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About Talavera

The ceramic from Puebla, Mexico, is World famous. It is a variation of ‘majolica’ made by the Spanish in Talavera de la Reina, Spain. Talavera is the result of a combination of skills from many cultures other than the Spanish, including Arabic, Italian and Chinese. Whereas most ceramic has a smooth feel Talavera has an uneven texture, which reflects the type of mineral based paints used, and the raised designs are a distinctive feature of Talavera.

Our Talavera pieces are hand crafted using traditional methods to the highest standard and are supplied by Diseños Alonso Luis.

To receive a Free DVD about talavera please contact us.

A Brief History

Talavera has its origin far away from Mexico in Arabia. It is stated that some Arabs settled in Talavera de la Reina, Spain, and began to produce Talavera and teach their methods to the Spanish people. With the conquest of Mexico by Spain the technique was brought to Mexico, where it found a home in Puebla in around 1645, and with time took on a Mexican twist to become the Talavera we know and love.
There are many variations of the story of how Talavera came to be produced in Puebla. The most accepted theory is that monks who had come over from Spain, sent for craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina to teach the Mexican people their trade so that they could decorate their churches and religious buildings and with time it became part of the culture of the area.
It was not until the 18th century that colours such as green and yellow came to be used in addition to the traditional blue colour.

The Talavera is beautiful, who makes it?

The Talavera supplied by The Mexican Rug Company is made by Desiños Alonso Luis, Puebla. The Mexican Rug Company is proud to announce that it is the only authorised distributor in the UK and as such is able to bring this highly elegant exclusive ceramic to the UK customer. Desiños Alonso Luis, while not small producers are not large producers either, which helps to keep their work very exclusive.

A short video about Alonso Luis and the manufacturing process is available free of charge on DVD, however if you wish to see a video of lesser quality now you can view this on youtube

How can I tell the difference between a Talavera Piece and a normal Ceramic piece?

If you have a Talavera piece aside a normal piece of ceramic this is very easy to do, but if not one should take into account the following:
Firstly Talavera is generally heavier.
Secondly, a poorer quality ceramic piece may have a smooth texture, rather than the uneven texture of Talavera, which occurs as a result of the painting process.
Thirdly, Talavera doesn’t have a bright white colour…. ever. Talavera pieces may appear white, but if you look closely they are actually an off white colour, this becomes very obvious when you put one next to a normal ceramic piece.
Fourthly, all genuine Talavera must have been signed by the place that produces it .
Lastly, and this is probably the easiest way to distinguish accurately between the two, genuine Talavera is a lot more exclusive and therefore expensive.

What are the colours made of?

The colours in Talavera pottery are mineral oxide based, which contributes to the elevated uneven texture of the pieces. Blue comes from cobalt, green from copper, red-brow from manganese, and yellow and orange from iron.
Pure cobalt (Co) or cobalt oxide, as is used in the pigment, is not found naturally and tends to be a by-product of copper mining activities, making it very hard work to obtain.
However, compounds of this metal have been used throughout history in Egyptian and Chinese cultures to create the rich blue colour still used today.
Copper (Cu) or copper oxide has also played a massive part in civilization’s history as it is much more accessible, and it has been mined by many civilisations for as long as 10,000 years. It is one of the few metal oxides used to occur naturally as an un-compounded metal and has the potential to create more colours.
Manganese (Mn) or Manganese oxide that is used to make the red-brown pigments was also used by the Egyptians and Romans since as far back as 17,000 years ago, although not always to make pigments. It was also used in glass making to colour or remove colour.
Iron or iron chromate used for the yellow-orange pigment is abundant in nature making up most of the core of the earth and much of the crust. It must be chemically reduced before use.

How Much Work goes into producing Talavera?

The answer is, A LOT. The process begins by letting the clay stand for a while to ‘cleanse it`, before eventually working it and giving it the form that it will ultimately take. Then it is fired. After firing it needs to be dipped in a glass based enamel and the paint applied, and then fired for a final time. After one sees the detail of the designs and one remembers that it’s all painted by hand, and that the colours only take on their colour on firing, one can fully appreciate the skills and time required to make a Talavera piece.

Is my Talavera Microwavable and dishwasher proof?

