Ceramics in Baja California Sur
After a quick stop at the beach in Los Barilles we enjoyed a much needed coffee to recover from a not so comfortable night on a sleeping mat. Sitting next to the coffee machine was a handmade ceramic mug which caught my eye and we started chatting about ceramics with the coffee shop owner Alejandro. Our chat quickly moved to another ceramicist from America who has been living in a small inland village called La Candaleria for decades.
Our search for Lorena of La Candaleria
As we had no fixed itinerary, we like meeting people, and I am on the lookout for traditional crafts, we decided to head to La Candaleria. We found what looked like a real road on google maps and set off. It was all going well and we were excited to be going along the good dirt road surrounded by cacti. Until we had to turn left and what was a hard packed dirt road, gradually became softer and softer until we found ourselves well and truly stuck on what resembled a beach more than a road.
Me pushing the car didn’t work, and neither did using wood or stones behind the front tyres. So we were extremely relieved when a pick up truck with a ranchero came to our rescue. After releasing air from the tyres, pushing the car with me driving and then winching the front wheel up we made it out of the sand pit. The lovely man, who I would have happily kissed given the chance, escorted us to La Candaleria and pointed out where we could find Lorena.
How Lorena discovered ceramics
Lorena immediately welcomed us into her kitchen where she was making bread with one of her English student. She had a chat with us, before showing us where we could set up our tent. I was already getting excited because I could see some of her ceramics and her firing pit, and looked forward to finding out her story the next morning.
Lorena hails from Portland, Oregon and really doesn’t like the cold. So each winter she tried to have a holiday somewhere hot and sunny. The year she found herself in Mexico was the year she hadn’t saved any money or made any plans. Desperate for the sun she jumped on a bus and headed south, where she has been since.
She was not a ceramicist before she moved here, but it was the need for some cool water that led her to ceramics. In this area tinajas, large ceramic pots made from local clay, are used to keep water cool. However she could not find one to buy or anyone to make one for her. She found people who could make it, but they didn’t want to in case she didn’t like it. So she set off learning how to make it herself with the help of her sister in law. And has spent the last 30 years perfecting her technique, the materials she uses and the way she fires her work.
An inspiring woman
For Lorena it seemed very straightforward; she wanted cold water, she couldn’t get the tinaja that she needed, so she learnt how to make it. For me listening to her story I don’t find it so matter of fact, I think it’s pretty remarkable that she taught herself a skill from scratch. It wasn’t even because of her love for ceramics, she needed to make something to use. She also happens to be an incredibly relaxed, open and welcoming person. I hope to return one day to La Candaleria to learn more from her.
Step by step guide of how Lorena makes her ceramics
- She collects the clay from about a foot under the soil. There is only about 2 feet worth of clay. Lorena collects what machines have dug up and left by the side of the road.
- The clay is processed by letting it dry out. The dust is then put through a sieve. Water is added to the sieved clay and it sits in a plastic tub for about a year.
- She then uses the clay to make very big pinch pots, that she calls punch pots. With one hand on the inside and one on the outside of the vessel she creates an even thickness.
- She also uses ceramic moulds and pushes clay into them.
- The pieces dry out for a couple of weeks. During this time she polishes them with 3 stones, getting finer each time. This makes them look as though they are glazed.
- Lorena places the dried pieces in a metal drum and preheats them before firing. She makes a fire in the pit and puts the drum above it on a wire mesh, where it sits until evening.
- For the final firing she lines the pit with cow dung and puts the metal drum into the pit. It is covered with a piece of sheet metal. The pieces get fired for about an hour and a half.
- Then she has her finished pottery!
We made an awesome road trip in Baja California Sur, camping along the way. Follow this link to find out our route and tips for things to do.