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

Phone: 951-103-8903


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I highly recommend our bilingual guides, Juan Ruiz Alfaro ( and Xitlalli Ruiz (, 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.

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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.