Pocoapoco & Colectivo 1050 Residency, Oaxaca, Mexico
In Oaxaca, the potters are almost exclusively women, as they have been for countless generations. Each new generation learns how to make pots from their mothers at the same time they learn to read and write. They are usually selling pottery in the markets before the age of 10 and are true masters by the age I started squishing clay curiously into misshapen forms at my first studio in Brooklyn. Each community of potters - there are over 70 around Oaxaca - has been building the same forms with the same techniques in the same traditional low fire wood kilns for 60 generations. Each village has developed it's own intensely unique style, but they all serve the same humble yet vital purpose to become a reliable cooking vessel to provide food for their families and community. Community before individual, always. Functionality before style, always. But these forms are as elegant as they are durable, inspired in their gentle curves and strong handles.
These communities developed advanced building techniques well before electricity and rather than convert to new technology when it was presented, they have proudly stuck to their methods. Instead of buying clay from a store or a mine that mixes and bags it for you - they go to the mines themselves, often on foot, dig their own clay and process it over a period of days - drying, sifting, re-wetting, mixing with other clay bodies, adding grog, wedging. Mixing the clay with the women really reaffirms one's appreciation for the material at the center of this art form, and reminds us that it is not infinite. They assemble turning devices from upside down bowls and broken pottery and use a variety of tools made from whatever they have around. Some, like the gourds and corncobs they use to burnish, are reminiscent the ancestral heritage of the art, and others, like a plastic spoon for smoothing hard to reach coils, are a product of the very industrialism that threatens to render the art moot in some areas of Oaxaca.
To study with a group of women so strongly embedded in the matriarchal pottery tradition of Mexico brought a lightness to the medium, despite the intensity of the labor needed to make pots in this part of the world. The clay comes out of the earth, it is shaped, perhaps it will break, perhaps it won't, perhaps it will sit on the fire cooking frijoles and tortillas for family and guests for years, one day it will break, it will return to the earth, another can easily be made, they've been making them this way for as long as they can remember.