Black Clay from Oaxaca

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Black Clay (barro negro in Spanish) from Oaxaca famous for its color, sheen and unique shapes and decorative designs is made in a small village called San Bartolo Coyotepec, and although the ancient Zapotecs already used the same clay to make their pottery ware it was thanks to Rosa Real's technique that it became world famous.

Black Clay Vase
History
San Bartolo Coyotepec is a Zapotec community with a pottery tradition that goes back more than 2000 years.

The settlement was known as Zaapeche, (place of many jaguars) by the Zapotec and after the Spanish conquest was named San Bartolome Coyotepec by Bartolome Sanchez, a conqueror awarded a local Encomienda, who built the first town,s church in 1532.

The area soils made grayish mate clay that was used by potters to make jars and dishes. For centuries no significant change in the pottery making process was made until the early 1950's when potter Rosa Real discovered that by polishing the clay pieces before they were completely dry and lowering the firing temperature the clay changed its color to a shiny black.

The spin made by Doña Rosa turned the barro negro from Oaxaca into an international hit and soon tourists from around the world began traveling to San Bartolo Coyotepec to visit Doña Rosa's workshop. Black clay technique spread around town and other workshops began to produce it.

Black Clay Vase
Doña Rosa's Pottery
Doña Rosa and her husband Juventino Nieto had been potters all their life; they made a living by selling mezcal holders and jars and after the successful invention of the black clay technique they created new vases, pots and candle holders designs decorated with intricate openwork flowers, leaves and geometric forms.

Don Juventino passed away in 1978 followed by Doña Rosa in 1980. Their son Valente Nieto ran the workshop until his death in 2010. Nowadays Doña Rosa's workshop is run by Valente's sons.

Black Clay Vase

Making Process
The color of the barro negro is the natural color of the clay found in the area. The clay is shaped in the same way the ancient Zapotec used to do it, in the Zapotec wheel, which is a disc or plate balanced over another inverted plate.

The piece is shaped by coiling or molding and then it is finished while turned on the disc. The disc with the vessel in progress is turned only with the hands so balance and skill are required.

After the pieces are shaped they are set to dry in a room, this process can take around 3 weeks. When the pieces are almost dry, the surface is lightly moistened and polished with a quartz stone.

At this stage decorative accents such as flower drawings, intricate openwork or small handles are added. The pieces are then fired in wood firing underground pits or above the ground kilns reaching 700°C to 800°C. These low firing temperatures produce a fragile clay that can be used only to decorative purposes.

Black Clay Vase

Carlomagno Pedro Martínez
Carlomagno Pedro Martinez is a sculptor from San Bartolo Coyotepec born August 17, 1965 in a family of potters. He began sculpting figurines on black clay at a young age and at 18 he enrolled in the Rufino Tamayo Workshop in Oaxaca City. After that he won a scholarship to study in the U.S.A.

In 1996 he founded a workshop in his hometown where he teaches sculpting to children and created a new art form in barro negro: the clay figures.

Carlomagno sculptures are inspired in traditional Oaxaca characters, Catholic events, Day of the Dead and Carnivals. Every sculpture is hand coiled and unique. He has exhibited his artwork in galleries in Mexico and U.S.A.

One of his most outstanding pieces is the black clay mural called Juego en el Inframundo (Game in the Underworld) created especially for the San Bartolo Coyotepec High Performance Baseball Academy.

The mural depicts five Mixteca ball skeleton players on each side flanking 2 baseball skeleton players and a skeleton umpire in the center. On the umpire's head lies a jaguar, the most emblematic animal in the town's culture.

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Carlomagno Pedro Martinez ball game
Ball Game in the Underworld by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez
San Bartolo Coyotepec's Baseball Academy

Oaxaca State Museum of Popular Arts
Another attraction on San Bartolo Coyotepec, the museum is dedicated to promote Oaxacan artisans work and its cultural background. The collection includes a wide variety of barro negro pieces some of them dating from pre-Hispanic times and modern pieces made by current artisans. The museum director is sculptor Carlomagno Pedro Martínez.

Coyotepec Museum of Popular Arts

Oaxaca State Museum of Popular Arts, San Bartolo Coyotepec




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