Archive for January, 2018

Oaxacan Diary: Day Five – Part Two.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2018 by brunyfire

IMG_0428Heading off the mountain, we leave the Atzompa Archaeological Site and make our way into the town of Santa Maria Atzompa, a few kilometres outside of Oaxaca to the workshop and home compound of Rufina Reiz.

Rufina, her sister and other family members work together to produce a range of the traditional green glazed ware……..IMG_0223……..that Atzompa is famous for – such as the classic jug shape used at Mayordomo, a well known chocolate drinking house in the centre of Oaxaca City.CACCCDF0-4722-42D3-B3A8-570BC61FD7A2Atzompa  has been a major producer of pottery since the Monte Alban period most of which at that time consisted of the gray pottery typical of the surrounding area.

After the Spanish conquest, Santa Maria was added to the native name of Atzompa (‘high water mark’ in Nahuatl), and lead glazing was introduced during the 16th century. By the mid 20th century, Atzompa was the main producer of ceramics for the region, and its products were shipped to all parts of Mexico and exported to the United States. However, concerns about the lead content in the glaze decimated the Mexican pottery market severely damaging the reputation and livelihoods of the potters. But thanks to a number of government and entrepreneurial initiatives, such as the liaison between Innovando la Tradición a brighter way forward is underway.

Our tour leader, Diego Mier y Terán Giménez Cacho (we just called him Diego!) co-founded of Innovando la Tradición A.C., which he now manages, and is the art director of Colectivo 1050º, a brand name for the products resulting from working collaboratively with the potters of Oaxaca. The high regard in which Diego is held within the Oaxacan potting community was evident everywhere……IMG_0426……..particularly with Rufina as a lot of innovative work had been done between Innovando and her, such as the gas and oil fired kiln behind the two of them, and a new range of restaurant ware. The kiln is an extraordinary invention, a real Heath Robinson affair. 06711227-3542-40D9-A994-7C64974D6B71Based on the cylindrical shape of the traditional, circular updraft kiln (of which there  are several in Rufina’s backyard still in constant use), two steel drums are lined with a ceramic liner and bricks. (Image below right from Local + Lejos). The kiln is fired with a combination of gas and recycled cooking oil that Rufina gets for free from the restaurants. The two kilns are joined with a connecting chimney, at the centre of which sits a container of cooking oil that is gravity fed into the burners below and combined with forced air from a nearby compressor. It appeared that the chimney flue sat under the oil container where there was a vertical damper (Brunyfire couldn’t quite work this out!) – the theory being that whilst one kiln was being fired, the second was drawing the heat and pre-heating. When the first kiln was finished, it was sealed off and the second kiln fired on till completion.

Rufina has been practising her art since she was 10 years old and learnt from her grandmother. The methods are traditional…….9CB26716-BE97-493F-B341-6C140E6E1F17IMG_3067………and forms are constructed on a rudimentary ‘wheel’ comprising an upturned olla in a bucket of sand, a piece of broken pottery tile and a circular, fired clay disc from which she ‘throws’ a range of functional ware from a pinched base, adding coils and finishing off with deft movements with a leather shammy (from an old leather glove) and water. Rufina learnt to make pots from the age of 10, from her grandmother and has been practising for over 30 years. (Photo above by Amanda Bennett, New York).

Her forms are functional – ollas (round bellied cooking pots), beakers, bowls, mortars, cazuealas (flat open dishes for cooking/serving), handled ‘frying’ pans – all ‘thrown’ on the simple turntable and glazed in the traditional green glaze. EE31232C-CD09-4E3E-A5D4-6E637C49528BThe pots are then bisque fired in the traditional updraft kiln, such as the one excavated at the Atzompa archaeological site – glazed and packed. All the pieces are touching one another when packed in the kiln and when the firing has reached temperature (which the women gauge by eye and smell) the pots are hauled out hot on long poles with hooks on the end and left to cool on sheets of metal.

The group spent several hours with Rufina and her family and we were all humbled by the simplicity of their techniques, the skills with which they executed them………IMG_0422……….their love for what they do (which we were to hear repeatedly over the next few days from other potters) and their generosity in sharing – not only their knowledge, but their table also. CB6AF64E-DCAE-41F8-8EE7-C892C5C1F785Rufina and Innovando have also been collaborating on a range of restaurant ware which are made on the turntable, but are glazed in a range of colours – these are fired in the oil/gas kilns.

IMG_0447(Range of tableware for the restaurant,  Cabuche, Oaxaca City – image from Innovando site)

1AD80CED-47F3-4AF5-AAE9-75D1BF45858CSo it was great to end the day at Cabuche back in Oaxaca City and to eat off Rufina’s ware for the second time that day.


ps: At the end of the tour, Brunyfire spent a week in Mexico City and was delighted to come across more of Rufina’s work at the Museo de Arte Popular.  This a fantastic museum, housed in an old firehouse renovated to preserve and promote Mexican handcrafts and folk art. Whilst the permanent collection covers all disciplines and media and is always on display, the Museum also has an ongoing exhibitions programme (as well as workshops for kids, festival parades and other related activities). Of great interest was an exhibition by well known Mexican artist, Betsabeé Romero called ‘Barro, Papel o Tijera’ (Clay, Paper or Scissors). Amongst the work, a collaborative series of pieces  etween Betsabeé and Rufina…….B3E155D6-3733-47DA-9C56-76EAC3750ADA……. a series of wall mounted VW tyres with ceramic glazed centre pieces touched up with gold paint (see later post about this work) – just going to show how fearless Rufina is as an artist who uses her age old techniques to speak in a contemporary tongue.