Manuel Jerónimo Reyes
Manuel was born in 1957 in Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michoacán, and he learned pottery-making when he was a boy watching his grandfather, Venturo Reyes Luz, who at the time was one of the few artisans dedicated to working clay in his community.
He tells how his grandfather used to come down from the mountains and share his mid-morning meal, which consisted of coffee and flour tortillas. Then they would go to the workshop together and the old man would apply himself to shaping and working his clay figures, while the boy sat by and watched; this was how he learned, by observing and spending time with his grandfather.
All his pieces are made in molds. Even the appliqué details that decorate his pieces are made in molds inherited from his grandfather or his mother, Ana María Reyes, who was also a fine potter, or that he has made himself. He uses a "special" clay for his pieces. He combines red and white clay until it is "taffy-like" - malleable and above all resistant to firing.
Manuel molds his pieces, assembles them, and polishes them with stones he has found. Then he attaches the appliqué, which generally consists of small figures of doves and other birds, because the decorated pieces tend to sell the best. He has tried to decorate his work with fish or other animals, but the favorites among his clientele continue to be birds.
When the pieces are finished, he puts them in a closed room, "so that the clay can dry at peace." After three or four days, he puts them in a wood-burning kiln lit in the open air at a temperature of about 600°C (1100°F). Once they are fired, he removed the pieces and varnishes them the next day with greta, as the glaze is known; it contains cobalt oxide or cobalt blue and is applied to produce the distinctive glossy black tone of his work. After the pieces are glazed, they are fired again, now at temperatures ranging from 900-1000°C (1650-1830°F). Then they are removed from the kiln, cleaned off and are ready to be sold. If he is making pots or utensils that will be used for cooking, he uses a lead-free glaze that is not toxic.
(Our thanks to Fomento Cultural Banamex for allowing us to use photos and narrative from "The Great Masters of Latin America..")