One of the most skilled potters in Mexico
Ángel and his father, who has been making ceramics for more than 50 years, work in the traditional pottery town of Tonalá, Jalisco. They have revived traditions from the thirties that had actually disappeared from their village. They are among very few Mexican artists who have been selected to sell their work at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A Life-Changing Experience
Galería Atotonilco owner, Mayer Shacter, himself a studio potter for twenty-seven years, met the Ángel Ortiz family ten years ago and was awed by the quality, imagination, and sheer beauty of their work. He began representing them and developed a very close friendship with the family. In 2012, he helped them apply to the International Folk-Art Market in Santa Fe, a highly competitive, world-famous market, and was thrilled when they were accepted. With their letter from the Market, the Ángels’ were easily able to obtain ten-year visas. Mayer offered to accompany them to Santa Fe, and in July, they all set out for the Ángel’s first airplane ride ever, and their first time in the States.
Their pottery created a sensation at the Market. The Ángels could barely contain their excitement as they wrote up sale after sale, and watched and listened to one amazed, grateful customer after another. At the end of two and a half days, they had made as much income as they had ever earned in two and a half years!
The experience was life changing for this family. Over the next few months, they put a proper kitchen and bathroom in their home, which they had never before had. Ángel senior got a knee replacement, which he badly needed, and now walks all over like a trooper, pain free.
The Best Collection of Ortiz Work is at Galería Atotonilco
Since Shacter has been collecting Ángel Ortiz pottery for ten years, Galería Atotonilco has the finest selection of their work anywhere, even in their own studio, where, at any given time, they may have very few pieces on hand.
Description of the Work
Ángel Ortiz and his son make burnished ceramics in a variety of forms including vases; plates; chargers; squat vase forms with three feet; distinctive heart-shaped vases; nahuals (mythological creatures); round jars with three feet; anthropomorphic whistles; and traditional masks.
The distinctive and extraordinary feature of their work is the gorgeous and highly skilled slip decorations on the pieces. Their brushwork is as refined as the finest Japanese brushwork. They paint with slip (liquid clay) complex designs including such themes as country life; mythology; flora and fauna, old Tonalá stories; and national pride.
Method of Work
They hand build each piece using press molds along with other hand-building techniques. When the item is completed, they rub the surface with a smooth river rock and water to prepare it for colored mineral slip decoration. Next, they decorate the piece with colored mineral slips using fine, hand-made brushes. They then burnish it a second time with a smooth iron pyrite stone.
They place a number of pieces in a gas, ceramic-fiber-lined updraft kiln. The pieces are fired up to a temperature of 1,115 degrees Fahrenheit.
The father and son work on separate pieces. They do not work on each other’s pieces.
The Village of Tonalá
Their home, Tonalá, has been an important center of ceramics for more than 2,500 years, since pre-Hispanic times. Ancient Tonalá pots were made for everyday use and ceremonial purposes. The pieces being made today carry forward the same traditional techniques as were used in earlier times. Today, pieces are being made more for their artistic and decorative value. About twenty years ago, artists in Tonalá began developing individual innovations within the area’s traditional techniques and styles, so that today, it is possible to distinguish the work of individual artists because of the unique look and high quality that each artist creates. Ángel Ortiz and his son value the cultural traditions of Tonalá and are actively working to preserve them.
Much of the pottery of Tonalá is distinctive because of its narrative quality. The scenes and stories depicted on the pottery recall country life as it was, ancient myths, symbols that relate to nationalism or our pre-Hispanic past, or plant and animal life as it was before the environment became polluted. The pottery is used to decorate homes, to keep alive the old stories and traditions, and to bring aesthetic pleasure to people’s lives. Both father and son are actively working to revive old styles from the past fifty years that are in danger of being lost.
Tonalá is a small town, a bustling center for decorative art where the Ortiz family enjoy relationships with other ceramic artists. It is a typical Mexican town with an active central plaza and several important annual traditional festivals.
I love my work and find great inspiration in the process of working. Evolution in my work flows easily when I am working and feeling joy. When I consciously try hard to do something different, changes don’t come as easily as when I let the work itself carry me to new places. I feel grateful to have a profession that gives me enormous personal satisfaction and that also makes a contribution to preserving Mexico’s distinctive cultural heritage. The challenges of being a folk artist are the usual stresses of running a small business, and the ongoing effort of attracting customers to my work. But I like working for myself, and I never let these challenges diminish the pleasure I take in my work.
I own a small property near the plaza in Tonalá. My living quarters are in the back part of the building; my studio is in several spaces throughout the building. In the front of the building on the street, I have a small showroom where I can greet customers and sell my work. I also use this space to do the decorations on the pieces because there is good light there. I live in this space with my wife. My son and his wife and three children live upstairs. My daughters and their children come and go often. We have a large extended family. There is an easy overlap between my work, my daily life, and my family.
AWARDS Ángel Gabriel Ortiz (Father)
1995 – Second Place in the Grand National Competition in Mexico City for the technique of Burnished Ceramics
1997-Recognition and Support for Traditional Burnished Ceramics Museum of New York
1998-Third Place Award in the Grand National Competition in Mexico City for the technique of Burnished Ceramics
1998-Selected to participate in a show called “Magic Hands” with vase forms in Burnished Ceramics in a museum in New York City
2000-Second Place in Traditional Ceramics for my piece called “Fiesta Campiana Taurina” (Country Fiesta Taureen) Twelfth Annual State Contest, held in Tonalá
2003 and 2004-Selected to participate in a private exhibition in Sonora entitled, “Masters of Mexican Folk Art”
2003-Reward for piece called, “El Cristo en El Arbol de la Vida” (Christ in the Tree of Life); Fifteenth Annual Stat Contese, held in Tonalá
2006-National Arts and Sciences Award in a group show on the theme of Traditional Arts of Tonalá
AWARDS José Ángel Ortiz Arana (Son)
1998- (At the age of 16) First place award in category of youth with piece called “Mariachi y El Jarabe Tapatío” in the technique of burnished ceramics
1999- First Place Award for a large jar on the theme of Santiago in the theme of burnished ceramics
1999-Second Place Award in the technique of Burnished Ceramics Competition: “Mask of the Tastoaneas” in Tonalá
1999- (At the age of 17) Fourth Place Award in the Grand National Competition for Folk Art Mexico City
2000- First Place Award in Youth Category Regional Ceramic Competition in Tonalá; Third Place Award in the technique of Burnished Ceramics Competition: “Mask of the Tastoaneas” in Tonalá
2002- First Place Award in Youth Category Regional Competition in Tonalá; selected to represent the State of Jalisco in a workshop in Colima about the theme of Burnished Ceramics.
2003- First Place Award in Competition for a sculpture of “La Reina Cihualpilli” Tonalá
2006-First Place Award in State of Jalisco Folk Art Competition
2006-National Arts and Sciences Award Theme: Traditional Arts of Tonalá