Sunday, March 4, 2012

Talavera Poblana

Talavera pottery of Puebla is a type of majolica pottery distinguished by a milky-white glaze. It is a mixture of Italian, Spanish and indigenous ceramic techniques.  All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter's wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times.  This glaze must craze, be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white.  There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments. The painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath.  An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.  Authentic Talavera pottery only comes from the city of Puebla and the nearby communities of Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali.

The Moros brought techniques and designs of Islamic pottery to Spain by the end of the 12th century as Hispano-Moresque ware. From there the influenc spread to the rest of Spain and Europe, under the name majolica.  Spanish craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina, adopted and added to the art form.  Further Italian influences were incorporated as the craft evolved in Spain, and guilds were formed to regulate the quality. The Spanish brought Majolica pottery to Puebla in the first century of the colonial period. Production of this ceramic became highly developed because of the availability of fine clays and the demand for tiles from the newly established churches and monasteries. The industry grew sufficiently that by the mid-17th century, standards and guilds had been established, leading Talavera into what is called the "golden age" from 1650 to 1750. During this time, the preferred use of blue on Talavera pottery was reinforced by the influence of China's Ming dynasty through imported Chinese ceramics that came to Mexico via the Manila galleons.  Italian influences in the 18th century introduced the use of other colors. The tradition that developed is called Talavera Poblana to distinguish it from Talavera pottery of Spain.

The process to create Talavera pottery is elaborate and has basically not changed since the early colonial period.  The first step is to mix black sand from Amozoc and white sand from Tecali. It is then washed and filtered to keep only the finest particles. This can reduce the volume by fifty percent. Next the piece is shaped by hand on a potter's wheel, then left to dry for a number of days.  Then comes the first firing, done at 850 °C (1,560 °F).  The piece is tested to see if there are any cracks in it. The initial glazing, which creates the milky-white background, is applied. After this, the design is hand painted.  Finally, a second firing is applied to harden the glaze. This process takes about three months for most pieces, but some pieces can take up to six months. This process is so plagued with the possibility of irreparable damage that during colonial times, artisans prayed special prayers during the firing process.

The tradition has struggled, during the Mexican War of Independence, the potters' guild and the ordinances of the 17th century were abolished. This allowed anyone to make the ceramic in any way, leading to a decline in quality.  The war disrupted trade among the Spanish colonies and cheaper English porcelain was being imported. The Talavera market crashed. Out of the forty-six workshops that were producing in the 18th century, only seven remained after the war.

Efforts by artists and collectors revived the craft in the early 20th century.  In the late 20th century there has been a further revival with the introduction of new decorative designs and the passage of the Denominación de Origen de la Talavera law to protect authentic Talavera pieces made with the original 16th century methods. Today, only pieces made by workshops that have been certified are permitted to call their work "Talavera."  Certification is issued by the Consejo Regulador de la Talavera, which performs a twice-yearly inspection of the manufacturing processes.  Only nine workshops have so far been certified: Uriarte Talavera, Talavera La Reyna, Talavera Armando, Talavera Celia, Talavera Santa Catarina, Talavera de la Nueva Espana, Talavera de la Luz, Talavera de las Americas, and Talavera Virglio Perez. In addition, the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Puebla tests to ensure that the glaze does not have lead content of more than 2.5 parts per million or cadmium content of more than 0.25 parts per million, as many of the pieces are used to serve food. Only pieces from workshops that meet the standards are authorized to have the potter’s signature, the workshop logo, and the hologram that certifies the piece's authenticity.

Some workshops in Puebla offer guided tours and explain the processes involved. The oldest certified, continuously operating workshop is in Uriarte, founded in 1824.  Another certified workshop, Talavera de la Reina, is known for revitalizing the decoration of the ceramics with the work of 1990s Mexican artists.  The photographs are from these two workshops.

Talavera is mostly used to make utilitarian items such as plates, bowls, jars, flowerpots, sinks, religious items and decorative figures. The Puebla kitchen is a traditional environment of Talavera pottery, from the tiles that decorate the walls and counters to the dishes. Historically tiles were used to decorate both the inside and outside of buildings in Mexico, especially in Puebla. Many of the facades in the historic center are decorated with these tiles called azulejos and can be found on fountains, patios, the facades of homes, churches and other buildings, forming an important part of Puebla's Baroque architecture. This use of azulejos attested to the family's or church's wealth. This led to a saying "to never be able to build a house with tiles", which meant to not amount to anything in life. Please visit my picasa web album for a full set of pictures covering the fabrication of Talavera ceramics. Talavera de la Reina is on the web at and Uriarte Talavera at

Casa de Alfeñique a classic example of Puebla's tiled buildings.

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