I arrived in San Bartolo Coyotepec at around 2 this afternoon and met Javier, a guide, who told me about the 2,000-year history of the town as a place known for black pottery. I also learned about the process and how the process has changed over the years to add a shine to the pottery and to make it more appealing to tourists. I have seen black pottery with other types of Oaxacan folk art, but it is even more spectacular when it is the entire collection.
My eyes were especially drawn to the small pieces that are both shaped and carved by these artists. A miniature nativity was particularly radiant and even more so for its unique imperfections. Although there were many of them, a bell (campana) shaped as a woman appealed to me for the way the tongue was tied inside her dress, a sort of tie, it completed her simple attire.
Because we were touring in the afternoon, most of the people we came across were eating. And, rather than be rude, many offered us a “Buenas tardes” despite a full mouth of bread.
Like much of the other types of art I have seen, I am particularly drawn to pieces that are for everyday use. And so I wondered how I might use this bell woman every day.
I saw a brief demonstration of the wheel (a plate on a plate) and the carving of the pieces. There is no kiln, just an underground fire (similar to the ones Hawaiians use to cook delicious pig). I learned that the eye-catching naturally black polished pieces are not water-resistant and can crumble if wet, but there are jugs that can hold water — and mezcal. During a wedding ceremony one may thump one of the large jugs (cantaritos) to symbolize the heartbeat of the couple.
I learned about the cooperative system by which the people run the sales and exhibit area; in fact, I have included a couple of the signs attesting to their cooperative structure and organization. It is nice to see artists in a type of association working together.
I also learned that one can spend far too much time admiring all of the details of the art, the people, and the place.
The MEAPO, Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca is also in San Bartolo Coyotepec and is open Tuesday through Sunday. Javier showed me its modern grounds and told me a little about the collection of black pottery and other folk art and exhibitions it contains, and I will return with more time to learn. http://www.museo-meapo.com/php_Espanol/historia.php