A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day with Zahava Sherez and Joan Bowers, two of the artists here in Chapala for the Residency Program. Zahava arranged for a driver to take us to Tonola and Tlaquepaque, both on the outskirts of Guadalajara.
Our first stop in Tonola was to meet Salvador Vasquez, a master in the tradition of burnished pottery. Salvador is a quiet, unassuming man in his 80s who graciously welcomed us into his studio and home for a visit.
From looking at his hands, you would never guess his age. No arthritis here!
Salvador is still working the same way he did as a boy, learning from his mother. He explained that the colors in his work are all natural, coming from different clay deposits and minerals in the region.
As a person who is accustomed to a large, bright studio space with tons of tools, our visit was a real eye-opener. Salvador and his family work in a very austere space with a few simple tools This pot looked like nothing more than a bunch of rocks to me, but it contains the most valuable tools in his work. These stones are tipped with pyrite that has been worn smooth by countless hours of burnishing pottery. It never occurred to me that a smooth rock could be your most precious possession.
The kiln in the dimly lit studio looks like it may fall over at any moment, but it works perfectly. I guess this is a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
From these simple tools come the most amazing treasures in the form of pots, valse, plates, wall art, lamp bases and tile murals.
During our visit, Salvador gave us a demonstration on how the color is applied and who it becomes permanent with the burnishing.
It was fascinating to watch him work and to see the dull clay turn to a shiny surface under his constantly moving hands!
I was intrigued by the pieces hanging on the wall. The figure that shows up most often is called a Nahual (or Nagual), which is also called a Shape Shifter. Salvador assured me that they are happy mischief makers who bring good luck.
This is a photo of Salvador and his grandson Jaimie. Of all of family members, Jaimie is the one who had really excelled with the burnished pottery techniques. At the tender age of 19, he is already winning awards and is well on his way to becoming one of the future masters of this technique.
I was enchanted by this mural on a set of 8 tiles that Jaimie created. I’m not quite where these will go in my home, but they will definitely be tucked in my suitcase when we return to Minnesota. (And I am going to have to quit shopping!)
It turns out that Salvador is a painter as well as a potter. His 2-room studio at the top of the house was full of amazing birds, flowers and all manner of colorful creatures.
I love the exuberance in his work. I can only hope to allow my imagination to roam so freely and joyfully in my work!
We continued on to visit other places after leaving Salvador and his family, but none were as magical as this. We felt very blessed to have a personal visit with an old master, to meet his immensely talented grandson, and to add a few treasures to our personal collections.
We returned to Chapala happy and tired after a long day under a very hot sun, knowing that we had an amazing encounter with an ancient art. Yes, we had a very, very good day.
I’m sorry to say that the Vasquez family does not maintain a website. If you do a web search on Salvador Vasquez Carmona Pottery, you will find information and perhaps a few sites that sell some of his work.
Of course, you can come to Mexico and visit him right in his home! I can only hope that you enjoy your visit as much as we did ours.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of the studio. Fee free to leave a comment below or over on our Facebook page. I would love to hear your thoughts