The Mexican city most famous for its pottery is Guadalajara. Located in the state of Jalisco in western Mexico, Guadalajara has a long history of producing brightly colored and beautifully crafted pottery. For centuries, artisans in Guadalajara have been making a wide array of ceramic wares, from functional pots and dishes to decorative vases, figurines, and tiles. The city’s pottery shops and markets are filled with locally produced items showcasing the strong tradition of pottery-making that continues today.
History of Pottery in Guadalajara
Pottery production has been an integral part of Guadalajara’s culture since pre-Hispanic times. Long before the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, indigenous groups like the Teuchitlán and Tonalá were creating utilitarian vessels and figurines from the region’s abundant clay deposits. After the Spanish conquest, European and Asian techniques and styles influenced the development of Guadalajara’s pottery arts. Brightly painted majolica wares were produced in the colonial period, showcasing the cross-cultural exchange.
In the early 20th century, pottery-making was revitalized in the town of Tonalá on Guadalajara’s outskirts. Tonalá became a hub for the production of new styles, shapes, and decorative techniques in Jalisco’s pottery. The potters of Tonalá recovered ancient indigenous forms and glazes and combined them with European glazing and firing methods to create unique pieces unlike pottery from anywhere else in Mexico. Today, Tonalá remains famous for its pottery shops filled with the work of hundreds of artisans.
Types of Pottery Produced in Guadalajara
Guadalajara pottery encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques. Here are some of the major types produced in the city’s workshops:
This polished pottery dates back to ancient indigenous traditions. Clay fired at a high temperature is polished until it becomes very smooth and shiny. It often features painted or etched decorations in traditional patterns.
This style is characterized by its colorful, waving,旗-like decorative patterns reminiscent of banners or flags. Bold red, green, yellow, and blue designs are painted by hand on a white background.
Cantera pottery is made using molds carved from stone. It results in very thin, delicate pieces with intricately molded relief patterns. Vases and platters are common Cantera forms.
This pottery is intricately carved or molded with complex geometric patterns often featuring repetitive linear and diamond shapes. It is traditionally colored with bright hues of green, pink, yellow, orange and blue.
In this burnished style, patterns are etched into leather-hard clay using specialized tools. The surface is then carefully polished to create shiny, raised designs contrasting with the matte background.
Microondas combines traditional forms with modern, satiny glazes in rich colors like cobalt blue, pink, and metallic copper produced through high-firing techniques. The name comes from the microwave kilns used by workshops.
Notable Pottery Techniques
Guadalajara potters utilize a variety of specialized techniques and production methods:
Plaster molds are used to shape wet clay into boxes, figurines, plates, jars, and other forms. Molds allow for consistency and intricate shaping.
The potter’s wheel is used to throw and form round vessels with thin walls and precise symmetry, like cups, vases, and bowls. Skilled throwing produces finely shaped pieces.
Long coils of clay are stacked and joined to build up tall, round-bottomed vessels and jars known as tibores. Coiling allows large pots to be constructed by hand.
Liquid clay slip is applied to unfired pottery to draw or paint decorative designs in a tradition dating back centuries. Common motifs include flowers, birds, geometric patterns, and scenes from local culture.
Glazes in vibrant colors are applied before firing to coat and color the clay. Guadalajara potters use diverse traditional, high-fire, and low-fire glazes to create striking visual effects.
Gas-fueled kilns allow pottery pieces to be fired at high temperatures between 1000-1600°F to fully mature and harden clay and glazes. Different firing methods produce unique textures and colors.
Signature Styles and Motifs
Stylized flowers, birds, geometric designs, and local cultural elements are common motifs found on Guadalajara pottery. Here are some popular and recognizable styles:
Tonalá Bruñida Roosters
Roosters are one of the most iconic motifs in Guadalajara pottery. These burnished clay roosters from Tonalá are intricately etched with feathers and patterns.
Ocumicho Devil Figures
From the village of Ocumicho outside the city, these distinctive devil figures have bulging eyes and mischievous expressions. They often carry canes or pitchforks.
Scenes of daily life, festivals, and local culture are painted on platters, vases, tiles, and figurines. Mariachi players and dancing charros (horsemen) are typical themes.
