The ruins of the ancient cities of Olmeky hide findings that indicate that more than 3000 years ago the prototypes of today’s Mexican ceramics were made. It is assumed that the Olmec people lived in the years 1500 BC. – 800 A.D., among other things, they produced clay figurines and the first utility products made of clay, such as bowls and jugs.
Historical background of Mexican ceramics
In our era, between 100 and 800, ceramics were produced on a larger scale in Mexico. Objects made of clay were characterized by greater precision, their shapes were geometric and the surface was increasingly processed, such as grinding. The objects found in Teotihuacans indicate an increasing variety of ceramics. Vases, cups and other everyday objects were sometimes decorated with human and animal figures. At that time, the ceramics were made of clay and clays in red shades or using natural dyes.
The Maya and Aztecs
The real development of ceramics falls on the years in which the Mayan and Aztec peoples dominated. The Maya are an older civilization that has had a huge impact on the culture and art of present-day Mexico. It is estimated that the Maya civilization flourished between 400 BC and 250 AD. The Maya were very careful with their mathematical accuracy, although they did not know the circle and the gap. They were known for their love of wall paintings. Experts in the subject agree that the art practiced by the Maya was on a higher level than in European countries.
The Mexicans, whose elders were called the Aztecs, lived in what is now Mexico. The most important and largest center of the Aztecs was the city of Tenochtitlan, from which archaeologists obtained a lot of objects that told about the culture of the time. It was a huge agglomeration for the time, with between 60,000 and 200,000 inhabitants. As the Aztecs did not know money, trade was based on exchange and here it is said that ceramics was a popular means of payment. Every region inhabited by the Aztecs had its own, often unique techniques for creating ceramics and colouring the objects produced. A very popular form of decorating walls and floors were tiles in natural clay, red and orange. Interestingly, nowadays, especially in rural areas of Mexico, there are still techniques for making ceramics, similar to those used by the Aztecs.
The beginning of the 16th century was the arrival of the Spanish and the conquest of Mexican land. This was connected with new aesthetic patterns and ways of making ceramic products. New styles were created, such as Majolica and Talavera. This is very popular ceramics and the style is famous all over the world. With the arrival of Spanish settlers, Mexican culture began to draw on Arabic and Andalusian styles. Hence, the colours of the desert, dark yellows, oranges and reds and the colours of the sky can be found in the colours. Mexican craftsmen started to produce more tiles to decorate walls and floors. The tiles have become more patterned and the tile decorations symmetrical, with noticeable symbolism of flowers.
A separate category was ceramics with symbols of death. Apart from figurines symbolizing Dia de los muertos, the Mexican feast of the dead, tiles with symbols of skull, skeleton, and all in a cheerful multicolored style were produced.
Skull symbolism in Mexican ceramics
The Feast of the Dead, Dia de los muertos is perceived by Mexicans in a completely different way than in other Catholic countries. It is divided into two parts, on the first day of October 30, Mexican families are preparing to receive the spirits of children. It is a joyful day when, according to beliefs, it will be possible to talk to the spirit of a child. On the first day of November, however, Mexicans are waiting to meet the spirits of adults, and here too, the joy of meeting is dominant. This is the reason why the skull symbolism, which is so often applied on ceramic tiles, is multicoloured and often combined with paintings of children and animals.
Death, according to the Mexican people, is only a part of life that allows for a further journey to a better world, so it is indifferent and rather merry. Tile patchworks with skull symbolism can be found in many Mexican homes and do not arouse fear or surprise.
Contemporary Mexican ceramics
Ceramics is one of the most common crafts in Mexico. The tradition, manufacturing and dyeing techniques of ceramics pass from father to son. Mexican ceramics is a great variety. Dishes such as jugs, cups and cups are made. Decorative products, plates, figurines, bowls, tiles and terracotta are also a very large offer.
A relatively new tradition is the artisanal production of ceramics under the common name „folk art”. It is ceramics produced for the markets of other countries, where Mexican tradition is emphasized. However, they are often products made in factories that reflect the atmosphere of Mexico, have a repeatable size and shape, but do not have a very important element, hand-made for many people. Often small factories have an offer for the people of Mexico that is less demanding, and another of better quality for export. This allows customers all over the world to enjoy Mexican colors and style.
The use of Mexican ceramics
In Poland, thanks to some shops you can buy original Mexican terracotta tiles, which are mostly brick or orange in colour. Tiles can be ground, glazed or not. Current methods of manufacturing Mexican terracotta allow to maintain high durability and quality. Tiles are usually in repeatable dimensions, which makes application very easy. In addition to terracotta, a variety of glazes can be purchased, which, unlike floor tiles, are patterned and dominated by the colors red, orange, yellow, green and blue.
Due to its quality and durability, terracotta can be used wherever a lot of people move around. They can be lobbies, hallways, and are often used in kitchens and bathrooms, where they emphasize their style and character. Mexican terracotta is perfect for terraces and winter gardens.
The Mexican glaze can be used to finish whole walls, as well as to mark certain fragments of planes, to give character to the chosen space. Mexican tiles can be used in the kitchen and also in the living room, e.g. near the fireplace. The patterned Mexican glaze will wonderfully decorate a mirror or a window or door installation site. It is worth mentioning the wonderful Mexican figurines, which can decorate the place of the living room or kitchen.