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Ancient Art of Mayan Potters in Mexico

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My modest objective was to discover how pottery was routinely made by Mayan potters for two thousand years without the use of a potter's wheel or modern kiln. Ever since Cortez subjected and decimated the Mayan peoples in the sixteenth century, Spanish porcelain has been used and fashioned by the colonizers. No one seemed to know, however, where the traditional Mayan potters were at work and what methods they were using to fashion those large brown cooking pots and storage vessels exhibited in the Palace of Cortez (Cuernavaca). Surely these elegant vessels were made "by hand" without the use of plaster molds. Slowly but surely, I discovered those remote villages, out there beyond the ends of the bus lines, where Mayan pottery was still being created following ancient traditions. With persistence, I finally arrived at Tlayacapan and the methods used there staggered my imagination. Using simple ready-made tools--hands, feet, water-soaked rags, volcanic rocks, kiln-fired forms, and adobe-brick--these potters replicated the masterful arts passed on to them by their ancestors. It is this ancient art that I have attempted to document, to duplicate, and to honor.

After eating breakfast, Juan prepares 100 pounds of moist clay from dry powder. He mixes the fibers of ten cattails into the clay. Then he divides the total into five twenty pound "loaves." He kneads the first loaf on the cement floor using clay powder to prevent sticking.

Then he uses his foot to compress and expand the "loaf" into a thick "pizza." His toes remain on the outside as he spins around the "pizza" forcing the clay to the outside.  
Then he uses his handheld stompter to compress and further expand the "pizza." The stomper also eliminates any ridges remaining from this footwork. Clay powder is again used to prevent sticking.
Then he lifts the "pizza" on to a dusted form. Using his hands, he brings the clay to hug the sides of the form. Then, using the stomper, he gradually expands the clay to cover the sides down to the floor. Using a wet rag, he gives the outside a smooth finish.
Using a cutter, he trims the bottom evenly. Then he raises the bottom edge from the form and, using a wet rag, gives the edge the form of a contoured and reinforced lip.  
The cooking pot is then dried in the sun on the form. It is turned every half-hour. After a few hours, it is lifted from the form, turned over, and the sun dries the inner surfaces. Then a wet rag is used to smooth the inner surfaces, and handles are attached. The cooking pot is dried in the shade of the shed resting on a sand nest that has the contour of the convex bottow. It is covered in plastic and dried for three days. When bone dry, it is placed in a adobe brick kiln and wood fired.  

Making a Storage Container

A vessel for storing grain or liquids is made in two equal sections and then joined together with a rope of fresh clay being used as "mortar." Once the two halves are securely joined, a smooth wet stone removes all signs that the two halves were joined.

The results are perfectly round and masterfully contoured for both strength and beauty. Dry pots are bisqued, glazed, and then given their final firing.