Barro Negro (Black) Ceramics
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Very near San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca, lies a deposit of clay from which the artisans of the region extract the raw materials of their craft The Zapotec people have worked with burnished clay pottery here for more than 300 years.
Carlomagno Pedro Martínez learned from his mother, an artisan, and his father, a sculptor, that he could express ideas, longings and desires with clay. Cecilia and Antonio Eleazar taught the young boy the two forms by which to nourish both body and spirit: working in the fields and working with clay.
Carlomagno is in his 40s and as a child began to elaborate figures of Aztec warriors, revolution-era soldiers and clowns, images that he had culled from books. But his father began to instill in him different ideas, and he later found inspiration in the local carnivals which was to greatly influence his work.
He creates murals from clay, some of them quite large, featuring various degrees of relief work that manipulates the light.
Most artists who work with the black Oaxaca clay technique, have taken inspiration from Doña Rosa, a legend in the pottery world (she died in 1980), who discovered with a method for making decorative black pottery from the local clay. Her work has received numerous awards and is included in collections worldwide including those of Rockefeller and the Smithsonian.
The technique she developed to give the black pottery its trademark sheen is the burnishing of the pot with quartz. No glazes are used. The potters of Coyotepec continue to use their traditional method of turning pots without a wheel. The technique uses two concave clay plates, one upside down supporting the other. This method is of pre-Hispanic inheritance, the pieces are molded on this device. The entire process to develop a finished piece takes 20 to 30 days and goes from molding to decoration, to slow drying in closed rooms, polishing with a quartz stone and finally to baking where the pieces acquire their notable black color. Although Doña Rosa attempted to keep her technique a secret, eventually word got out. The pottery is decorative only and should not be used for cooking or serving.
Carlomagno begins by grinding the clay into a powder. He then sifts it various times, adds water and covers it, setting it aside to "rest." He takes out the quantity he will use and adds water until the clay is malleable enough to work with.
Now comes the part he enjoys most - the modeling of the piece completely by hand since he never copies or repeats any of his work.
Before firing, he burnishes each piece with great energy, smoothing it and closing the pores of the clay. Afterward, he places the pieces in the shade to dry slowly, later moving them into the sun until all the moisture has left. The pieces are fired in an open, wood-burning kiln set below the surface of the ground.
When they are fully baked, the kiln is close off using rocks and mud beneath and broken pieces of pottery on top, to reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the fire and to create conditions that will result in the black coloration of the pieces. The decoration is then done using appliqués and incising.
Carlomagno draws his inspiration from the cultural wealth he observes within daily life in Mexico. Although the majority of the pieces he creates are inspired by traditional Oaxacan characters and imagery, he also includes humorous portrayals of present-day personalities and events. His expressiveness and realism distinguish his work.
The most reoccurring theme is death and includes festive skeletons, devils, etc. Experts consider that the pieces produced by this artisan are authentic works of folk art with strong roots in tradition. His creative evolution has made him stand out and brought him an international renown of which he is very proud.