Santa Maria Atzompa
Oaxaca brings visitors many joys. Besides centuries of history, culture, colorful people and almost year round perfect weather are the memories and magic found in the various mercados. During your stay you may see handmade clothing and natural paper, tasty pastries, red and green salsas and gastronomic delights, colonial buildings, hand crafted gold, silver and other jewelry and in most shops, locally crafted pottery. Much of the pottery comes from San Bartolo Coyotepec and is easily distinguished by it’s black color. But the green pottery and crockery known as “auténtico Oaxacana,” is designed, created, and sold in Santa Maria Atzompa, only 9 km from the Zócalo.
Señor Mario Enrique Lopez, the fundador del Mercado de Artesanias,” says, “Pottery making started in the area in 1686, but we began our mercado in October 1988 when 12 artesanos and myself began a small workshop (taller). We now employ over 90 people.” The internationally famous “Mercado de Artesanias” has won awards in Houston, Mc Allen and Laredo, Texas and is open 365 days a year from 9 AM until 8 pm. I asked Señor Mario’s sister, Señora Enedina Enrique when they were open. With a serious smile she replied, “We never close.”
On days when Señor Mario is not too busy he will take you to his taller and show you step-by-step how the green ceramics, plates, bowls, vases and cups, are made. If you can’t find what you are looking for, ask! He will get it for you.
Standing in his workshop he will turn and point north across a small valley to las lomas above the Rio Atoyac where he gathers the material used to make his pottery. At his taller the earthen material is pulverized, sifted into a fine material that is washed and strained. This makes the barro (mud) that is used by his daughter, Rosita, her family and friends, who roll it into large cigar shaped dough, like fat tortillas. The barro is then flattened out on large disks of different sizes to match the size of the article being created on potter’s wheels.
On the potter’s wheel, the barro is formed into the various sizes and shapes that make the many art objects (earthenware), seen every day in the Mercado, but probably best visited either Tuesday or Friday, market day in Atzompa.
This is also a good time to visit the zócalo and market located only a few blocks up calle Independencia, next to the Santa Maria Church, la patrona de Atzompa. Many of the artists display their fine pottery on calle Independencia between el mercado and el zócalo. But there are shops everywhere and you may find that ‘just right’ gift by merely wandering in and out of the many shops. On calle Independencia you see the residents and artist of Atzompa bringing their art to town in baskets, wheelbarrows, cars and trucks and sometimes on their heads. By afternoon the street is awash with their multicolored, hand-crafted creations
Once the barro is formed into plates, fruit bowls (fruteros), flower vases (floreros), crosses, picture frames or what ever you might desire (if you have time to return), the pieces are then sun dried for 8 hours, fired and painted. While green (verde) is a primary color (auténtico Oaxacana), many of the bowls all the colors of the rainbow and are used on the more ornamental hand crafted vases, picture frames, figurines, yellow suns and silvery moons that adorn the many walls and shelves in the booths organized by each artist as a combined group of art by the artists that make the Mercado de Artesanias.
Allow yourself 3 hours for this trip, if your plan includes visiting a taller. Otherwise 2 hours if you are only shopping and having a snack. Eating of just have a snack at El Patio de Atzompa Restaurante in the “Mercado de Artesanias” will be a wonderful way to end your trip. Meals are good and inexpensive. Wear your sombrero, bring a shopping bag, enjoy the ride and eat regional foods such as Mole Negro con pollo y arroz, Tlayuda untada de aciento y frijol con aguacate, tomate y queso, tasajo, cecina enchiladas, o Chorizo or Sopas Zapoteca: tiras de tortilla dorado, Consomé Xóchitl o Crema de champinones and a cold beverage in the shade at El Patio de Atzompa in the “Mercado de Artesanias.”
Santa Maria Atzompa can be reached by taxi from most anywhere in Oaxaca. Atzompa is on the same road that goes to Monte Alban and seeing both in one day would make for a well-rounded and pleasurable trip. Negotiate the taxi price before going and ask the driver to return and pick you up. The bus trip from the secondary bus station to Atzompa is only 25 pesos. Enjoy!
Photographs: Senor Mario Enrique Lopez, Sr Lopez daughter Rosita at her pottery wheel, pottery from “Mercado de Artesanias,” Pottery “autentico Oaxaca” on Calle Independencia, Santa Maria scene behind the iglesia Santa Maria Atzompa.