Petatillo (crosshatching) Ceramics
Hidalgo #83 Centro
Near Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, you will find the town of Tonalá. Thousands of visitors come to Tonalá to purchase all types of Mexican-made handcrafts, much of it the kind of souvenirs tourists "normally" take home with them. Very few realize they are visiting a town where famous potters reside. One of them is José Bernabe Campechano, a true maestro of petatillo pottery. I've heard it said that, "Petatillo ware is Mexico's answer to Limoge china."
In hundreds of buying trips to Tonalá, I never realized this incredible folk artist lived here because his work is not found in the local stores. Petatillo is one of the most beautiful manifestations of Mexican pottery, and they are rarely seen in public markets.
This unique technique takes its name from the decorative crosshatching of thin lines that is like the petate, a finely woven mat used to sleep on in many Mexican homes. Due to the labor-intensive process and the resulting high selling prices, very few artisans undertake this work - remember this when looking at possibly purchasing petatillo.
José has been producing petatillo ceramics for 40 years and is a member of a family that has cultivated this art for four generations. Now, he is passing his art down to his children as well as other interested artists in the Tonalá area
Over many years he has taken processes from the "old" and "new" world and combined them in his work. José has perfected the use of the wheel, the kiln and the design but injects his own creativity to decide the form and design his piece shall take. In his workshop, he uses black, white, beige and red clays as well as special enamels, some of which he prepares himself. The paints and pigments are made of mixtures of colorants from the soil and are applied with fine brushes of animal hair (which he also makes). Sometimes he will use Japanese brushes.
He molds the pot using a foot-driven potter's wheel that he constructed himself. The molds are made from plaster, baked clay or rejected pieces.
He prepares the clay in much the same way as other potters. The dry clay is ground in a mill, mixed with water and left to "ferment." When the work begins, he adds water according to the type of work - molding or modeling. Handles, knobs, appliquéd elements are done separately and added later. When finished, the pieces are smoothed and put outside to dry.
The petatillo decoration begins when José applies a mixture of red clay and water both inside and out. After drying, he traces his design with a hard-pointed tool called a burin. He then colors in the designs. The surrounding areas around the designs are carefully decorated with the fine, crosshatched lines that comprise the petatillo.
Next the piece is fired in a kiln to a temperature of about 880 degrees C. Later, the piece is submerged in an enamel to achieve its glaze and fired again at 1000 degrees C, a very high temperature that results in the well-known shiny enamel finish as well as expelling the lead content from the piece.
In days past, the enameling was done with greta, a mixture of oxides and water, but today lead-free enamels are used, especially if designed for export.
José produces sets of dishes, vases, pitchers, vases, glasses, and a multitude of individual decorative items. The traditional colors are black, red and white although Bernabe and his children have included colors such as green and blue, making his work very unique.