Green Ceramic Dishes
Ignacio Zaragoza #21
Back in the mid-1500s, when the Franciscan priests were busy converting the local populations to Christianity, the rather enlightened Spanish Bishop Vasco de Quiroga set up a system of economic plans where each town specialized in the manufacture of certain kinds of artistic goods. In many towns across Mexico such as San José de Gracias and Ocumicho (very close in proximity to Patamban), the practice still continues. In other words, they've been making green ceramic pigs, pineapple pots and devil masks for 500 years.
That's not the case with Patamban. Maybe there wasn't a town there in Quiroga's day, however, the town has grown up making pottery — some green, some natural earth tones — originally for utilitarian use, much of the green ceramics are still in use in homes throughout the region. The glazing of pottery was introduced in the colonial period, and since then various towns have developed their own styles. The best known traditional glazed pieces are the green glazed pottery of Patamban.
Pablo Contreras lives and works with his wife, María Dolores Mateo Plancarte in Patamban, Michoacán. Both have worked with clay since they were teenagers. Born in Patamban, Pablo learned his craft from his father and grandfather. He has been interviewed by many researchers and historians and has been featured in a number of books. Interestingly, he states that the ceramics known as piñas (pineapples or pine cones) of San José de Gracia, actually originated in Patamban.
He doesn’t know why, but eventually artisans from Patamban made fewer and fewer of them and focused more on traditional dishes and pots. Pablo is the only artisan left in Patamban who occasionally makes some of the more complicated pieces such as torres (towers) and pinas. In addition, he makes candelabras in the tradition of his father. However, today they primarily make pieces for dish sets. They are known for their beautiful sparkling green glaze with simple designs — the technique is called barro vidriado or glass-like clay as the glaze adds a sparkling look to the clay.
Pablo finds his clay a few kilometers outside of town. Once a year, during the dry season, he hires a 3-ton truck along with a driver and two experienced workers to assist him in gathering the best clay for making pottery. They put it into bags and he stores it at his home. His wife makes the smaller pieces while Pablo works on the larger, more complex pieces. They use wood to fire their two large natural kilns. They do a second firing with the beautiful green esmalte or glaze.
Pablo won a national prize many years ago and has won numerous state and local awards as well, although he no longer enters concursos (judged art shows). Now he focuses on completing orders he receives. Pablo’s work is not highly distributed and is only shown in one high-end store in Pátzcuaro, as well as at Semana Santa in Uruapan and Pátzcuaro for Day of the Dead.
The Feria is excited that this beautiful work will now receive wider attention and Feria attendees will have an opportunity to purchase this traditional folk art. Their work is competitively priced and accessible to a variety of budgets. The pieces to their dish sets are sold separately so you only need purchase the pieces you want.