Whilst we have seen the staff of the company frequently heat up water for coffee in an Alonso Luis mug, with apparently no ill effect, and Alonso Luis himself says that his products are completely microwaveable; The Mexican Rug Company suggests the Talavera is not used for prolonged microwave cooking.
As regards their suitability for dishwasher use, Alonso Luis says, “yes, no problem at all” but as this is a hand-crafted product The Mexican Rug Company would advise caution in respect of extensive dishwasher use.

The Process

The clay is mined at Ajalpan where the clay is purer than in other areas. It is ground to a powder and sieved to remove any stones and the powder is mixed with water and made into clay before being left to stand for one week to allow the moisture in the clay to become consistent throughout. At this point it becomes malleable and is stored in plastic to keep it cool and moist. The clay is then moulded, Some of the moulding is done by machine, for example the plates, so an exact copy can be made in each design. Flat moulds and square moulds are also used to make items with more unusual shapes. Some of these moulds have very limiting time constrictions, for example with the plaster box moulds the clay must be correct in consistency and left to set for the exact amount of time before the excess is removed or the pot will be ruined. For other items that are not moulded the traditional foot-powered spinning wheel is used.
Once moulded the items are smoothed by hand to remove any remaining rough bits. The items are then left to dry for one week on bricks that aid the removal of any excess water. Plates must be turned every day to stop warping.
After one week of drying the items change colour for the first time and although they are dry they are still very weak. This is where they first go into the oven. The first firing in the ‘San Cocho’ oven lasts 18 hours and it is fired by sixteen gas jets at a temperature of 1200 degrees centigrade. In times past, before the introduction of the controlled gas oven, the quality of the pieces largely depended on the skill of the craftsmen to keep the oven at the right temperature. Upon firing the second colour change takes place as items are bright red when they come out of the oven as they have reacted to the heat
The items after the first firing are called ‘jahuete’ in Mexico but are more commonly known as ‘biscuit’ or ‘bisque' and must be cooled before painting.
Next the enamel is added. The enamel is made by Alonso Luis to a secret recipe but we do know that it is glass based. Items are immersed in the enamel producing an off white colour which dries very quickly. Once the enamel is dry the piece is ready to be painted.

Enamel Coating

Before painting begins the piece must be centred to aid the painter. This is done by lightly scoring the enamel on the items in a cross shape to find the middle point. After this the shapes are stenciled onto the items using a ‘muñeca’ or a cloth with charcoal dust. This can be done by hand but Alonso Luis is extremely concerned with symmetry so templates are used so no mistakes are made.

Hand Painting

The colours are made from a base of metal oxides and require skill and patience in their preparation. There are five base colours with many varying tones. These include blue form cobalt, green from copper, red and brown from manganese, and yellow and orange from iron. These colours before firing are dull pastel colours and only reveal their true colour after they have been fired. It is at this point that the skill of the painters becomes evident. The paint dries immediately meaning that as soon as the painter has completed their design it is there forever and is extremely hard to rectify.

Before 2nd Firing

(Several representatives from The Mexican Rug Company have tried their hand at painting and will give testament to its difficulty.)
The composition of the paint means that as well as the colour change and the glazed effect the ceramic can be exposed to the open air without losing their colour intensity or shine. The Talavera is painted with special brushes (pincels) which are made out of horse hair and specifically designed for this type of painting.
Finally, on items such as plates a border is added. This highly specialised task is done separately and only a few people are permitted to do this due to the level of precision required. When the painting is finished the items are fired for another 22-24 hours before they take on their final form.
Desiños Alonso Luis does not actually glaze their items but the reaction caused between the enamel and the paint creates a strong coating and produces a glazed look and feel. As with the enamel Alonso Luis formulates all of the colours used on his Talavera.
Each piece of Alonso Luis Talavera can take up to one month to complete after which they undergo a quality control check to ensure all ítems are of a standard suitable to be sold under Alonso Luis’s name.

A Note from the Author

On a recent visit to Mexico Alonso Luis very kindly allowed me, (Rebecca Goodwin – Director), and other members of my family, to attempt painting a plate. It showed me how difficult it really is, you cannot see the colours properly as these do not become visible until after firing, and the paint dries the moment it is added to the plate - there are no second chances. It really is a great skill and a true art.

Click here to browse Alonso Luis talavera.

On site at Alonso Luis