Barra Bruñido is the oldest of the 6 pottery techniques found in Tonalá (Jalisco, Mexico), said to originate from the town, and dating back to pre-Hispanic times. Over the last few decades, it has become the most famous technique in Tonalá.The technique is named after a step in the process that involves burnishing (i.e. polishing by applying pressure) the painted piece pre-firing with a small stone called “pirita” to give it its particular shine. It is impressive to see the effort required to create each piece, and astonishing how shine can be achieved without applying an industrial, chemical glaze! The complex, delicate paintings on each piece make them truly unique, and an important Mexican folk-art tradition.
MATERIALS: Clay, raw color slip and lands of different colours, mineral pigments, firewood, manure.
TOOLS: Brush, hands, primitive lathe, pyrite or quartz burnisher.
Clay rocks are ground to fine powder, mixed with water, and kneaded until the right consistency is reached. In this wet state, the clay has a dark-grey, black colour.
The kneaded clay is flattened out and folded around handmade plaster or wooden moulds, like a tortilla. The clay is then cut out of the moulds in two halves, which are sealed together with the same clay and water to form a hollow object.
Once the objects are formed, they are left to dry in the sun for 1-2 days to avoid cracks in the clay during firing.
The pieces are sanded and polished pre-firing with a small pebble stone from a river. This process closes off all the pores of the piece and achieves a smooth surface ready to be painted.
The pieces are usually decorated with natural, fantastical, and Mexican motifs, using natural colours.
Once painted, the pieces are polished with another small, metal stone called ‘pirita’. This step, in particular, affords a lot of skill and precision as there is a risk of the paint peeling off.
To finish the objects, they are fired in a kiln at about 600 degrees Celsius for a couple of hours.This step is particularly nerve-wrecking as pieces may break, meaning that all the effort was for nothing. For example, a sand particle left in the clay, or firing them too hot may cause pieces to crack.