dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Town of Black Clay

On Saturday, after visiting the Benito Juárez Market in downtown Oaxaca, we took a "colectivo" (a shared taxi) to the town of San Bartolo Coyotepec a few miles away. 

 The church in San Bartolo Coyotepec

For centuries the town has been a center for the production of pottery.  Because of the composition of the clay there, the pottery is dark gray with a dull matte finish.  The pottery was sturdy and utilitarian in nature.  Then, in the 1950s, a potter by the name of Doña Rosa discovered that the pottery would have a lustrous, black sheen if she polished it with a quartz stone before firing.  The finished product, however, was fragile and not waterproof.  But the beautiful, decorative pottery produced by Doña Rosa and her family opened up a whole new market.  Tourists and art collectors began coming to San Bartolo Coyotepec to buy black pottery from Doña Rosa and the dozens of other potters who began to imitate her technique.

Today in the center of the town there is a small museum devoted to the popular arts of Oaxaca, with an emphasis on the famous black pottery.

Just a short walk from the town center is the workshop of Doña Rosa.  Doña Rosa passed away in 1980, but the her tradition has been carried on by her children, and now her grandchildren.  Although there are scores of other workshops in town, Doña Rosa's has the largest selection.  Shelf after shelf of pottery surround the courtyard of the shop.

Not only is the pottery beautiful, but it is incredibly inexpensive.  Jane and I each bought three pieces, and we each spent about $10 US. It would be so tempting to buy more, but I know from experience that larger pieces of this fragile pottery will not survive the journey home.  We contented ourselves with a few smaller pieces that we liked.

 A bust of Doña Rosa in the workshop honors the woman who transformed the cottage industry of her little town.  Of course, the statue is made of "barro negro"... black clay.


  1. Thanks for this post--We discovered yesterday that even a carefully wrapped, smallish vase in carry-on luggage must be better protected. It broke into a dozen pieces. Guess we'll have to go back to Oaxaca to buy another one!

    1. I've had pretty good luck with small pieces, but larger pieces end up shattered. Thanks for visiting my blog and for taking the time to comment.