Clay Filigree (Filigrana de Barro) in Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico

The Velasco Villanueva family (Doña Manuela and her children, Joel, Rocio, Jose, Lorena, Violeta, Beatriz, and Alicia) design and create beautiful clay filigree jewelry, vessels, and sculptures by dramatically combining buff and red earthenware clays. Alicia Velasco's Facebook page and blog feature some the family's incredible pieces. What follows is a quick look at how they create it. Each handmade piece is unique.


Both locally-found clays are purchased dry from venders. The reddish-brown terracotta fires red and the black clay fires to a light buff color. The dry clay is mixed with water, strained to remove debris, then the slurry is spread onto fired clay saggars to remove excess moisture. To make a small pendant, Alicia skillfully forms a piece of terracotta into a heart shape with her fingers. Then she presses the heart onto a small board, refining the shape as the back is flattened. She smooths the surface of the heart with her damp fingers.

Alicia carefully incises a curvy line into the heart with a sharp spine (from a plant in the yard). She rolls a small coil of the other clay between her hands, then presses it into the incision. She then uses the spine to score the heart where the next piece of clay will be added.

More scoring is done where leaves will be added. Alicia delicately forms a small clay leaf. She then carefully places the leaf onto a scored part of the heart. Alicia works at a steady pace, but calmly. She is not in a rush. Her focussed method is very meditative. A tiny flower petal will be placed over the scored marks (in the upper left). The process of scoring, forming a component, then pressing it into place continues until the piece is finished. When complete, it will dry slowly so that every part shrinks at the same rate. It will be loaded into the wood-burning kiln with other dry work. The temperature will gradually be increased until it reaches around 1500°F.

The kiln is opened the next day, after everything has cooled. Manuela removes the broken pots (supported with metal bars) that cover the top of the kiln.
Then the fired filigree pieces are carefully unloaded. You can find this family's exquisite clay filigree work in the finest shops in Oaxaca and elsewhere.

For more information, or to take a class, please contact them (in Spanish) at:

Familia Velasco Villanueva
Avenida Juarez No. 110
Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca
México

Phone: 951-103-8903

email: alisami76@hotmail.com

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I highly recommend our bilingual guides, Juan Ruiz Alfaro (tourguidejuan@yahoo.com.mx) and Xitlalli Ruiz (xitlalli.ruiz@gmail.com), because Juan and Xitlalli (pronounced "she-TLAH-lee") know everyone and everything about Oaxaca and either one can drive you anywhere in their own cars or one or both can guide a large or small group in a chauffeured van or bus. Juan and Xitlalli can also make hotel arrangements in Oaxaca for small and large groups.

LINKS:
The Porras Ceramic Studio of Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico
Mexican Ceramist, Capelo
Mexican Ceramist, Angelica Escarcega Rodriguez
Mexican Ceramist, José Luis Méndez Ortega
Mexican Ceramists, Guevara Ceramics
Mexican Ceramist, Tecpatl Ceramics    
Pre-Columbian Maya Ceramic Reproductions  
ARTCERA Wax Figures of Mexico
Tinsmithing in Guanajuato, Mexico
Backstrap Weaving School at Santa Maria del Rio, Mexico
Backstrap Woven Shawls of Esperanza Valencia Morra of Morelia
Foot-Loom Weaving in Central Mexico
Marquetry Boxes of José Antonio Rodríguez Salazar of Santa Maria del Rio, Mexico
Fernando Giron Pantoja, Woodcarver of Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato, Mexico
Francisco Garcia Guevara, Jeweler in Guanajuato, Mexico
Ikat Shawls of Uriangato and Moroleon, Mexico
Gobelin Tapestry Weaving in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico
Mexican Cane baskets
Margarita Orozco Ramirez of San Miguel de Allende Papermaker
Los Leñateros Papermaking, Printmaking, and Book Arts Studio of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico
Carmen Betancourt Icons of Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico
Roof Tiles in Bali, Indonesia  
Tiles and Ceramics of Seville, Spain  
Tiles and Ceramics of Talavera de la Reina, Spain
Tiles and Ceramics of Ubeda, Spain  
Monje Ceramics of Lora del Rio, Spain
Earthenware Tiles of Portugal  
Majolica Ceramics of Caldas da Rainha, Portugal
Traditional Dunzi Production in Yaoli, China
Porcelain production in Jingdezhen, China    

Web page, photographs, and text by Carol Ventura in 2013. Please look at Carol's home page to see more about crafts around the world.