An Introduction to Talavera
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You say Talavera, I say Tala-who… You’ve probably heard the name before but in case you are unfamiliar with it, here are some simple facts that will ease the way to learning the ropes about the blue and white classic ceramic tiles and dishes that many associate with Mexico. In reality, like many other people and things, it has multi-cultural origins. More recently –some five centuries back–, it traveled from southern Spain, amidst the whirlwind colors of the flamenco dresses, the fragrant array of spices and the olive-planted fields.
But take further steps into the past and you will find a direct link to the sensuous Moorish presence in Spain back in the 8th Century, an 800-year chapter that left many imprints, among them some undulant verbal flourish, a mystery in certain musical phrasing, a proclivity for structural arches and a definite way of approaching pottery work. Last but not least, there are the ever-present Chinese, parents of all ceramics. Back in the days when only nobility could collect porcelain, it took folks like August the Strong of Saxony who imported the fragile looking pieces that eventually led to Germany developing its own porcelain. Ah, the beauty of ancestry can be found in the potter’s wheel and the way the colors are applied.
After all, it’s in the glaze…
Among many other exchanges between the then conquering Moors and the long-term settlers in the Andalusia province in Spain, the process of turning bland earthenware into vividly colored artisan works came about. It was a town named Talavera de la Reina, in the proximity of Toledo, which became the center for the production of this type of pottery. It was during the time of Columbus’ journeys back and forth to the New World that recently arrived Spanish monks wanted to decorate newly erected churches in the style they were accustomed to. Therefore, they looked to local artisans to learn how to make pottery. Mexicans artisans were highly successful in producing first-class works of art from clay but theirs was a different process; however, learning the new techniques was a cinch. After a try-and-see phase, the artisans in what we know today as Puebla –one of the largest cities in Mexico–, demonstrated to be more apt at throwing clay on the wheel, shape dishes or mold saints and religious figures as well as in the application of colorful pigments to the uncooked glaze before the pieces were fired. And thus, the beginning of what we know as Talavera pottery came about.
In today’s world, the use of Talavera is almost synonymous to Mexican interiors: exquisite tiles lining walls and ceilings in churches and convents that spilled to the haciendas and homes of the citizenry. From the altars to the kitchens and finally, to the tables, Talavera is everywhere to be found in the amazingly rich Mexican landscape. Interestingly, it is in Puebla that it continues to be produced as it was in the 16th Century.
Talavera has been a Hispanic tradition for centuries. Whether in the wave-surrounded islands of the Caribbean or in the heart of South America Talavera tableware was a key player back in the days when the family got together on Sunday afternoons for lunch at grandparents’ homes. It is part of a rich cultural tradition which Casa Cristina™ now shares with it myriad friends throughout the world. A reminder of our happy family-infused youth; a time of sunny days when meals served on tableware pieces made in the original format: a pure white background setting off the dramatic shade of blue, halfway between indigo and cobalt. Pieces of a similar style – whether made in Spain or in Mexico– were part of homes all over Latin America and are ingrained in cherished memories from Cuernavaca to San Juan, Puerto Rico. These days, Talavera dishes and accessories embellish our kitchens and dining rooms not only south of the Rio Grande but also in cities throughout California, Texas and Florida.