- Most of the pieces produced nowadays are ornamental. The utilitarian persistence of small pitchers is important, however, for they are used to serve mezcal.
- he production technique has come down from pre-Hispanic times, but this kind of pottery became popular during the twentieth century with the arrival of international tourism to Oaxaca.
For thousands of years the abundant grayish clay in the central region of today’s State of Oaxaca has been a source of raw material to make articles for the kitchen and decorative items as well. They include pitchers, jugs, and large and small pots, along with the same items decorated with openwork, bells, candlesticks, toys such as whistles and piggy banks, decorative religious figures, sculptures depicting everyday life, copies of pre-Hispanic creations, and jewelry.
The raw material is ancient and traditionally produced pottery with only a matte finish, but the technique used for today’s ware, which is darker in color and more burnished is attributed to Doña Rosa Real Mateo, a legendary potter with foresight. In the mid-twentieth century she sought to create pieces that would be more attractive to the growing surge of tourists that were discovering the state at that time.
She used simple tools: a primitive potter’s wheel, bits of pottery for smoothing, and a stone for burnishing. The process starts with preparation of the clay and modeling of the piece, which is then put out in the sun to dry. Then comes the finish, which may involve several techniques, depending on the desired effect: smoothing, burnishing, openwork, incising, and painting. The firing is done with reduction of oxygen in the kiln by covering the entrances from time to time so there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, which results in the characteristic black color.
The Oaxaca village of San Bartolo Coyotepec is the center of production of simple utilitarian pieces and elaborate decorative pieces alike.