Sample Essay on Ceramics

Since the appearance of the Olmec culture, ceramics took an important place in the lives of Mexican people. The vessels, figures, and various types of utensils found in archaeological ruins of ancient cites, suggests the techniques used in their ceramics: the use of clay, knowledge of fire in their work, and some knowledge of coloring and painting designs.

The Olmecs (1500 B.C. – 800 A.D.) Transcended their era and left behind their knowledge to the cultures that came after them.

The Teotihuac’s (100 B.C.-800 A.D.) prepared the majority of their vessels with clay and decorated them with a variety of techniques: mainly stucco, painting and smoothing.

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The ceramics of the Aztecs (1325 A.D. -1521 A.D.) was carried was extremely varied. They made al types of earthenware, plates, jugs, caps, pots, mostly with red and orange clay.

The Mixtecs stood out for their polychrome lacquer ceramics, in which after polishing a piece, they would cover it with white stucco and then paint it.

To the north, the Casas Grandes culture (100 A.D.-1360 A.D.) produced beautiful polychrome ceramic, basically with geometric motives and influences from the Mimbres culture.

Each region had its own unique characteristics in pottery. However, in all these cultures, the potter himself was given a great deal of importance. The Aztecs summed it up in the following way:

“A good potter:
Puts great care into his work,
Teaches the clay to lie,
Speaks with his own heart,
Brings life to things,
Creates them,
Knows everything as if he were a Toltec,
Makes his hands skillful.”

The ancient techniques employed to make ceramics are still used today mostly in the rural parts of Mexico. Although these groups were able to preserve their artistic techniques-coil building, open firing, natural pigments- they lost their original language and their religion.

When the Spanish arrived, the blending of societies allowed the indigenous people to learn new techniques, and the combination of styles gave life to some of the more famous ceramic styles of Mexican ceramics, such as the “majolica” or better known as the Talavera.

The tradition of Talavera potter is a utilitarian art form which is deeply rooted in many different cultures. Talavera majolica earthenware is a fusion of style and technique that can be traced back to Asia and Italy and which ultimately propagated to Spain, Portugal and the New World.

Though variations of this art form date back to the eight century when Arab cultures stepped into Europe, the earliest examples of true Talavera come from 15th century Spain. Many of the designs, “flora y fauna,” are borrowed from ancient Chinese and Philippine designs in which certain animals, birds, deer and flowers, can be easily identified. in the Middle ages, the Italians were experimenting with polychrome glaze techniques and a variety of new colors were developed by combining metal and tin oxides with lead sulphates. During this same time, artists created glazes with colors by working the kiln at much higher and lower temperatures. This combination of Italian technique, Asian design and Islamic design was introduced to the Spanish in the early 15th century and a new form of ceramics was born.

Though the finest pieces of Talavera were made as decorative objects for wealthier, aristocratic families, most pieces; bowls, jugs, plates, oil jars and tile, were used as everyday ware by the common person. Most of these pieces were produced in Seville, Granada and Talavera de la Reina, which became well known centers for high quality ceramics. Not long after, artists sailed to the New World where there was already an industry of Talavera factories and few craftsmen. In Puebla de Los Angeles, Mexican Talavera pottery created a name for it, Hispano Poblano, and is now one of the most respected forms of pottery in the Western World.

Puebla, Mexico, is highly regarded for its ceramic tiles and tableware especially the Talavera, which is characterized by patterns, a lot of color, and designs that feature traditional Spanish techniques. It involves two firings first with a tin glaze and then lead. The brightly painted designs are applied between the two firings.

Puebla’s Talavera comes directly from Arabian-Andalusian tradition which began in Spain in the 19th century, when the influence of the Arabic culture passed on its techniques to peninsular potters. In the 16th century the Talavera became very popular and was brought to Puebla. Although the Talavera is only produced in Puebla, other majolica type earthenware is also produced in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende.

Then, the resulting dot pattern is used as a guide for the hand painted colors. The hand painted piece is fired again to make the long-lasting and beautiful ceramics that are sold in Puebla.

To the west in Tonala, Jalisco is another Mexican state with a long tradition of ceramic production. In michoacan, red ware is used to make everything from large cooking posts to rice dishes to table dishes.

In Oaxaca, the town of San Bartolo is famous for its barro negro, or black clay. The clay gets this black color through pigments in the polishing process, which brings out the red color from inside the clay.

This technique was introduced to Mexico by a small group of Mexican ceramic artists who studied abroad, mainly in Japan and the United States. Little by little, it caught on, and these days there are several regional centers in which artists work with stoneware. Michoacan, Vera Cruz, and Jalisco are some states with this type of centers.

In Metepec, Mexico, the ceramic tradition has been influenced by Christian beliefs. Here, they create the well known arboles de la vida, trees of life, which are made to look like a tree. Wire is used to attach the clay leafs and figurines to the “tree.” It is called de la vida because it explains the origins of life. Usually there are figures of God, angels and Adam and Eve, as well as the serpent and some fruit are represented by special figures.

Since the tree represents the Day of the Dead tree, some trees are also made by using skeletons, and images related to the festivity.

In the more modern times, ceramics took on a new style and a new design. People began making more designs that included contemporary life. These designs bring out the true Mexican culture, style, and color. The colors symbolize the ethnic blends that exist in Mexico today. The style symbolizes more than just the artists taste. It symbolizes the early culture and how ceramics began. For if the Spanish never would have reached the New World, the style would be different and would not reflect whatsoever its Spanish roots. In the pre Colombian era, many forms of ceramics were created with great artistic value, characterized by great impressionism.

As we can see, Mexican ceramics bring together the influences of pre-Hispanic, European, Arabic and Oriental cultures. Whatever technique is used, Mexican ceramics have an individuality and “flavor” that is appreciated for its art and quality worldwide.

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