natural essence Curated by Valerie Escamilla

Ceramics have been around for a long time. They can be created by using different types of clay and can be shaped or formed by techniques passed down through generations. This exhibit explores special highlights on ceramic works from Michoacán, Guanajuato, Oaxaca, and Yucatán.

For many years, earthenware red clay was the most common type of ceramic work in Michoacán and it consisted mostly of bowls, pots, vessels, and gourds. Their modern pottery is made in burnished, multi-colored, high-fire, glazed and smooth finished, using a mix of European and indigenous techniques.

Background Image: Clay, green-glazed vase with handles, decorated with six protruding spikes and painted floral motifs on both sides.

Pot, ca. 1986. Tarascan Artist. Patamban, Michoacán, México. Museum Purchase. 1986.07.101.002

The ceramic works, “Pineapple pot” and “pot” both have distinct green glazes with spikes protruding from one of the vessels and the other in the shape of a pineapple. This traditional style was passed down from the Hernandez family and Alejos' through generations. They created “Piñas” (pineapple shaped vessels) as punch bowls to serve the popular, “tepache,” a fermented pineapple beverage. This style often had a row of hooks below the rim of the pot, where they hung small cups.

Top Left Image: Large pineapple pot covered with small spikes; overall green pineapple, three curved feet at the bottom; Lid: Lid has green pineapple top, small spikes at the top portion; round; tip forms with leaves; middle section of lid has cross-section leaves with the edges containing small round balls in relief; linear painted dark brown; overall glazed; wide rim-greenish black. Pineapple pot, ca. 1986. José María Alejos Madrigal. San José de García, Michoacán, México. Museum Purchase. 1986.07.102

Guanajuato is known for using a technique called majolica. Majolica is a tin-glazed earthenware, which is white unless color is added on, that was produced in the 15th century by Europeans. When using the majolica technique there is a usually a restriction of 5 color choices. Those colors were cobalt blue, antimony yellow, iron red, copper green, and manganese purple.

Background Image: Narrow spout at top with blue border; double-shaped; large global body; cream background; vessel fully decorated with floral motifs of blue, green, brown, yellow and black. Purchased from Capelo family showroom in Guanajuato, México.

Vase, ca. 1984. Capelo Family. Guanajuato, México. Museum Purchase. 1984.13.013

Oaxacan artists were different in their ceramics. They used black clay, barro negro, for their work. Clay from this area is not naturally black but rather grayish due to the minerals of the soil. The earth used to extract the clay is cleaned to remove impurities, which can take a month of soaking and settling out the clay from the rest. After this process, each piece takes about twenty days to complete. It wasn’t till the early 1950s when it was discovered that by lowering the fire temperature and polishing the clay with a curved quartz stone, before it completely dried, would change its color to a shiny black and became a hit with tourists.

Image: A ceramic candleholder, or lantern. The lantern is made from burnished black clay. The lantern is in a long opal shape with incised openings of leaves, flowers and spherical forms. It has a round mouth and base.

Luminaria, 1987. Doña Rosa Family. San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca, México. Museum Purchase 1987.08.011

Yucatán is known for its ancient Mayan history. Modern day ceramicists use the same red clay as well as incorporate animal and floral designs passed down from their Mayan ancestors. Mayan ceramics were handmade since there was no potter’s wheel at the time. They were placed in the sun to dry and harden. Their work was used for functional and decorative purposes. Functional ceramic refers to pieces used such as bowls, plates, and pots for eating and holding food or liquids. They created decorative pieces such as ceremonial urns that depicted stories of Mayan kings and gods, rituals, and other aspects of Mayan civilization.

A red-orange clay pitcher with spherical body, short neck, round mouth with small lip for pouring; curved handle; body of pitcher has two small birds also in relief; neck, base and handle have clay indentions for decoration. Large number of his work can be seen in Uxal Hacienda Hotel; his work exhibited at the Arte Popular Museum, Mérida, Yucatán, México.

Image: Pitcher, n.d. Miguel Antonio Tzum Uicab. Ticul, Yucatán, México. Museum Purchase. 1987.04.035

Natural Essence


Curated by Valerie Escamilla

All artwork featured in this exhibition is part of the International Museum of Art & Science Permanent Collection. Unless otherwise stated, Copyright of the artwork is the exclusive property of the artist. No reproductions may be made from this website for commercial use for any reason without written permission from the Copyright owner.


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