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The Living Traditions Of Oaxacan Pottery


  City Oaxaca
  Country Mexico
  Subjects Covered: Cultural Study
    Language Study
  Program Starts: Weekly


Oaxaca's central valleys have been home to many indigenous groups since pre-hispanic times. Many villages have preserved their own language, dress and customs which contribute to the cultural treasures surrounding the colonial city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Some of Oaxaca Valley's most famous treasures can be found in the wide variety of pottery produced in villages surrounding Oaxaca city.

Located only 15 km from Oaxaca city lies the Zapotec village of San Bartolo Coyotepec, home of Oaxaca's beautiful and unique black pottery. The symmetry and elegance of the pieces are acheived without the use of molds or lathes. Techniques passed down for generations dating back to their pre-hispanic heritage guide the artisan's hands in shaping vases, bowls and pots of all sizes. The characteristic shine and color of the black pottery are acheived through limiting the amount of oxygen in the oven where pieces are fired. Flutes, whistles, jugs and candle holders are among the numerous black pottery items found in Oaxaca markets.

In the neighboring Zapotec village of Atzompa, a different clay is used to produce a special green glazed pottery. In addition to making crockery and pots, these Zapotecs continue the tradition of making hollow clay animal miniatures. Once they are finished, chia seeds are placed on the rough surface. The heads of the animals are completely glazed and when the bodies are filled with water the seeds germinate to create a green sprout coat.

When in Oaxaca, curious travellers venture to the Zapotec villages to see for themselves how the various crafts are produced. Through cultural workshops at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, students learn hands-on from native Oaxacan artisans. Enedina, a vibrant Zapotec woman from Atzompa, shares stories about her pueblo with her students as she shows them by example how to form the clay. When asked how she learned her craft she gently explains, "I learned from watching my family and that's how my children learn." Through their workshops, students practice their conversational Spanish while learning about the richness of Oaxacan culture.


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