San Marcos Red Clay Potter Tlapazola Motifs Transitions to Mezcal
Sanchez Maria Cruz is one of the Zapotecan women who are on the Tlacolula market on the pavement on Sunday. She’s selling both utilitarian and decorative items her terro cotta or red clay pottery. The Alfareros, as they are called, are situated in the Southern part of Mexico, in San Marcos Tlapazola, a village of around 2,500 inhabitants.
In the last fifteen or so years, Maria’s photos have moved, reflecting her ability to take advantage of the global mezcal boom. Mezcal is, of course, the most widely developed Mexican agave distillate in Oaxaca.
In Tlacolula on 45 min. drive from the state capital, most women in the village sell their red clay ceramics mainly on Sundays. However, also their barro rojo is known in other markets and craft shops throughout the state. as it is widely known. Commodities and other vessels used to cook over open flame or other objects.
Every year tourists have flocked to Oaxaca since the second decade of that century. They come for one or more purposes, each of them spiritually related:
To learn about mezcal by visiting small, picturesque families of distillers known as palenques.
To support their export brand projects by visiting palenqueros and sampling their mezcals in order to pick one or more people to work with.
To visit unique palenques that manufacture from their homes their favourite distillate brands.
To support their career as exhibition photographers and as film manufacturers interested in recording the processes of mezcal production. Their motive is to catch development stages such as agave harvest, bake over the wood and the rock in a ground oven, crush the sugar, sweetly cooked by hand or with the help of a burden animal, and then ferment into wood.
In reality, it was Maria ‘s daughter who started her mother on a path back in 2005 at the age of 8. A little kitten or beverage, Lucy made, on one hand, an agave that shaped in the clay, and on the other a face. She made a couple of them and they sell out in short order with Maria on a Sunday in Tlacolula.
The two of them wanted to make more and more copitas. They were purchased by mezcal enthusiasts who were both foreign and local visitors and who wished to support brand owners. With time, retailers in downtown Oaxaca and in other Mexican cities started purchasing them in quantity for sale in their stores. They are now shipped to the United States in several hundreds.
But that was just the start. Maria lives with her baby sister, Gloria Cruz Sánchez, in the same home. The two talented women, both incredibly modest and accommodating, also create other items for home use as well as decorative figures.
Today, the job of Maria is to keep making these little clay copitas, and more, all the pieces are produced entirely by hand and without the use of a wheel:
Slim bottles with a fine shape of one litre can be used for holding the agaves distillate or decorating a mantle or bar, again formed in clay with agave.
Another small mezcal-drinkable boat in the form of half a gourd, the typical form used to drink almost all the liquids before the Spaniards arrived at the 16th century, known locally as a jicarita. It also manufactures a small clay platter containing three clay jicaritas for those interested in flying mezcal.
The flower pots of various sizes, with agave imaging once again, are used for home planting, indoors and outdoors.
The classy chango mezcalero, a monkey-like bottle, dates back to the 1930s and served as a promotional mezcal.
Maria frequently thinks of various photos she can offer to mezcal enthusiasts. It may create works of various agave species, with or without a floral stalk of the centre of the succulent.
She may simply create plaques and other types that reflect different phases in the development of agave distillates for the order. A typical artist, Maria gives time to even create oil on canvas paintings with the succulent portion or the primary focus of those works.
Western expectations are bad for a day for Maria and Gloria. There are rather small financial incentives. But they are genuinely skilled artisans who follow a tradition who dates back thousands of years and still mostly uses the same tools of trade and manufacturing as their forefathers.
The women are both out of town on foot, or even with their brother María in the pickingup, now in their 1950s.
María starts to dig up the mud, release the mud. Gloria then pushes it into one of the bags. They turn jobs, some time later, and I’m chiping in. When we fill the three bags, we go some hundred yards away to another place where the women do the same work as they did before, except this time we pick a much smaller number of clays from another class that are used as paints to produce a characteristic terra cotta colour.
Back in the farm, the women pick up stones and roots of the clay before being allowed to soak in water after snacking crusty, full of fresh cheeses and salsa, washed off with mezcal.
On a concrete surface, María binds a previous batch of soft clay to remove any residual impurities, which has already been passed through a wood-framed fine metal gratuit. She applies to water and sand to create a consistency of butter when kneeling. Then it continues to work its magic and overflows.
Most sundays María will meet her mezcal copitas and other related items on the ground in Tlacolula with agave imagery, rustic clay figures and the occasional mask. And naturally she has always a range of traditional Zapotec cuisine and serving items that sell when tourism has fallen away.
Now, however, mezcal and agave pottery are of great importance to the family, provided the Oaxacan visitor continues to train, purchase, start businesses and log the pilgrimage. For now they pray that some people might find it through Mexican craft or agave distillate grapevine and place orders for shipping in view of our COVID-19 pandemic and with no tourism whatsoever, even in the Sunday Market Tlacolula locked off.