Talavera pottery is a Mexican and Spanish pottery tradition named after the Spanish Talavera de la Reina pottery, from Talavera de la Reina, in Spain. The Mexican pottery is a type of majolica or tin-glazed earthenware, with a white base glaze typical of the type. It comes from the town of San Pablo del Monte (in Tlaxcala) and the cities of Puebla, Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali (all these four latter in the state of Puebla), because of the quality of the natural clay found there and the tradition of production which goes back to the 16th century. Much of this pottery was decorated only in blue, but colors such as yellow, black, green, orange and mauve have also been used. Maiolica pottery was brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the first century of the colonial period. Production of this ceramic became highly developed in Puebla because of the availability of fine clays and the demand for tiles from the newly established churches and monasteries in the area. The industry had grown sufficiently that by the mid-17th century, standards and guilds had been established which further improved the quality, leading Puebla into what is called the "golden age" of Talavera pottery (from 1650 to 1750). Formally, the tradition that developed there is called Talavera Poblana to distinguish it from the similarly named Talavera pottery of Spain. It is a mixture of Italian, Spanish and indigenous ceramic techniques.
The tradition has struggled since the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century, when the number of workshops were reduced to less than eight in the state of Puebla. Later efforts by artists and collectors revived the craft somewhat in the early 20th century and there are now significant collections of Talavera pottery in Puebla, Mexico City and New York City. Further efforts to preserve and promote the craft have occurred in the late 20th century, with the introduction of new, decorative designs and the passage of the Denominación de Origen de la Talavera law to protect authentic, Talavera pieces made with the original, 16th-century methods.
All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter's wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times. This glaze must craze, be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white. There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments. The painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath. An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.
The design of the pieces is highly regulated by tradition. The paint ends up slightly raised over the base. In the early days, only a cobalt blue was used, as this was the most expensive pigment, making it highly sought after not only for prestige but also because it ensured the quality of the entire piece. Only natural clays are used, rather than chemically treated and dyed clays and the handcrafting process takes three to four months. The process is risky because a piece can break at any point. This makes Talavera three times more costly than other types of pottery. Because of this, Talavera manufacturers have been under pressure from imitations, commonly from China, and similar ceramics from other parts of Mexico, especially Guanajuato. The State of Guanajuato petitioned the federal government for the right to share the Talavera designation with Puebla, but, since 1997, this has been denied and glazed ceramics from other parts of Mexico are called Maiolica or Majolica.
The process to create Talavera pottery is elaborate and it has basically not changed since the early colonial period when the craft was first introduced. The first step is to mix black sand from Amozoc and white sand from Tecali. It is then washed and filtered to keep only the finest particles. This can reduce the volume by fifty percent. Next the piece is shaped by hand on a potter's wheel, then left to dry for a number of days. Then comes the first firing, done at 850 °C (1,560 °F). The piece is tested to see if there are any cracks in it. The initial glazing, which creates the milky-white background, is applied. After this, the design is hand painted. Finally, a second firing is applied to harden the glaze. This process takes about three months for most pieces, but some pieces can take up to six months.
This process is so complicated and plagued with the possibility of irreparable damage that during colonial times, artisans prayed special prayers, especially during the firing process.
Some workshops in Puebla offer guided tours and explain the processes involved. The oldest certified, continuously operating workshop is in Uriarte. It was founded in 1824 by Dimas Uriarte, and specialized in traditional colonial-era designs. Another certified workshop, Talavera de la Reina, is known for revitalizing the decoration of the ceramics with the work of 1990s Mexican artists.