‘Barro Canelo’ (cinnamon pottery) dates back to pre-Hispanic times and has had several names over the years. The technique was named ‘canelo’, i.e. cinnamon, by the father of the Master Artisan Isabel Pajarito because of its colour (see his video further below), which has since stuck. What is particularly fascinating about this technique is that the pieces change their colour entirely during firing: when the pieces are placed into the kiln they are various blue-grey and yellow shades, and when they come out they are white, red and orange!
Artisans use a specific type of clay for barro canelo, which they can only find in certain parts in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. Due to the city’s marked urban sprawl, the clay deposits are becoming increasingly inaccessible as land is bought-up and developed for housing and commercial districts. This poses a significant threat to the families who make and sell barro canelo pieces, and also to the technique itself. Indeed, since the 1940’s the number of families working barro canelo has dropped from around 200 to about 10. As with other prominent folk-art techniques, barro canelo presents a key element of Mexican culture and identity and so its perseveration is critical (see our blog for more about this).
MATERIALS: Clay, raw colour slip and lands of different colours, mineral pigments, firewood, manure.
TOOLS: Brush, hands, 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 over a handmade clay mould, called a 'mushroom'. The clay is then carefully detached from the mould, and in the case of the piece shown here, the two halves 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 a few hours or a day 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 floral and Mexican motifs, using natural colours from different types of clay, so-called ‘slips’. The piece is first bathed in a blue-grey coloured clay slip, which acts as a base for the decorations. Using different coloured slips, the pieces are then decorated with motifs, often flowers. To achieve different gradients of the motifs, the pieces may be submerged into the clay slip again.
Once painted, the pieces are polished with tallow and then burnished, i.e. polished, with a 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 700-750 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.