The Barro Negro de San Bartolo Project is an ongoing research originally started for Binomios Creativos: Artesanos + Diseñadores (A Creative Binomial: Artisans + Designers), a nine-month project run and supported by Centro de Diseño de Oaxaca, in which I teamed with craftsmen from one Oaxacan village: San Bartolo Coyotepec.
Year / 2013 - ongoing
The artisan work in San Bartolo Coyotepec has experienced an evolution throughout its history; from his utility to the introduction of tourism with their respective requirements and preferences.
Today the Barro Negro has relevance in the craft world by his expression and identity; however it is necessary to mention the paradigm shift that is happening globally around crafts:
There is a renewed interest in the rescue of local values, traditions and customs, principles and applications. This attention arises through the end of globalization, where local cultures are being challenged to the fullest, disappearing or merging with each other.
One of the main highlights of this cultural nostalgia is seeking to recover cultural objects that embody the culture of a society. Objects that used to satisfy their expressive and aesthetic capacity today also meet functional demands, demands that are based on the search for these materials to reinstate ritual objects rescued from the past.
A part of the new generations seek this reality: a quieter life, dedicated to enjoy your personal universe through the senses and the inherited culture. The Barro Negro is presented in this context with unique features, owning an expression and irrefutable and able to regain its functionality before inseparable symbolic value.
The proposed concepts are governed by the rescue of the Barro Negro and San Bartolo Coyotepec.
The main objective of the project wasn’t related to the creation of objects but in creating a new attitude and approach by the craftsman, the designer and contemporary crafts market for Oaxaca. Four goals were determined since the start of the project:
1. Develop production processes that allow the introduction of new types of products, respecting the customs of the artisan community.
2. Encourage the search for products that incite emotional interaction with the consumer, through the recognition of values, rituals and customs.
3. Identify, and transmit local values hrough the language of the craft object.
4. Build products with guaranteed access to domestic and international markets.
One of the biggest risks of the project was to develop an excessive use of traditional languages in the configuration of the object, resulting in crafts without sufficient innovation for the market.
We focused in simplifying to the maximum possible innovations in the eventual production process and the use of graphical and symbolic languages in the future objects, even considering the generation a visual record of the symbols and graphics applied in the ornamentation of the final proposal, in order to accelerate and facilitate the generation of own patterns of the community and its integration into the production process.
During our investigation we found a series of values and unique characteristics of the Barro Negro which eventually have become the narrative, expressive, functional and theoretical fundaments of a series of concepts to be developed.
Importantly, the design aims to convey the intentions of the creator; those ideas that the object will communicate to the user: Its symbolic, practical and aesthetic value. The concept is merely the essence of the design.
All the future concepts should raise the possibility of including a common understanding, based on the relationship between the consumer and the acquired piece, and a particular interest in learning about the production process and the craftsman responsible for its creation:
The creation of Barro Negro involves the participation of key tools and implements to reach their identity. But these objects are always in the abandonment, often being even improvisations by the craftsman, discovered at random elements.
Interestingly, then, to form emotional bonds with the craftsman through the incorporation of the tools used in developing the craft object acquired.
Craftmen from San Bartolo Coyotepec:
Gregorio Mateo Vicente, Abelina Garcia Aguilar, Luis Ortíz Simón
About Barro Negro
Black Clay (barro negro in Spanish) from Oaxaca famous for its color, sheen and unique shapes and decorative designs is made in a small village called San Bartolo Coyotepec.
The color of the barro negro is the natural color of the clay found in the area. The clay is shaped in the same way the ancient Zapotec used to do it, in the Zapotec wheel, which is a disc or plate balanced over another inverted plate. The piece is shaped by coiling or molding and then it is finished while turned on the disc. The disc with the vessel in progress is turned only with the hands so balance and skill are required.
After the pieces are shaped they are set to dry in a room, this process can take around 3 weeks. When the pieces are almost dry, the surface is lightly moistened and polished with a quartz stone. At this stage decorative accents such as flower drawings, intricate openwork or small handles are added. The pieces are then fired in wood firing underground pits or above the ground kilns reaching 700°C to 800°C. These low firing temperatures produce a fragile clay that can be used only to decorative purposes.
About San Bartolo Coyotepec
San Bartolo Coyotepec is a Zapotec community with a pottery tradition that goes back more than 2000 years.
The settlement was known as Zaapeche, (place of many jaguars) by the Zapotec and after the Spanish conquest was named San Bartolome Coyotepec by Bartolome Sanchez, a conqueror awarded a local Encomienda, who built the first town,s church in 1532.
The area soils made grayish mate clay that was used by potters to make jars and dishes. For centuries no significant change in the pottery making process was made until the early 1950's when potter Rosa Real discovered that by polishing the clay pieces before they were completely dry and lowering the firing temperature the clay changed its color to a shiny black.