The intricate designs cut into the black clay are what make this ceramic so special. photo credit – Wikimedia

The black ceramic of Oaxaca has quite a history. About 70 years ago in the small town of San Bartolo Coyotepec outside of Oaxaca, an indigenous woman named Rosa Real discovered that she could polish black clay pottery with a piece of quartz, leaving it smooth, shiny, and stunningly beautiful.  Since then, this pottery has become quite famous, found in galleries and museums around the world. 

Artisans have been experimenting with new interpretations on traditional themes. photo credit – Wikimedia

Several other towns in the area produce this craft but San Bartolo Coyotepec remains the best-known source and Rosa’s family still produces black pottery the way it did 70 years ago. 

This was Doña Rosa’s original firing pit from the 1950s. photo credit – Wikimedia

You can visit their workshop easily as the town is only about 30 minutes south of Oaxaca.  The pottery is really attractive.  The artisans still craft every piece by hand.  What sets this pottery apart from others are the intricate decorations carved into each piece, which is what gives it its beauty. 

One of the family artisans demonstrates how the pottery is decorated. photo credit – Wikimedia

A word of caution if you buy some.  There’s something about the process that renders the black ceramic of Oaxaca relatively weak and fragile.  If you buy some pieces in Coytotepec, you should really hand-carry them back home because they probably won’t survive the ride in your suitcase.  Careful packing with plenty of bubble wrap might help but it’s not a guarantee.  I cradled the piece my wife and I bought (pictured below) in my hands pretty much the whole flight home but it did make it safe and sound.  It’s now a beautiful addition to our home.

It wasn’t easy getting this vase home but it was worth it!
There are hundreds of styles to choose from. photo credit – Wikimedia