Mexican Artisans Introduce Tonalá Ceramics to New York

By: MP Mexico News Staff

Mexican Artisans Introduce Tonalá Ceramics to New York

New York — The Mexico Tourism Board’s New York office and the State of Jalisco will join the Brother Kenneth Chapman Gallery in the Iona College Arts Center, in New Rochelle, New York to host “The Color of Tradition: Herencia Milenaria” from October 25th – December 4th, 2008.  During the exhibition members of Herencia Milenaria (thousand year heritage) from the town of Tonalá, Jalisco will showcase their world renowned contemporary Mexican ceramic art.

Herencia Milenaria ( is a civil organization that was born in 2006 in an effort to unite some of the most well-known artisans in Tonalá and provide a vehicle with which artists could place their crafts and culture within international forums.  Chuck Plosky, Professor of Art at New Jersey City University, and Artisan, Angel Santos selected works for this exhibition to provide “an opportunity for lovers of beautiful things to study superior examples of Mexican ceramic art. These marvelous works are made by artists who use their hands and hearts and minds to create brilliant and beautiful statements in this ancient material, clay.”

The opening reception of “The Color of Tradition: Herencia Milenaria” will take place on Saturday, October 25 from 1:00-3:00 pm in the gallery and a curator’s gallery talk and slide show will follow from 3:00 – 4:00 pm in the Christopher J. Murphy Auditorium. During the course of the exhibition, celebrations involving the local Mexican population of New Rochelle will take place as well as the cultural contributions from the town of Jalisco, including art, music and food. “The Color of Tradition: Herencia Milenaria” is part of CLAY FEST – a celebration of ceramic art in the New Rochelle area and All Fired Up! A Celebration of Clay in Westchester. 

Located in the greater metropolitan area of Guadalajara, the small town of Tonalá is a traditional Mexican town where the Colonial era culture is still maintained and its calm environment offers its guests a unique visit. Tonalá comes from the náhuatl word Tonallan that means “place from which the sun rises” and its main attractions are contained in its traditional plaza where locals and guests meet to listen to music, play games, converse and on Thursdays and Sundays, to shop.

Tonalá’s arts and craft market is a magical tradition that transforms the town into a fantastic world of color and beauty. From the early hours of the day local craftsmen start filling the streets with colorful figures of animals, clowns and dolls made out of paper-mâché, hand-blown glassware, and iron. There is also plenty of food to eat. Small restaurants and temporary stands offer typical dishes such as pepián (a stew that contains squash and nuts seeds similar to mole), campechanas (cocktail mix of octopus, shrimp and abalone, and steaming birria (braised goat and lamb meat) and drinks like white atole (a warm almost porridge-like drink made thick with masa), champurrado (a special hot chocolate thickened with masa), tejuino (fermented maize drink), and lemon water. 
But the town’s most popular attraction is its high quality clay creations. From plates and pots to masks and miniature figures the crafts that Tonola’s artisans offer are one of a kind and made with techniques influenced by indigenous, Spanish and modern techniques that have fused together to make ten different styles of finishes, many can be viewed at the Museo Nacional de la Cerámica de Tonalá (The National Museum of Tonalá Ceramics).

They are as follows.

Barro Bandera (Flag Clay) — This type of clay has the colors of the Mexican flag: red base with white and green details.

Barro Betus (Betus Clay) – Also called “Fantastic Clay” this pottery is characterized by vibrant colors that give the ceramics a whimsical look. It is given its name from its Betus resin, or varnish, which is extracted from the Pine trees. This technique is common in the town of Santa Cruz de las Huertas and the most well known figurines are roosters, coyotes and owls.

Barro Bruñido (Bruñido Clay) – This bright and smooth clay is named after its finishing style: the Bruñido tecnique. During the process artisans use river stones and a metal called “pirita” to give it its naturally bright finish.

Barro Canelo (Cinnamon Clay) – Is one of the most unique clays of the region. Its colors are of many shades of cinnamon and when it touches water people say that it smells like wet dirt. This clay comes from the municipality of El Rosario.

Barro Engretado (Engretado Clay) – Is given its name because of its Greta finish which gives it a glass like shine. The Greta technique used a mixture of brass and lead oxide.

Barro Natural (Natural Clay) – This type of clay may have some type of ornamentation but the clay’s natural color is kept.
Barro Negro Esgrafiado (Esgrafiado Clay) — Artisans who make this type of clay use the “esgrafiado” technique to decorate their work. During the process artisans use needles and saws to dig out formations.

Barro Opaco (Opaque Clay) – One of the least common types of finishes, this clay is colorful but does not shine.

Barro Oxidado (Oxidated Clay) – Identified by its rustic appearance.

Barro Petatillo (Small Rug Clay) – This clay features a crossed linear design, similar to that of a rug. This type of clay is made in the Greta tradition and is currently covered in lead-free varnish.

About the Iona College Council on the Arts
The Iona College Council on the Arts is dedicated to sponsoring artistic and cultural programs for the enrichment of the Iona College community, particularly the student body. With an endowment from the Baron Lambert Fund for the Arts, established by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Murphy, the Council exists to make the arts more present and visible – providing the unique awareness, inspiration and participation which the arts promote. Consisting of Iona College faculty, administrators, students, and alumni, the Council on the Arts seeks to expand and deepen the cultural life of our student body. The Council produces and coordinates events whereby students, faculty and administrators may experience the arts communally. In addition to public performances and conferences, the Council sponsors programs such as Art Quest trips, designed to introduce members of the Iona community to the cultural richness of the community.

About All Fired Up
From October 3 – November 30, 2008, more than 60 venues throughout Westchester County will participate in All Fired Up! A Celebration of Clay in Westchester. This consortium project, led by the Westchester Arts Council, the Clay Art Center, and a steering committee of eight cultural institutions, will also include a wide range of related activities that will provide the public opportunities to deepen their appreciation of ceramic arts and to engage in art-making activities. Workshops, symposia, films and other activities are planned—some geared to the general public, others to students and educators, still others for specialists such as artists, art historians and collectors. The scope of activities—from introductory workshops to master classes for established artists; from in-school artist residencies to a summer teacher’s institute — will reflect the range, diversity and expertise of the consortium members.

Over 70 arts organizations, including the county’s largest such as the Neuberger Museum, the Katonah Museum, the Hudson River Museum, Westchester Arts Council, Clay Art Center, Pelham Art Center, Rye Arts Center, the Hammond Museum, and the Westchester Art Workshop are already on board to participate. This concordance of events comprises a cultural initiative unprecedented in Westchester.

About Clay Fest
The New Rochelle Clay Fest is a host of programs and activities in seven venues. Exhibits of internationally-renowned and local ceramic arts, family workshops, “Terrific Terra Cotta” walking tours, demonstrations, food cooked in clay, and live musical performances are some of the activities taking place in public and private cultural institutions– all of which will be “stops” on a free trolley service operating throughout the afternoon.  For more information visit: