Black Clay and Red Clay: The Magic of Oaxaca
There’s magic in the ground in Oaxaca. With more than 70 different pottery communities, it is one of the most diverse regions in all of Mexico. These pottery pieces are formed exactly as they have been for hundreds of years – creating classic elegant clay objects that embrace the wisdom of the ancestors. Oaxaca is one of the few regions in Mexico that can claim “continuance of ancestral crafts”, which are still commonly used in everyday life and have been since their inception. Parts of Oaxaca are very untouched by modern culture – for example, meals are often cooked over open fire. Because of this continuance of ancestral tradition, picking up a piece of Oaxacan pottery is like holding centuries of history in your hand.
BLACK CLAY OF OAXACA
World-famous, the black clay of Oaxaca comes from one region and one region only: San Bartolo Coyotepec. The special properties of this clay cannot be found anywhere else. Each piece is shaped by hand (no potter’s wheels here) and baked in a fire of thick black smoke. The combination of clay and process makes these ‘Black Clay’ or ‘Barro Negro’ pieces one of the most sought-after pottery styles in all of Mexico.
Literally translated as “black mud”, Barro Negro pottery is a superb example of slow design: each piece takes about 20 days to complete. The origin of Barro Negro pottery dates back to Monte Albán, one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica. While the designs have evolved to encompass many modern needs, the techniques used to create these dramatic pieces have remained true to their ancestral roots.
For example, Obakki’s Serena Fruit Bowl, with its eye-catching design, is built to extend the shelf life of your fruit, keeping it fresh and cool. And there is no denying that our Onyx Collection of black dinnerware provides the perfect background to plate your food like a pro. And then our Coyotepec Barro Negro vases – imagine these rich black clay vessels full of scarlet gerbera. Or yellow sunflowers. Or white daisies. You get the picture.
RED CLAY OF OAXACA
San Marcos Tlapazola, a rural Zapotec village outside Oaxaca City, is well-known for its unique red clay and the cookware made using techniques handed down for 20 generations. The Women of the Clay (the estimated 300 potters in the village are all women) use their hands to create cookware from the unique red clay that the area is known for.
This clay is well known for its ability to withstand extremely high heat. Obakki’s Clemente cooking pan and Macedonia cooking pot are both ideal vessels for open fire cooking. Or you can use either right on top of your barbecue if you don’t have an area where you can safely set up a campfire.
This rich red clay also makes a dramatic candle holder, easily able to withstand the heat of the candle’s flame. The dappled shadows cast by this pierced clay candle holder create a light show that will set the mood for all seasons — indoors or out. Shop more red clay candle holders here.
MIXTECA POTTERY OF OAXACA
In the rural hills Santa Domingo Tonaltepec, Oaxaca – unique pottery pieces are created using ancient traditions from the Mixteca Alta region. In an area with less than 7,000 in habitants, most of the population is indigenous and includes Mazatecos, Zapotecos and Mixtecos. It is these ancient cultures who perfected this mottled clay design.
A distinctive mix of stain – created with tannins from the oak tree and juice from the prickly pear cactus – is dropped on the clay pieces with much sizzle and fanfare after pulling the pottery from a 900° Celsius oven. Yet, these random-seeming designs are anything but, having been created from centuries of experience and tradition.
Both Obakki’s Mixteca Fruit Bowl and Chico Bowl are designed for modern-day use but came to be using ancient traditions. There’s lasting synchronicity in using lessons from ancient cultures to create modern designs – it’s the place where the slow design of our ancestors meets the slow design movement emerging today. And ironically, more slow design can’t happen quickly enough.
OBJECTS BORN OF FIRE
Black Clay of Oaxaca. Red Clay of Oaxaca. The Mixteca Pottery of Oaxaca. All of these Obakki pieces are shaped by hand with the thought and care that comes from generations of understanding local roots, culture, and traditions. Mexico’s pottery practices date back 3,000 years and each hand-turned object is a piece of history, as well as a piece of art.
If you treat your Oaxacan clay pieces lovingly and with care, they will grow old along with you.
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My pottery is inspired by the generations that came before me who have passed down this sacred craft. In my community you are born, raised and live each day by the clay—the Holy Mother. Every part of my being is woven through the story of this magical mud.
Summertime, and the living is easy. In this week's Journal, we take you to the magical Italian island of Sardinia. Perhaps a quick pit stop for a refreshing summer cocktail might be in order.
I try to marry modern and classic design while taking cues from the environment of the Pacific Northwest around us. I like the idea of having a timeless aesthetic, distilling the essence of a space, and focusing on tactile and natural materials that don’t feel rooted in a single moment in time.