The Porras Ceramic Studio in Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rolando learned how to produce colorful earthenware from his innovative late mother, Dolores Porras. He and his wife, Lorena Lavida, continue the family tradition, producing unique glazed and unglazed functional and sculptural pieces. What follows is a quick look at their work and how it is produced.


Two locally-found clays are purchased from venders. The black clay (which fires to a buff color) is clean, so only water is added to get it to a working consistency. The white clay contains debris, so has to be pulverized and sifted. Powdered white clay is mixed with wet black clay in varying amounts - depending on the needs. Sometimes the two clays are mixed in equal proportions, but a mixture of 4 parts black clay with 6 parts white clay is better for sculpting. A mixture of 8 parts black clay with 2 parts white clay is good for throwing on the kick wheel. Slip is painted onto some pieces before they are fired.

Rolando likes to experiment. When I visited he was developing a lead-free green glaze that fires like a glossy transparent lead-based green glaze. Rolando's formula replaces lead with safer and less expensive boron, but this glaze requires a longer firing time - not a problem because the higher temperature produces stronger cooking ware.

Rolando fires his tests in this small kiln. In addition to glaze and clay body trials, he's also trying out a new fuel made of compressed sawdust.

Glazed vessels are stacked on the bottom, topped by unglazed ware. The very top of the kiln is covered with broken pottery to help keep in the heat. The firing only lasts a few hours. Scrap wood from a lumber yard is pushed into the fire box one piece at a time to gradually increase the temperature to around 1500°F.

When the top pieces have turned white, the kiln has reached temperature and is ready to unload. Lorena and Rolando unload the kiln hot (notice the flames in the firebox) so that the molten glaze on the pots is still soft enough that the pots separate (so that the pots do not stick together).

After removing the shards from the top, the bisqued pieces (that will later be glazed, then refired) are unloaded onto the ground.

Lastly, the large glazed casseroles are unloaded. The glaze pings as it hits the cool air - but this is not a problem - because the clay and glaze of these cooking pots are formulated to withstand dramatic temperature changes.

Another successful firing! Potters have been producing ceramics in Atzompa for more than a thousand years. Kick wheels and glazes were introduced to the Americas by Spaniards during the Colonial Period. Spanish and other European potters of the same period used wood-fired updraft kilns that looked a lot like Rolando's kiln.

Rolando's kiln is made of bricks. Pre-Columbian kilns were made of adobe and did not use a metal grate as a support, but kilns excavated in the nearby Atzompa archaeological site are very similar. Both kilns are constructed as a large open cylinder with a fire box on the bottom, slightly below ground level.

This reconstruction of a pre-Columbian kiln at the Atzompa site has it's problems, but the shape and firebox appear to be correct. Because it is so similar to Spanish kilns, little credit is given to the pre-Columbian origins of kilns in this region.

Rolando and his wife accept special orders and like to collaborate with other potters and artists. For more information, or to take a class, please contact Rolando (in Spanish) at:

Taller Dolores Porras
Avenida Hidalgo #502
Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca
México

Phone: 951-251-4373
email: regino.rolando@gmail.com

This page in Spanish

I highly recommend our bilingual guides, Juan Ruiz Alfaro (tourguidejuan@yahoo.com.mx) and Xitlalli Ruiz (xitlalli.ruiz@gmail.com), because Juan and Xitlalli (pronounced "she-TLAH-lee") know everyone and everything about Oaxaca and either one can drive you anywhere in their own cars or one or both can guide a large or small group in a chauffeured van or bus. Juan and Xitlalli can also make hotel arrangements in Oaxaca for small and large groups.

LINKS:
Clay Filigree of the Velasco Villanueva Family of Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico
Mexican Ceramist, Capelo
Mexican Ceramist, Angelica Escarcega Rodriguez
Mexican Ceramist, José Luis Méndez Ortega
Mexican Ceramists, Guevara Ceramics
Mexican Ceramist, Tecpatl Ceramics    
Pre-Columbian Maya Ceramic Reproductions  
ARTCERA Wax Figures of Mexico
Tinsmithing in Guanajuato, Mexico
Backstrap Weaving School at Santa Maria del Rio, Mexico
Backstrap Woven Shawls of Esperanza Valencia Morra of Morelia
Foot-Loom Weaving in Central Mexico
Marquetry Boxes of José Antonio Rodríguez Salazar of Santa Maria del Rio, Mexico
Fernando Giron Pantoja, Woodcarver of Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato, Mexico
Francisco Garcia Guevara, Jeweler in Guanajuato, Mexico
Ikat Shawls of Uriangato and Moroleon, Mexico
Gobelin Tapestry Weaving in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico
Mexican Cane baskets
Margarita Orozco Ramirez of San Miguel de Allende Papermaker
Los Leñateros Papermaking, Printmaking, and Book Arts Studio of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico
Carmen Betancourt Icons of Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico
Roof Tiles in Bali, Indonesia  
Tiles and Ceramics of Seville, Spain  
Tiles and Ceramics of Talavera de la Reina, Spain
Tiles and Ceramics of Ubeda, Spain  
Monje Ceramics of Lora del Rio, Spain
Earthenware Tiles of Portugal  
Majolica Ceramics of Caldas da Rainha, Portugal
Traditional Dunzi Production in Yaoli, China
Porcelain production in Jingdezhen, China    

Web page, photographs, and text by Carol Ventura in 2013. Please look at Carol's home page to see more about crafts around the world.