Mexican Folk Art 101: Talavera Pottery
Folk art is rooted in the history and culture of every nation. The appreciation of folk art strengthens the identity of a community and enables it to take pride in its history. In many cases, the appeal of folk art is centered on the many ways it can connect people across cultures, in the sublime appreciation of the different ways in which a community has chosen to express themselves. Folk art comes alive in different ways for different individuals and for different reasons. This series will explore the many ways in which that 'magic' happens.
This series will be divided as follows:
Mexican Folk Art 101: Talavera Pottery
Talavera pottery, also known as ‘talavera poblana’ or simply ‘talavera’ in Spanish, is a type of pottery common in the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala (Secretaria de Economia, 2016). Even though those are the states where it is produced, Talavera is well known across Mexico, particularly when paired with traditional Mexican food. In fact, the Museo Amparo collaborated with Google to provide high quality images of Talavera as a symbol of Mexican cuisine, claiming that ‘the mixture of arts and cultures from colonial Mexico’ (Museo Amparo, n.d.) endures in this pottery. Talavera is a popular choice by Mexican families when it comes to crockery and cookware. In fact, the products that are often sold and photographed in Talavera workshops are mainly of plates, mugs, bowls, and jugs, as seen in an article featuring a few of the most prominent locations to obtain this type of pottery: Fabrica de Talavera Armando, Casa de Talavera Celia, Talavera de La Luz, and Uriarte Talavera (Chino Poblano, 2022).
The origins and the materials with which Talavera is made date from the sixteenth century, as well as its traditional colour palette composed mainly of blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve (Secretaria de Economia, 2016). These same colours are also often present in other traditional types of folk art such as alebrijes, Trees of Life, and skulls and skeletons often used as decorations during the Day of the Dead. The colours are part of the charm of this type of pottery, but Talavera also appeals to those who are ecologically conscious since it is made with completely natural materials (UNESCO, 2018).
As previously mentioned, Talavera is produced in today’s areas of Puebla and Tlaxcala. These areas are where the indigenous peoples known as the Cholutecs, the Tlaxcaltecas and the Mixtecs developed a type of coloured earthenware which was used both in daily life and in religious ceremonies (Anahuac, 2020). After the Spanish conquest of 1521, however, majolica pottery, a type of pottery that can either be lead or tin glazed (Wallis, n.d.), was introduced to the area. Thanks to the precedent of coloured earthenware, it was easy for the new settlers to find the materials required for Talavera pottery. This allowed artisans from Spain, who worked in workshops commonly known as the Queen’s Talavera Workshops near Toledo, to settle easily in the area (Anahuac, 2020). Given that the items made in these workshops were used in daily life, there was a constant demand for Talavera pottery, which in turn allowed for its production to continue uninterrupted as the years passed.
Talavera has been influenced by many cultures throughout history, although some of these are subtler than others. Between the years 1600 to 1790 there was an Italian influence in the pottery, which can be recognized in the use of green, yellow, orange, blue and black colours on white background (UNESCO, 2018). Slightly overlapping with this, between the years 1650 - 1790, there are also records of Chinese influence in the scenes depicted in the pottery, particularly in Talavera with blue colouring and black borders (UNESCO, 2018). From 1800 to 1860, however, Hispanic influences were prominent, new colours such as ‘punche blue (a pale blue)’ (UNESCO, 2018, p.3), and motifs were introduced, particularly those that depicted saints, angels and virgins (UNESCO, 2018). Talavera pieces today continue to borrow from these past impressions and it is possible to appreciate the use of similar palettes in pieces in museums such as the Museo Amparo in Puebla.
In order to protect Talavera, its artisans, and its history, a resolution was passed in 1995 granting protection to the Denomination of Origin ‘Talavera de Puebla’. The resolution was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation (or in Spanish ‘Diario Oficial de la Federación’) which ratified the elements and conditions of a unique product in the world with a long history and tradition. A subsequent Denomination in 1997 changed the name from ‘Talavera Poblana’ to ‘Talavera’ although both terms are used interchangeably today (El Universal Puebla, 2021). Talavera’s status as a protected form of folk art brought about higher standards to be required for every finished product. New rules were established by the artisans to ensure each piece is of high quality. Some of these rules include the usage of cobalt blue and pewter for better texture, a signature on each piece to guarantee that each one is unique, and annual inspections by members of the guild (Anahuac, 2020). Each of these rules must be followed in the process of making Talavera, which can take a few days to complete, depending on the size and weight of the item, the design, and the colours used.
