Talavera: A Family-Fired Craft: For Generations, la Trinidad Workshop in Puebla, Mexico, Has Preserved This Town's Age-Old Tradition in Distinctive Ceramics

By Bach, Caleb | Americas (English Edition), September-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Talavera: A Family-Fired Craft: For Generations, la Trinidad Workshop in Puebla, Mexico, Has Preserved This Town's Age-Old Tradition in Distinctive Ceramics


Bach, Caleb, Americas (English Edition)


It may be an earth-bound art, forged of clay, but talavera poblana is nothing less than ethereal. It was created in Puebla, after all, that is Puebla de los Angeles to be exact, and people here are used to asking for a little angelic intercession when they need it.

Since the sixteenth century, talavera poblana has described the polychromed, tin-glazed tiles and earthenware that have been produced in Puebla, a bustling colonial city some seventy miles southeast of Mexico City. Doubtless this label derives from the great ceramic tradition at Talavera de la Reina in Spain that made its way to the New World soon after the Conquest. To this day, one can hardly walk a block of Puebla's historic district without seeing domes and facades of colonial churches, former monasteries, and commercial buildings festooned with white tiles predominately decorated with blue patterns, hence their Spanish name, azulejos. For centuries Puebla also has produced a great variety of pottery forms--basins, storage jars, pharmacy jars, holy water stoups, and even chamber pots, not to mention all manner of wares for cooking and dining. Beautiful examples of these period pieces can be seen in antique shops and local museums, especially at the Museo Bello, just off Avenida Reforma, at 3 Poniente 302.

Fortunately, production of talavera poblana is not a dead art form. Indeed, in recent decades it has enjoyed a rebirth, and there is an abundance of colorful tiles and vessels available in the hundreds of shops and stalls throughout the city. The quality can be uneven, especially when it comes to the decoration, but a few workshops still faithfully adhere to traditional methods and maintain a high standard of craftsmanship.

One of the very best, on the northern edge of the historic district at 20 Poniente 305, is a small family operation directed by Jorge Guevara y Montano. Were it not for a little placa of tiles announcing "La Trinidad," the weathered exterior offers few clues to the nature of the activity within. But when I ring the bell a small door opens within the much larger wooden portal and Maestro Guevara, age sixty-three, with a full white beard, greets me with a warm abrazo.

As he ushers me into a sales room where samples are on display, he explains that he maintains no stock for immediate sale nor does he ship his finished products. Instead, once an order has been placed, clients, many faithful repeaters, are expected to wait patiently three of four months before returning to take receipt of their treasures. Scattered across the sales room are just such completed special orders awaiting pickup. Some are entire table settings of a hundred or more pieces with traditional decoration in the sunflower pattern or one called estrella fina, or delicate star.

In Puebla there are larger workshops with many employees that mass produce and stock for immediate sale large inventories of serviceable talavera poblana, but often in their efficiency and uniformity something is lost. Conversely, pieces from La Trinidad have the feel of a traditional hand-fashioned object. They lack any physical defects but possess decorative irregularities that delight the eye. These small variations confirm that the artist is not a machine but rather a fallible human being.

"This was once a small hacienda that belonged to my grandfather," Guevara begins. "I was born here in that room just off the patio. Our family goes back to the earliest days, the late 1530s. In the historic district just off Avenida 5 de Mayo, you can still find a placa identifying Calle Guevara, but we've never been able to assemble a complete historical chronology. I do know that early on our family was involved in producing rebozos and mantillas in the Spanish style and that the ceramic operation began informally, only for the love of the art. At first mostly they made wares for their own use, but gradually it grew into a family business. Pieces survive within the family from the sixteenth century, but we don't know specifically who made them. …

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