Come visit the villages, meet the potters,
and see the pottery they make . . .
On this page we join Traditions Mexico Hands-on Tours for a virtual journey to seven
pottery villages spread throughout Oaxaca's mountains and valleys.
The works of each village are distinct in color, form and texture
- a function of local clay types and specific adaptations evolved through
The corn is ground daily on stone
Our Traditions Mexico van takes our group down a smooth and straight road through the eastern arm of the Valley of Oaxaca. Ahead, nestled against the lower slopes of a small but rugged mountain range dividing the valley lies the town of San Marcos Tlapazola. If you travel that road, you may pass a colectivo, a pickup fitted with wooden bench seats along the sides of the bed, used for local public transportation, or a farmer with his cart and burro. Likely you will pass nothing at all, except some rows of corn or agave, and the crumbling ruins of an adobe hacienda.
San Marcos is a village of potters, and Eric Mindling has travelled this road for many years, first to arrange purchases of pottery for export, and later to set up visits by small groups like ours to the homes of the potters. A wrap of Eric's peso on the steel doors within a blank masonry wall facing the dirt village street brings forth smiling women wearing colorful ribbons woven into their long, glossy dark braids. Beyond the door we find a large courtyard of hard-packed earth.
Our journey to
San Marcos and through that gateway takes us a step back in time. This is a very traditional Zapotec village
where the fields are tilled with oxen and the corn for tortillas is ground
daily on stone metates. From the making of the day's pile of tortillas over
the fire at day-break, followed by a few hours turning clay into pots, to
the mid-day meal preparation and trip to the fields to deliver hot bowls
of mole and tamales to husbands and sons, and the late afternoon spent gathering
firewood or visiting neighbors, the rhythms of a potters day have changed
little in 500 years...except for one detail.
Alberta Mateo S., Master Potter of San Marcos, smooths the neck of a pot with a strip of leather.
Mid-afternoon, from 3 o'clock to 5 o'clock, the soap operas are on the tube,
and the clay,
the tortillas, and firewood can all wait just a bit.
San Marcos pots are made with a tan clay that is finished with a colored
slip - a mixture of water and very fine, iron-rich clay. The surface is then
burnished with a smooth stone, giving the pot its shiney red finish.
pots often contain tiny flecks of what appears to be gold. This is mica,
often known as fool's gold. In San Marcos, you will be told that this is gold, and the price of the pot will vary accordingly.