Rimriquati is one of the only female ceramists working in the town of San Bartolo de Coyotopec, around one hour from the City of Oaxaca.
This small rural town is the home of one of Mexico’s most famous artisanal products; Barro Negro or Black Mud - a unique clay that when burnished produces a distinct shiny black pottery.
This work is largely dominated by male artisans, they run the process from beginning to end. However, nestled deep in the town of San Bartolo, Coyotepec is the home of Rimriquati who has run her own Barro Negro business for the last thirty years.
The origins of barro negro pottery extend over centuries, with examples of it found at a number of Mexican archeological sites, fashioned mostly into jars and other utilitarian items. It has remained a traditional craft of the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs of the Central Valleys area to the present day.
The process of creating Barro Negro Pottery all starts with large bags of rubble that Rimirquati buys from the local quarry. This rubble is soaked in water for fifteen days and the stones removed resulting in a thick dark clay. This clay is pulled, squeezed and moulded by hand to create mugs, cups, vases and bowls. Small amounts of water are added and Rimriquati uses her fingers to round off the edges and thin out the edges. When the perfect thickness is made she takes a small piece of leather cloth and uses this to fully flatten out the edges. The finished piece is then left to harden for three days. Once hardened the designs are carved into the clay - all from memory. Once the carving has been completed the piece is left for a further three days and then placed in the kiln.
The kiln is a hole that has been dug into the ground, more of an underground fireplace. The clay is placed deep down and dirt piled on top. The fire is lit inside the kiln and the entrance covered, the finished product comes out seven to eight hours later once the fire naturally extinguishes itself.
The final part of the process is what makes these pieces truly unique. The technique of burnishing the clay to create a shiny coating was invented by a woman in the 1950’s, Doña Rosa or Rosa Real Mateo de Nieto who discovered that she could change the color and shine of the pieces by making some changes to how the clay piece is handled.
Originally all barro negro pottery was matte and grayish due to the qualities of the clay and the firing process. Doña Rosa discovered that just before the formed clay piece is completely dry, it is polished with a quartz stone to compress the surface. It is then fired at a slightly lower temperature than traditional pieces. After firing, the piece emerges a shiny black instead of a dull gray.
Rimriquati is determined to train other young female ceramicists. TMAC is working directly with Rimriquati to start running workshops with Mixtec women from the local community, not only to ensure the female presence in the male dominated town is secured, but also to create income opportunities for many of the mothers and wives through the use of ancient artisanal traditions.
“It is our mission to empower indigenous women through creating fair economic opportunities”