Gerardo Ortega López, Tonalá, Jalisco
The Ortega family has been working with betus clay for generations. Also called Cerámica Fantástica because of the bright colors used, barro betus gets its name from the oil bath it receives in Aceite de betus - (a resin extracted from the pine tree) before being fired.
Santa Cruz de las Huertas, a suburb of Tonalá is known as the place of the main producers of barro betus. The theme of objects is found among roosters, coyotes, owls, figures of trees of life, all are made with a fanciful sense of fun and bright colors.
His grandparents worked in the fields of planting and harvesting, and in their free time they dedicated themselves to developing their art. Gerardo's grandmother designed pieces such as roosters, animals, candelabras, animal and fruit chests, covered with nahual bodies (a human being that has the magical power to turn into the shape of an animal, most common as a donkey, turkey and dogs, but also as other animals and more powerful) and surrealistic figures. The origin of betus clay comes from colonial times and is surrounded by myths. The most popular pieces of art are the colorful Nahual figures with the reputation of coming from a magical world.
Gerardo Ortega is well known for his Arboles de la Vida (Trees of Life). His teacher was his father, Eleuterio Hernandez Ortega, and his grandmother, Natividad Hernandez. Gerardo is the fourth generation to work with betus clay.
His father made elaborate masks for the Tastoan dance (dance of the Spanish conquest of Mexico). He also began to design more surrealistic figures. He took the clay from the mines of Tonala and today Gerardo does the same. Large chunks of earth are pulverized and then mixed with a stronger clay called liga.
The process begins with "tortillando" or kneading the clay into unique shapes. The kiln is prepared and they bake the pieces created days before. Before baking, the clay is black in color. The pieces have to dry in the open air before baking or they will explode. The firing is done at a very low temperature compared to other types of ceramics. Each figure is rubbed with birch oil, just before firing, giving them a lacquered appearance, once finished. The kilns are simple brick holes covered with antique tiles.
Independencia 46a, Santa Cruz de las Huertas
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