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There is a place in the far south of Mexico where the potters of a thousand years still work . . .


he place is Oaxaca (wah-HA-ka), a wrinkled land of misted forest mountains and hot cactus valleys. The potters are Zapotecs, Mixes (ME-hays), Mixtecs (ME-tex), and Triques (TREE-kays). Their work is the humble creation of a jug for carrying water, a pot for cooking beans, a bowl for storing corn.


rom clay, fire, and hands full of knowledge passed from mother to daughter in an unbroken lineage that fades into the days of another age comes to life the pot. It is formed without a wheel and shaped with simple tools: a piece of gourd, a strip of leather, and the deep experience of patient time. It is warmed in the morning sun and fired in an open bonfire. What emerges from the flame is the creation of simple perfection and grace, the work of masters.




n the waning days of this century the pottery of Oaxaca is disappearing. Tin, plastic, and aluminum are impatiently filling the place of clay. Today the potters still work, the pottery lives. But the question arises, how many more mothers will be able to pass the ways of clay, fire, and hands down to their daughters?


This is the landscape of Oaxaca . . .


ar in the south of Mexico where Middle America begins to crumple and twist into the long land bridge that ties it with South America, rising from the Pacific where the Southern Sierra Madre mixes with the clouds, where the centuries have seen empires rise and fall, where the corn has not ceased to grow in untold thousands of years, lies the state called Oaxaca. It is a place absent of subtlety, a land where no one piece of ground resembles another. Quiet coastal beaches disappear into hot thorny lowland scrub which is lost in pungent foothill jungles that cool into mountain cloud forests. The hard edged mountains tumble into canyons that spread beyond to a broken arid interior cut by jumbled mountain ranges and broad valleys of cactus, zapote, stone and dusty arroyos. The land burns under a persistent sun until the sudden roar of summer rains turns all a wet, brilliant green and sets the arroyos thundering with torrents of red, earth drenched water.




t is in this disparate land, beside the rivers and tempered arroyos, grouped in dusky forests and among the ever present cactus, dotted in the sharp mountains and filling the valleys, where the abundances of nature or accidents of history have placed them, that the people of Oaxaca live. For well over ten thousand years the people, like the cactus, stones and clay, have survived in this wild land.




ive hundred years ago the Spanish conquest turned the nations of Middle America upside down and placed them on the path of forming modern day Mexico. The old leaders have been replaced by new ones. The ancient gods have been renamed. Wires and asphalt have spread across the hills. But quietly living on to the cadence of the summer rains and the harvest of the corn, shaded by the cactus in the vastness of a turbulent land are the same people that have awaited the summer rains for hundreds of generations. These are the people who are the heart and pulse of Oaxaca.



he Oaxacans today are an immense mosaic of peoples, ancient tribes, nations and races: the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, direct descendants of two of Meso Americas greatest civilizations, the Ayu'uk, immigrated from Peru six hundred years ago on a quest to find a holy mountain, the Chontales and Triques, the Huaves, Chinantecos, Amuzgos, Zoques, Cuicatecos, Tacuates, Chatinos. . .They, more than the arroyos and forests, the copal and acacia, give Oaxaca its mystique. It is a primordial presence, the sense that the most basic and fundamentally human energy is close to the surface, that man and the nature that bore him still live together in the same house.


These are the people who are the potters of Oaxaca.


Traditions Mexico will introduce you to the potters of Oaxaca . . .

Traditions Mexico groups visit Oaxacan potters with these trips and workshops: Day of the Dead and Festival Arts of Oaxaca, Flavors of Oaxaca, A Culinary Tour with Professional Chef Scott Thornton, and Oaxacan Clay Workshop. We also have two slideshows showing forming and firing, and a DVD showing the San Marcos pottery-making process.


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Seven Oaxaca Pottery Villages