Friday, February 20, 2009

Alamos, Uvalama Pottery, and the Brick Factory

We decided to spend a few days in the town of Alamos on our way back north to the border and it was a very worthwhile stop. This is another town with many ex-pats. The homes have been nicely restored and the whole town was quite charming. Some of the homes were restored by movie stars - we saw the former houses of Carroll O'Conner and Mary Astor.

We hired a local guide for a day who gave us the history of the area and took us to some interesting places. We had lunch at a local woman's house and went to a nearby town called Aduana where we helped the local economy by buying a few crafts. In November Hurricane Norbert caused a huge flood that has affected the economy in the area, and with a poor tourist season the people are having a difficult time.

Uvalama Pottery

While exploring Alamos we went into a shop selling Uvalama pottery. We were fortunate to be able to watch a matrimonial pot being made by Carmen Tomasa Ayala, who learned from her grandmother as a child to work with the clay. The clay is from an area called Uvalama, close to Alamos, and the limited number of designs are original. Everything is made by hand. As far as we know Carmen and her husband Enrique are the only people making this unique type of pottery. The pots and vases are all made without a potters wheel and the process is quite fascinating. I was able to take pictures of the process - the pot on the floor in front of Carmen is an example of the finished matrimonial pot that she is making. First, Enrique kneaded and worked the clay to prepare it. He removed all lumps and even tiny bits of sand. Then he added water to get just the right consistency.Once he passed it to Carmen, she began smoothing it onto the bottom of a rounded form used as a base.

Carmen continued to build up the sides of the pot, smoothing and rounding everything by hand. She used a beer can to cut the holes where the spouts on either side would go.

Once the spouts were formed Enrique explained that the pot would have to rest and get strong until the next day when the handle would be attached. In a few days they would take it to Uvalama where it would be fired.

For more about Uvalama go to

The Brick Factory

Another stop on our guided tour was out in the country where they were making bricks and blocks by hand. We have seen these little family brick works all over Mexico. Everything is done by hand. They mix dirt and clay and sand and who knows what else until the mix is just right. Then they put the mix in wooden molds and smooth the surface. They remove the mold to use for the next set of bricks. Then the bricks dry for a few days. As the bricks dry they begin to build an oven/kiln to fire the bricks. They build the kiln all around piles of wood using the bricks they will fire - adding more wood as they add more bricks. Once the kiln is built they have a specialist come in to maintain the fire at just the right temperature for 24 hours. Once the bricks change color they are done. They told us the brick makers get about 4 cents (US) per brick and they are sold at building supply stores for around 2 pesos or 14 cents (US) per brick. Many brick makers sell bricks from their trucks parked by the side of the road.

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