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Trip Features

Visits to seven pottery villages; Pre-Colombian pottery forming, Spanish colonial, forming and cone 07 firing, elegant and fantastical sculptural work, ornate low-fire glaze and decoration work

Spanish kiln loading
Surface/tumblstack and updraft kiln firings
Visits with potters featured in Great Masters of Mexican Folkart
Explore Patzcuaro and Morelia
Comfortable inns
An inside look at the important Barro sin Plomo Lead Free pottery program
As always, a small group and a very special way to get deep into Mexico


March 26 - April 4, 2011

An adventure through the beautiful highlands of Michoacan. Five-foot tall vases, slip and burnish decoration, bizarre dreamlike figurative work, lead-free low-fire glaze work, colonial towns, markets, indigenous culture.

This is a potter’s adventure among the villages and artisans of Michoacan, one of the most diverse pottery areas in Mexico and a beautiful landscape of lakes, volcanoes, colonial cities and mud plastered villages. We will visit Purepecha potters in seven indigenous villages whose techniques range from purely pre-Colombian in heritage to colonial Spanish. The pottery covers the spectrum from functional cookware to ornately decorated gallery pieces and just about everything in between.

Where Indigenous pottery villages in Michoacán state in southern Mexico
When Mar 26 - Apr 4, 2011
Duration Ten days
Size 6 to 10 participants
Cost The price of $1,980 includes 3 to 4-star hotels for nine nights (double occupancy), most meals, local transport by private van, entry fees to scheduled museums, ruins and pottery demonstrations. Single supplement $300.
Trip Guide Miguel Angel Nuñez and Nansee New

Our travels will take us to a village that produces four-foot tall urns using pre-Colombian techniques, a village where the finest glaze work is hand painted with 150 dots per inch and the workshops of potters who create bizarre and fascinating sculptures from clay. We’ll visit villages of potters around lake Patzcuaro to see how they form their pots using 450 year old Spanish methods introduced by a visionary friar and learn the tricks used by Hilario Alejos, an artisan featured in the book Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art book, to create the ornate pineapple sculptures of San Jose de la Gracia. We’ll visit the richly textured studio/home of another Great Masters artisan, Neftali Ayunqua and sit down with him for a homemade meal in the courtyard.

Potter in Cocucho
We will focus our visit on potters who are making the shift away from traditional, lead based glazes and meet the folks at Barro Sin Plomo (www.barrosinplomo.org) who have been promoting this shift. There will also be visits to Purepecha ruins, markets, and, with our base camps in the quiet and enchanting colonial town of Patzcuaro and the Spanish jewel of Morelia with its grand plaza, monumental cathedral and fine museums, we will see the loveliest side of old Mexico.



Lake Patzcuaro

B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner included in trip cost

Day 1, Saturday, March 26 (D). This afternoon we will all meet at our hotel in Morelia, Michoacan (direct flights from many major US cities) to get to know each other, talk about the upcoming trip and have dinner. Evening in Morelia


A Wild Ride, by Zenaida Rafaela

Day 2, Sunday, march 27 (BLD). Jumping right in we head inland, traveling through the forested hills and volcano cones of the Purepecha high country. Our first village visit will be Cocucho. This village has become well know in the last decade for its huge urn pots that are decorated with a corn stain. But they’ve been making pots here for a millennium or so. The only thing new about the technique here is the road that now allows the large pots to be taken out in trucks and sold in far and distant cities. Nearby is the village of Ocumicho where it is my suspicion that there is something strange in the water (and I’m not talking about the stuff that causes Montezuma’s Revenge). The clay artists in this village create an endless array of bizarre, fabulous, sometimes nightmarish, and often spectacular sculptures and dream scenes with clay and paint. We will visit with Zenaida Rafaela, a lovely young woman who stands out as the most creative of the ceramicists in Ocumicho and see her pieces and her hands at work. In the evening we will go to a hotel beside a lovely spring-fed lake by the town of Tangancicuaro.

Day 3, Monday, March 28 (BLD). We will spend a slow morning exploring the beautiful, cypress lined lake that backs up to our hotel. Then we travel to the village of Huancito to visit a home workshop that produces comals, or tortilla cooking platters, 3 feet across and casserole dishes made to cook 20 pounds of rice. Nearby is another household that does an older style of pottery, producing stackable water jugs that are slipped with an iron oxide, burnished, and decorated with a paint material found in anthills. We will have a deicious home cooked lunch to top off the day. In the evening we head back to our hotel by the lake. . Evening in Tangancicuaro.


