Hilario Alejos Madrigal is a Mexican potter from a small town in the state of Michoacán, known for his “pineapple” ceramic wares. The name comes from the original form created by his mother, potter Elisa Madrigal Martinez, who created punch bowls in the shape of pineapples. Alejos Madrigal’s variations include bowls, candelabras and more, with the version done in a green glaze be best known. Alejos Madrigal has won awards for his work, which is featured on the cover of large reference book Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular Mexicano by Fomento Cultural Banamex.
Alejos Madrigal is from San José de Gracia, Michoacán. His mother was Elisa Madrigal Martinez, from Carapan, Michoacán. When she moved to San José de Gracia as a potter, she decided to create something different than the town’s traditional saucepans, making punch bowls in the shape of pineapples, even gaining recognition for them. She then began to use the pineapple motif to create other items. Alejos Madrigal began to learn pottery at age fifteen from this mother, along with his brothers Jose Maria, Emilio and Bulmaro who also have workshops in the same town. This family’s work has spurred the pottery tradition here to diversity and become more creative.
At first Alejos Madrigal made utilitarian items, but when he became interested in participating in competitions, he began to adapt his mother’s pineapple motifs. He became known for green glazed “pineapple” wares, designed to be pots, punch bowls, candelabras and other wares. In addition to green, he also makes pieces in yellow and blue, all requiring skill and dexterity to create their detailed decorations. The best known types of pineapple pieces are those called biznaga (barrel cactus) and conchita (small shell). The former is like a cross between a cactus and a pineapple and the latter is named from the tiny shell-shaped pieces of the pineapple “skin.”
Each pineapple pieces takes about one week to create from start to finish, mostly done with appliqué and openwork techniques. Alejos Madrigal uses two types of clay from a deposit just outside the town, one chosen for its resistance to heat and the other to support the structure. Each piece evolves through several stages of forming, decorating, firing, cooling, glazing and then refiring. First the bulbous pineapple body is created by pressing clay over plaster forms. The ornate decorations are then made and applied by hand. The pieces are low fired in the horno without glaze by layering clay pieces with pine wood, then a first firing of six hours. A layer of broken terra cotta tiles tops off the pyre to assist in keeping heat in the oven. The clay is allowed to slowly cool overnight. Next the pieces are glazed in the traditional green, blue, yellow or cream and fired again in the oven for an additional four hours. The pieces again cool overnight.
Alejos Madrigal has received various recognitions for his work, and his pieces are among the most recognized in Mexico.