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Trip Features

Hands on instruction in Zapotec potting:
 - Clay digging and     preparation
 - Zapotec hand building
 - Slipping
 - Burnishing
 - Surface bon firing

Immersion in the life of a Zapotec family and village
Explore colonial Oaxaca city
Visit pre-Hispanic ruins
Enjoy legendary Oaxacan cuisine
Travel in off-the-beaten path Mexico

Oaxacan Clay Workshop
January 2 - 10, 2010
(For tour price and other information, please see the Trip Details sidebar on this page)

Indigenous pottery from the hands of Mexican masters

Where The village of San Marcos Tlapazola in the central, high valley of Oaxaca state in southern Mexico.
When Jan 2 - 10, 2010
Duration Nine days
Size 6 to 10 participants
Cost $1,765. This price includes workshop fee covering 4 to 5 days of hands-on pottery instruction, museum entrance, all materials, hotel Sat-Sun night and most meals, Oaxacan transport in private van, maximum group size of ten with two guides. Single supplement $300.
Trip Guide Carlos Ortega, Eric Mindling
Preparing for firing in San Marcos.

We begin our nine-day experience in San Marcos Tlapazola, a village in the high, central valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. This valley was and is the cradle of Zapotec civilization and is literally covered in ruins and ancient pottery shards. We will be working in San Marcos for four and a half days following our teachers through the process of creating a pot. Beginning by gathering and preparing clay, then working our way through the unusual steps of this wheel-less, Pre-Colombian hand building technique, we will do our best to understand this challenging method. On our last day we will fire our pots in the quick, surface bonfire used in this village. With a little luck, when the coals burn down we will have well formed, red slipped and burnished pots with wonderful burnmarks.

As we are learning our way through the hand building methods of our teachers, we will also ease into the rhythm and peaceful pace of this traditional, pre-industrial village. In our time in San Marcos will get to know our hosts, working side by side with them, sharing meals and stories.


Simple tools are used for the final shaping of a San Marcos pot.

Our teachers in San Marcos will be Alberta Sanchez and Macrina Mateo. These two Zapotec potters are from families that have been potting for centuries and are highly skilled. They have been recognized statewide and nationally for their work and have been instrumental in bringing San Marcos pottery to a wider audience. In a village of skilled potters their work stands out for its beauty and quality.


While our pots are drying we’ll hit the road and see some of the other wonders of Oaxaca. In the village of Atzompa we’ll meet with Anjelica Vasquez, one of Mexico's most talented and inspired potters. Much of her work depicts in clay the old Oaxacan myths and legends told to her by her grandmother. We’ll also visit Irma Garcia Blanco, a master potter featured in The Great Masters of Mexican Folkart. For spice we’ll also visit a lively market, a 2,000-year-old tree, the ruins of Zapotec palaces and a village where there are 5,000 rug weavers.

For additional information on the San Marcos pottery-making process:

~ The San Marcos Process, Part I

~ Slide show of the San Marcos process

Simple tools are used for the final shaping of a San Marcos pot.

While we are working in San Marcos we be staying in a small hostel on the edge of a Zapotec weaving village. The evenings in the hostel are quiet and relaxing. With no telephones, televisions, computers, homework or housework we are forced to spend our evenings eating long dinners and spinning yarns. Please bring a yarn to spin, or maybe your fiddle.



(B=breakfast, L=Lunch, D=dinner included)

Day 1. (D). We will have our first meeting at the hotel at 5:30 PM to meet each other and discuss the trip then we hit the town and have dinner. Evening in Oaxaca..

Bonfiring in San Marcos

Day 2. (B,L,D). This morning we pack our traveling bags and head into the land of the Zapotecs! First stop is the big Sunday market in Tlacolula. We will dive into the swirl of this market and lose ourselves to the sights and smells. Satiated, we extract ourselves, find a calm place for lunch, then head to the ruined Zapotec palaces of Mitla to see some of the best of pre-Colombian architecture. In the late afternoon we settle in to our cozy bed and breakfast on the edge of Teotitlán del Valle.

Carding wool in Teotitlan.

Day 3-5. (B,L,D) .

We will spend our days in the village of San Marcos Tlapazola, working with a family of Zapotec master potters. We will begin making our pots in the most logical way, by digging clay. We will learn how to turn these clods of earth into workable clay, and we will learn to work clay in the old Zapotec way. No wheels, no kilns, no chairs. How on earth does one make a pot then? You shall see--  be sure to bring your hands, because in these lay the secret. And throw in some patience and ibuprofen while you are at it. While we are making our pots, we will also be getting to know our teachers and learning something about life in this household and in this village. We’ll see tortillas being made, eat great food, share in a bit of local gossip and enjoy the communion of shared work. In the afternoons, should we finish our work early, we will head out and visit the nearby ruins of ancient pyramids as well as the village of Teotitlán del Valle with its renowned rug weaving workshops. Evenings in Teotitlán.

Day 6. (B,L). This morning we put the finishing touches on our vessels. Namely, pulling out the elbow grease and a good piece of quartz and giving our bowls a fine burnish. Then we head on down the road while our pots dry. We will return to Oaxaca, but on the way we stop and pay our respects to an enormous, 2,000-year-old cypress tree (the fattest tree you will ever see in your life!). You will have a free afternoon in Oaxaca city to begin to explore this beautiful colonial city.

Great Master Irma Garcia Blanco

Day 7. (B,L).This morning we’ll travel to the nearby village of Atzompa, a village of a thousand potters and Oaxaca's most productive pottery village. Here we will visit Irma Garcia Blanco, recognized in The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art as one of Mexico’s premiere artisans. She is also a very sweet lady. Then we’ll head above the village to the hilltop home of Anjelica Vasquez who has won just about every award Mexico offers for her outstanding clay work. Drawing on the rich legends of Oaxaca and the tales her grandmother told her as a child she creates narratives out of clay. She is featured in the recent Chornicle Press book Oaxacan Ceramics. We leave the afternoon open to allow you time to catch your breath, soak in all you’ve seen and wander aimlessly in Oaxaca. Evening in Oaxaca.

Mermaids-A clay sculpture by Anjelica
Vasquez. About 18 inches tall.

Day 8. (L,D). You will have time this morning for any last minute shopping or arrangements you may need to make. We will meet at 11 and have a brunch of wonderful empanadas, fresh OJ and hot corn chocolate at La Merced market before heading out to San Marcos to fire our pots. After the coals burn down and we collect our works of art we will bid farewell to our friends in San Marcos and return to Oaxaca for a shower and our closing dinner as a group. Evening in Oaxaca.

Day 9. (B).This morning after breakfast (or before for some of you) catch your flights back home or continue your travels on your own.




A San Marcos cooking pot, slipped three times, burnished twice, tumblestacked and bonfired with wood.



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Seven Oaxaca Pottery Villages