Hanging out at the kilns in Patamban

Day 4, Tuesday, March 29 (BLD). Our first stop this morning will be the workshop of Great Master pottery Hilario Alejos of San Jose de Gracia. Here we will see his family’s spectacular work that incorporates multiple layers of appliqué adornment. The many elements of the finished pieces are created using simple, clay molds. The results are amazing. Then we head to the village of Patamban and the adobe, wood post, tile roof, soil and cobble floored, three kilned, labyrinth, potter’s heaven workshop of Neftali Ayunqua. In this splendid setting we will learn about Neftali’s forming methods brought by the earliest Spanish friars to Mexico. Meanwhile, Neftali’s wife, Ana, will cook us a Purepecha lunch of corundas, churipo and nopales (don’t know what those things are? You’ll have to come to Ana’s kitchen to find out, but I can tell you they are delicious and you can’t get them at any fast food restaurant).. Evening in Tangancicuaro.


Decorated greenware, San Jose de Gracia, Michoacán

Day 5, Wednesday, March 30 (BL). We pack our bags this morning and begin a day long migration to the beautiful colonial town of Patzcuaro that sits on a hill above Lake Patzcuaro. This is a town that, save for the cars and internet cafes, seems not to have changed at all since it was built by Spanish priests and landlords 400 years ago. It does not actually take all day to drive to Patzcuaro, unless you poke around along the way, which is just what we’ll be doing. We will travel to a village where the people create wonderful things from the Lake Patzcuaro cattails, then visit a small distillery that produces mescal and Tequila. Our lunch spot will be at a fine little Mom and Pop restaurant over looking the lake and its islands. On the menu you can choose from a variety of local specialties, including tasty fried minnows. On the last leg of today’s wander we’ll stop in the village of Tocuaro to visit with locally famous mask makers to see their recent creations. In the afternoon we roll into peaceful and lovely Patzcuaro and move into our hotel, which was brand new about 250 years ago, and like good wine has only gotten better with time.


Showing off the goods in Huancito

Day 6, Thursday, March 31 (BL). Today we stay put, sort of. Giving the van a rest we will embark on a leisurly walking tour of Patzcuaro, wandering through its old and grand squares, exploring the market, peeking into a few shops and learning something of the history of the town. We’ll go through the Regional Arts museum and make a mouth watering visit to the offices and showroom of Barro Sin Plomo to see their amazing selection of lead-free pottery and meet the good folks behind this noble project. The afternoon is open for exploring or relaxing a you wish. Evening in Patzcuaro.





Detail of glazework in Capula, Michoacán

Day 7, Friday, April 1 (BL). The village of Capula is known for its plates, cookware and fancy glaze design work. We will visit two very different workshops. In one we will see extremely fine glaze work that is painted with brushes made from the hair of squirrels’ tails. Many of these pieces require days to finish. Then we’ll visit the workshop of a family of potters who create richly detailed sculptures based on the Catrina tradition of Mexico, which brings together both the imagery of the Aztec worship of the dead and turn of the century French influences to create skeletal women and men dressed in elegant, Victorian era finery. But of course all made out of clay. The afternoon, should there be any of it left by the time we get back, is free.. Evening in Patzcuaro.


Kiln in Capula, Michoacán

Day 8, Saturday, April 2 (BL). Tzintzuntzan, the place of hummingbirds, the ancient capital of the Tarascan or Purepecha empire and the town in which we will spend a pleasant morningWe will begin our morning in the silence of the ancient, rounded temples of Las Yacatas, the ruins of this ancient imperial seat. From there we will wander into town and visit the ancient church where the ancient and knurled olive trees are said to have been planted by the the heroic local Spanish priest, Vasco de Quiroga 450 years ago. Then a visit to the crafts market in the center of the village where we will see a mixture of pottery from this village and others that we have visited.. After a picnic lunch in the grounds in front of the church we will head to the very traditional village of Santa Fe Lagunas to meet a potter who had completely given up the local glaze (leaded) tradition and is now working with burnished slips and etching lovely designs into his pots. Evening in Patzcuaro.


Heading to church in Morelia

Day 9, Sunday, April 3 (BLD). This morning a farewell to the cobbled streets, large plazas, market and our fine old hotel in Patzcuaro. We are returning to where we began, to the lovely city of Morelia with its great cathedral, parks, elegant mansions, old monasteries and fine museums. This is a wonderful city in which to spend a week, but we’ve already spent ours looking at pottery. It could be worse! Still, we will spend a day soaking in this fine city, visiting the Folkart Center (Casa de las Artesanias) as well as the museum of pre-Hispanic art to see some truly fine, ancient pottery. And there will be time for sitting in the park and watching the world go by as well. In the evening we dress up with our least dusty clothes for a final and tasty dinner together. Evening in Morelia.

Day 10, Monday, April 4 (B). This is the day to catch planes and buses back home, or to continue your explorations solo. After breakfast we will bid each other farewell with the hope of meeting again someday on another adventure in the potter’s wonderland of Mexico.

All itineraries are subject to change without notice

Street vendor in Patamban, Michoacán
Kitchen in Michoacán
Patzcuaro, Michoacán
Street scene, Morelia, Michoacán
Michoacán pottery



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Seven Oaxaca Pottery Villages