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