Cocuchas (Giant pots)
To Contact: This artisan’s page is part of the Feria Maestros del Arte website, a non-profit organization providing a yearly venue for Mexican folk artisans to come together to sell their work. If you wish to purchase the artisan's work other than at the Feria, you MUST contact them directly.
Some of the finest ceramic folk art in Mexico comes from the state of Michoácan. We travel to all corners looking for the best folk art México has to offer. Finding the "best" is not always an easy task. And so it was with the pottery of Cocucho, a remote Purépecha Indian village in the state of Michoacán. Tourist offices and guidebooks had no information on this pottery and it was some time before we happened upon information where this pottery is made.
Juan Santos is one of those artists we searched for for quite some time. Born in 1971 in the pueblo of Cocucho he began dedicating his life to making cocuchas learning the technique from his mother, Lucieana Santos Molina. Juan is married with five children who often help him with his work.
Cocuchas are distinctive and easily recognizable giants next to other pottery, some Cochuchas can reach 150 cm tall. Made entirely by hand, the artist does not rely on a pottery wheel or mold. The handcrafted size, shape and surface of each piece is totally controlled by the hand and eye of the artist. The clay is volcanic which is why they are able to be built so high.
A form is used, such as the bottom of a pail. The walls of the pot are quickly built up from the bottom of the pail. Next a corncob is used to smooth out the clay. Smaller coils are added until the desired size of the base of the pot is achieved. Then the pot is put aside to sit until it is leather hard. Now the pot can be turned over and the walls and lip of the pot are formed from where the form/pail had been.
The real "art" of making the Cocuchas is to know when they are ready to be taken from the fire. If they are not removed at precisely the right time, the pot will crack. Each pot is individually fired. The embers are still smoking when the pot is placed on them. A tent is made over the pot of burning wood. It takes about an hour for a pot is ready although larger pots can take up to three or four hours.
Long sticks are used to brush away the firewood and then the pot is lifted away from the coals.
There are two colors of Cocuchas, negras (below left) and rojas (reds-below middle and right). The negra color is achieved by splashing a cornmeal solution immediately after firing, while the pot is still very hot. Using a brush, the mixture of corn and water is thrown all over the hot pot leaving the characteristic black markings.
The red Cocuchas are coated with a red clay slip (cinnabar) before firing. There are no other glazes or coloring agents.
Cocucho was once a very poor village with no work. A priest brought clay from a neighboring village, and one of the women began making small pots. Now almost everyone in the village makes pots using clay imported from San José de Gracia. They are truly one of Mexico's most enduring and unique forms of indigenous folkart.