city was founded in 1531. Over the years indigenous artists became involved in the process and what evolved became known as Talavera Poblana.

Uriarte Talavera (Riding the buses)

Uriarte Talavera (Riding the buses)

Authentic Talavera pottery is notable for its expertly applied paint that has a raised appearance and for its glossy sheen. Puebla is the largest producer of this type of ceramics in the world–not only tiles but dish ware and decorative pieces–and the technique has basically remained the same since the colonial period.

Earlier this year I visited a factory that has been making these ceramics since 1824. Uriarte Talavera is the 8th oldest company in all of Mexico and the “oldest, biggest and most prestigious talavera manufacturer in the world.” The factory is located in a historic colonial style home at 4 Poniente #911.

Each piece that comes out of the factory is 100% handmade by master craftspeople according to traditional manufacturing practices.

Preparation of the mud

Making the clay (Riding the buses)

Making the clay (Riding the buses)

An equal amount of natural white and black clay is used. It is tossed, washed and filtered.

Forming the clay into objects and first firing

Molding and first bake (Riding the buses)

Molding and first bake (Riding the buses)

The clay is moulded on a potter’s wheel. Each piece has to be made a little bigger because it will shrink when it dries. The moulded piece is left to dry for 2 – 3 weeks, and then baked in a kiln for 8 hours at 850°c. At the end of this stage it is an orange colour.

Sanding and glazing

Sanding and glazing (Riding the buses)

Sanding and glazing (Riding the buses)

Each piece is lightly tapped to see if it sounds hollow, which would mean it is broken inside. Those that pass the test are numbered and sanded to remove any imperfections.

The next stage is very important because the piece is immersed in enamel, which gives it the brightness and unique colour that brands it as authentic talavera. The piece is now white. Excess enamel is removed and then it’s polished to remove any flaws.

Each piece is marked: name, logo and origin of manufacturer, state, country, # of person doing the enamelling and painting, and the special hologram that certifies the piece’s authenticity, DO4.

Design, painting and second bake

Blue was once considered to be the 'best' colour; now many are used (Riding the buses)

Blue was once considered to be the ‘best’ colour; now many are used (Riding the buses)

It was fascinating to watch the artists design and paint the pieces. Only natural earth pigments are used for the colours: cobalt blue, yellow, black, light blue, green and orange.

Drawing the design (Riding the buses)

Drawing the design (Riding the buses)

Then the piece is baked a second time, for 10 hours at 1050°c to harden the glaze and bring the colours to life.

Artists at work (Riding the buses)

Artists at work (Riding the buses)

For me, it is worth going to Puebla just to buy some of this exquisite pottery. If a piece seems a little pricy, remember that it can take it can take up to 3 to 4 months to make and many are broken in the process. I would love to buy a complete dinner set or a mural but this time I added a coffee mug to my collection of vases. You can even have your pieces customized.

I was given an excellent tour of the factory in English for a small fee. Well worth it.

By Sylvia Fanjoy

Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2014

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