One of the first posts I wrote for this site was about these highly decorative items from Mexico and my introduction to collecting them after I found this little Jorge Wilmot cat in a vintage shop. Drawn to his sweet face and pretty floral decoration I just had to have him and, once home, set about trying to establish his provenance but try as I might I couldn’t pin down a maker among the most obvious British factories and it was only when I was researching a totally different china cat that I stumbled across pictures of similar objects and discovered he came from Mexico.
Ceramics production dates back thousands of years in Mexico and the Tonalá region was already an important centre for potters when new high fire, stoneware production techniques were introduced by two influential potters, Jorge Wilmot and Ken Edwards, in the 1960s. Tonalá potters had traditionally worked in the barro bruñido style where pieces are slip decorated before being polished or ‘burnished’ with a stone. Local clay was too porous for use in domestic production so items were largely decorative, with a muted colour palette of soft greys and pinks on a light pastel background. Common motifs included flowers and animals and in particular a smiling cat or ‘nahual’, believed to be a shamanic, shape-shifting figure.
After studying fine arts, Jorge Wilmot left Mexico to travel and work in Europe and Scandinavia before returning home to immerse himself in traditional Mexican pottery techniques and, along with the American, Ken Edwards, to introduce the first stoneware kiln to Tonalá. This facilitated Wilmot’s quest to produce high fired stoneware, often with Chinese-influenced celadon glazes, and to transform the local porous clay through a high firing process into vitreous or semi-vitreous nonporous ceramics.
In the intervening time since I first wrote about it my Tonalá Pottery collection has grown enormously and I now have nearly two dozen pieces by a variety of makers. Some are just mass-produced tourist souvenirs but I am very proud to have a number of signed pieces by both Wilmot and Edwards. And the reason I keep an eye out for more and more is that whilst reading about the history of Tonalá pottery I was intrigued to find that not only is it renowned for its quality and beauty but also because it exudes a pleasant aroma which flavours liquids stored in pots made from it. When dusting the collection I will sometimes stop to sniff the brunido pieces – much to the amusement of my husband – because they really do give off the heavenly scent of caramel toffee!
If you’ve also got a collection of beautiful Tonalá Pottery or any other wonderful ceramics, or you want to know more about my Tonalá, why not get in touch via the Contacts page – I’d love to hear from you.