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Gallery Open House Features Tonalá Ceramics

By Susan Page

The traditional potters of Tonalá will be spotlighted at Galeria Atotonilco’s festive Open House, Saturday and Sunday, July 29 and 30, from noon to 5pm. The gallery also presents antique country furniture, photographs of 19th-century Mexico, wood carvings, papier mâché, and more. Galeria Atotonilco is Trip Advisor’s #1 shopping destination in San Miguel, and their #2 attraction in San Miguel, right after the Parroquia. The gallery recently received an award from the World Business Review as the Best Cultural and Contemporary Art Gallery in Latin America.

Art Open House
Ceramics from Tonalá, Jalisco
Galeria Atotonilco
Sat and Sun, Jul 29 and 30, 12–5pm
For directions to the gallery, see our ad in this issue or our website:

Gallery owner Mayer Shacter emphasizes items not widely available elsewhere in San Miguel. Every purchase benefits an artist and his or her family and keeps historic folk art traditions alive.

Tonalá, near Guadalajara, has been an important center of ceramic art for more than 3,000 years, well before the Spanish arrived. “When I visited Tonalá more than 40 years ago,” commented Shacter, “traditional pottery was everywhere—on the sidewalks, in the street markets, in shops—and many families were working in the local traditions. Today, the town has transformed into a commercial center for manufactured decorative arts, and traditional potters are nowhere to be seen. The 25 or so families still creating the area’s distinctive pottery work in obscure studios and may not even show their work in town.

Perhaps the best known Mexican pottery today is “Mata Ortiz,” named after the Chihuahua town near Casas Grandes where it is made. Famous for its geometric designs and meticulous craftsmanship, it has been widely promoted and is therefore uncharacteristically expensive. While it is inspired by ancient Casas Grandes pottery, it is a 20th-century phenomenon. Tonalá ceramic is equal to Mata Ortiz in quality but is steeped in tradition and still incredibly affordable. It differs from Mata Ortiz in that the work is narrative, decorated with masterfully painted scenes using indigenous iconography like nahuales (“shape shifters”), mermaids (symbols of the duality of land and sea), skeletons, angels and devils, cactus, cowboys, and burros. You might see farmers harvesting agave for mescal, a scene about the subjugation of the indigenous people, nationalistic or religious symbols, the history of ceramics in Tonalá, a marketplace scene, or an artist depicting himself making pots!

“The best Tonalá potters,” says Shacter, “are producing exquisitely crafted and wonderfully imaginative works of art. If they were paintings, they would cost thousands of dollars, but ceramics are still reasonably priced. Though the work remains solidly within the tradition of the area, many artists are giving it contemporary innovations.” A ceramic artist himself for 27 years, Shacter has a keen eye for the best of the folk potters working today and loves to support those who are still active.

Enjoy refreshments and view a dazzling array of folk and contemporary art, Saturday and Sunday, July 29 and 30, from noon to 5pm each day. Directions to the gallery are in our ad in this issue of Atencion or on our website.



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