Tree of Life
This complex motif depicts a tree laden with birds, flowers, fruits, and human figures. It represents interconnectedness and is rendered in bright colors and textures.
Mata Ortiz Pottery
The potters of Mata Ortiz revived Casas Grandes-style pre-Hispanic pottery with black geometric designs on cream backgrounds. Their work is now collected worldwide.
Major Pottery Centers in Guadalajara
Here are some of the top places to find locally produced Guadalajara pottery:
This town is packed with pottery workshops, retail stores, and a thriving daily market. Bargaining is expected as you browse the enormous selection.
The beautiful colonial district of Tlaquepaque has high-end galleries, shops, and boutiques selling pottery alongside other arts and crafts.
San Pedro Tlaquepaque Market
Every Sunday, this huge market expands out from Tlaquepaque’s picturesque colonial center. It’s a prime spot to buy pottery from artisans.
Mercado de Artesanías
Guadalajara’s large municipal handicrafts market has hundreds of stalls selling locally produced pottery alongside other folk arts.
Andador Crafts Plaza
Near Guadalajara’s cathedral, this pedestrian street is lined with shop after shop stocked with colorful glazed pottery and clay figurines.
Izamal Handicrafts Market
Small workshops and craft stalls surround this open-air market. It specializes in Ocumicho-style pottery and devil figures.
Nuevo Centro Artesanal
Managed by the Jalisco state government, this facility in Tlaquepaque promotes quality crafts. The stores showcase some of Guadalajara’s finest pottery.
Well-Known Pottery Families
Many talented pottery dynasties have kept the craft alive across generations. These are some of the most acclaimed families:
For over 200 years across eight generations, the Pérez family has crafted Tonalá burnished pottery. Their barro bruñido roosters and nativities are highly valued.
This family pioneered the revival of petatillo pottery. Their workshop in San Antonio produces prizewinning petatillo vases, urns, and sculpture.
Originating in Italy, the Bugarinis have created majolica, Cantera stoneware, and bruñida wares in Tonalá for nearly a century through four generations. Their trademark is craftmanship and quality.
This Ocumicho family workshop started in the 1950s. Their whimsical devil figures made of clay from Ocumicho canyon are favorites among collectors.
In Tlaquepaque, the Macías family handcrafts stunning multicolored pottery using the traditional bandera method. Their pieces incorporate pre-Hispanic motifs.
For three generations, the Sotenos have specialized in intricate petatillo pottery made using molds, a unique coiling method, and wax resist designs. Their talents have won numerous awards.
Future of Pottery in Guadalajara
While remaining rooted in tradition, Guadalajara’s pottery industry continues to evolve in new directions:
Contemporary Design Influences
Many potters are now creating modern, minimalist pieces for contemporary homes, integrating modern aesthetic influences.
New Glaze Experiments
Workshops are continually experimenting with innovative glazes and firing methods, resulting in modern hues and textures. Luster glazes are a current trend.
Updating Traditional Motifs
Artisans are putting modern spins on classics like the Tree of Life, bandera style, and devil figures to appeal to changing tastes.
Collaborations with Foreign Artists
Increasingly, Guadalajara’s potters are collaborating with ceramic artists from around the world to fuse new ideas with Mexican traditions through residencies and joint projects.
Supporting Indigenous Potters
Organizations promote the work of skilled indigenous Zapotec potters who create handmade utilitarian ceramics using ancestral techniques and designs.
Guadalajara potters manage to respect their heritage while pushing pottery arts forward. The city will certainly remain Mexico’s premier destination for innovative, superbly crafted ceramics into the future.
For centuries, Guadalajara has been renowned as Mexico’s capital of ceramics, thanks to the abundant creativity and skill of its potters. Generations of artisans have perpetuated distinctive pottery techniques, styles, and decorative motifs that reveal both indigenous roots and diverse cultural influences. Whether shopping for classic pieces as souvenirs or discovering new, cutting-edge works, visitors will find an incredible selection of quality handmade pottery across the many workshops and markets of Guadalajara and its surrounding towns. The city’s strong pottery traditions continue to evolve in exciting directions while retaining their authentic connections to Jalisco’s history and culture.