The newspaper El Universal Puebla (2021) describes the process in stages, stating that first it is important to combine black and white sand with water, and eliminate impurities such as rocks or organic matter, then this mixture is moved to a gutter-like container in which it is kneaded. The process of kneading can often be extremely time consuming, and more so when there is a high volume of mixture. The third step is to filter the water to reduce the mixture and finally begin working with it on a pottery wheel. After the material is worked on the wheel, it is necessary for it to air dry and then it is finally moved to an oven. Before the colour can be added to each Talavera piece, it needs to be bathed in a mixture of silica sand, piloncillo (a type of unrefined cane sugar that is also used in Mexican cuisine) and tin (El Universal Puebla, 2021). This process is unique and in order to protect it, UNESCO declared it an intangible cultural heritage in 2020, and stated that Talavera master artisans ‘who dominate these knowledges are recognized and sought after to transmit them to new generations’ (UNESCO, 2018, p.1). Artisans don’t teach Talavera en masse, they do it by having only a handful of apprentices at a time because of the time and effort that learning this folk art requires.
Collections of Talavera pottery in Mexico and abroad, such as the one in exhibition in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have aided in its preservation as well as workshops hosted by artisans for the general public. Renewed interest in Talavera has led to a resurgence in the production of new pieces and has opened up new opportunities for research as well as an expansion of the field (Museo Amparo, 202). Talavera pottery has historically reflected artistic and cultural movements around the world and it is expected to continue to do so, as the Museo Amparo has noted in its 2021 monograph El renacimiento de la talavera en Puebla, de 1890 a 1940: la Colección del Museo Amparo (The renaissance of Talavera in Puebla, from 1890 to 1940: the Collection of Museo Amparo). Whether it is used as a mortar, in a vase, in plates or as tiled decorations of buildings’ interiors and exteriors, Talavera pottery continues to play a significant role in Mexican culture. The history of Talavera encapsulates, in a sense, the history of Mexico itself, from its humble earthen beginnings to its diverse and bright present-day history. The ability to obtain a piece of pottery and to be able to trace back its origins, to decipher each and every international influence in the design, and finally to arrive at the core of its being is essential for the appreciation of the interconnectedness of this vast and beautiful world. In each brushstroke and colour combination, each scene depicted and story told, Talavera carries a little bit of history.
Chino Poblano. (2022). Everything You Need to Know About Talavera Pottery in Puebla, Mexico. Discover Puebla. https://discoverpuebla.net/talavera-pottery-in-puebla-mexico/
El Universal Puebla. (2021, March 17th). ¿Qué es la talavera de Puebla? ABC de esta artesanía Patrimonio de la Humanidad. El Universal Puebla. https://www.eluniversalpuebla.com.mx/que-hacer/que-es-la-talavera-de-puebla-abc-de-esta-artesania-patrimonio-de-la-humanidad
Generacion Anahuac. (2020). Denominación de origen: Talavera Poblana. https://www.anahuac.mx/generacion-anahuac/denominacion-de-origen-talavera-poblana
Museo Amparo and Google. (n.d.) ¿Cómo se convirtió la talavera en símbolo de la cocina poblana? Museo Amparo. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/9wUR35HRu4rYgA?hl=es-MX
Museo Amparo. (2020). EMMA YANES | LUIS VENTOSA Y EL RESURGIMIENTO DE LA TALAVERA POBLANA A PRINCIPIOS DEL SIGLO XX. Museo Amparo. https://museoamparo.com/actividades/detalle/2453/luis-ventosa-y-el-resurgimiento-de-la-talavera-poblana-a-principios-del-siglo-xx
UNESCO. (2018, September 20th). Ficha de Registro para el Inventario del Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial de México. UNESCO. https://ich.unesco.org/doc/src/41599.pdf
Secretaria de Economia. (2016, July 23rd). ¿Sabías que la talavera tiene Denominación de Origen? Gobierno Federal. https://www.gob.mx/se/articulos/sabias-que-la-talavera-tiene-denominacion-de-origen?idiom=es
Wallis, Rebecca. (n.d.) What are maiolica and majolica? National Trust. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/what-are-maiolica-and-majolica
Yanes Rizo, E. (2021). El renacimiento de la talavera en Puebla, de 1890 a 1940: la Colección del Museo Amparo. Museo Amparo. https://museoamparo.com/biblioteca/publicacion/32/el-renacimiento-de-la-talavera-en-puebla-de-1890-a-1940-la-coleccion-del-museo-amparo
Castanares, J. (28th November 2019). An artisan working on Talavera. Retrieved from: https://www.chicagotribune.com/espanol/sns-es-unesco-talavera-mexico-patrimonio-de-la-humanidad-20200228-vxobivokzrdnnecglb5fuj7rf4-story.html
Cerón, A. (20th Century).Talavera Pottery. [Photograph]. Retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Artesan%C3%ADas_de_Puebla%2C_México.JPG. Koffermejia. (20th Century). Doll House in Puebla, Mexico. [Photograph]. Retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/La_Casa_de_los_muñecos.jpg.
Linares Garcia, A. (20th Century). Talavera tile section at the San Pedro y San Pablo College in the historic center of Mexico City. [Photograph]. Retrieved from: Century.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MuseoConstituciones21.JPG
Linares Garcia, A. (20th Century). 19th century vase at the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City. [Photograph]. Retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Talavera19thFMayer.jpg