Admiring Ceramic Art and Exploring Guanajuato’s History at La Alhóndiga
After a beautiful restful night in my suite at the Quinta Las Acacias I had woken up really hungry and was looking forward to breakfast. This family-owned boutique hotel was built as a private mansion in 1890 and has become one of Guanajuato’s foremost luxury historic hotels since its opening in 1998.
The historic Quinta Las Acacias boutique hotel
On a crisp morning with brilliant sunshine I walked through the hotel’s manicured grounds to the restaurant in the hotel’s main building. After a healthy fruit salad I settled in for an apple cinnamon crepe that was beautifully decorated with bougainvilleas from the hotel garden. My sightseeing tour of the city was not scheduled to start until 10:30 am, so I had a bit of extra time after breakfast to explore the local sights.
Delicious apple cinnamon crepes with bougainvilleas
Just outside the front door of the Quinta Las Acacias is an attractive park that is nestled around a river that flows into downtown Guanajuato. To provide the city with a constant supply of water, a dam was completed in 1749 that is called Presa de la Olla. Today the dam is part of an attractive linear park that is often used for special events. One of the dams along the river had actually been damaged just a few days ago and workmen were working on repairing it.
The badly damaged Presa de la Olla dam
I headed back to the hotel because my local guides Sujei and Roberto had arrived and were ready to take me on a sightseeing tour of Guanajuato. Our first stop was at the Gorky Pottery where 69 year old owner Gorky Gonzalez showed us around his renowned local ceramics workshop which produces traditional majolica pottery that is exported around the world.
Gorky Gonzalez used to create workshops in different parts across Mexico such as San Miguel de Allende and the village of Marfil until he dedicated himself to the rescuing the traditional art of majolica in Guanajuato. His wife, Hisato Murayama, was instrumental in taking him to Japan where he studied Japanese pottery techniques under several Japanese pottery masters.
Gorky Gonzalez and his wife Hisato Murayama
We started our tour with the private living area of Gorky and Hisato which is highlighted by an extensive art and pottery collection with pieces from all across Latin America. One of Mexico’s famous muralist painters, José Chavez Morado, painted a portrait of Gorky’s wife, and other Mexican fine painters are represented as well.
From this impressive art collection we started our tour of Gorky’s workshop where he explained the production of majolica. An Italian kiln fires high quality ceramic products at a temperature of 1020 degrees Celsius. The clay actually comes from the local mountains and is mixed with other clays from other areas. Today’s kiln is computer controlled while an older kiln had to be controlled manually. Natural gas, the fuel for the kiln, has to be handled very carefully in order to prevent possible explosions. All the items undergo two firings.
Gorky Gonzalez’ pottery is exported all over the world
Gorky also introduced us to the paint techniques that are applied to Mexican majolica. Traditional motifs are painted on with horse or squirrel hair brushes and the five main colours are blue (made from cobalt oxide), yellow (antimony oxide), black (manganese), green (copper) and a coffee colour (made from a local riverstone called siderite). Gorky Pottery employs several local craftspeople that handle the production and the painting of the pottery.
For his artistic achievements Gorky Gonzalez has won numerous awards, including awards from the Government of Guanajuato, the Federal Mexican Government and various awards from national art organizations. He has travelled the world to participate in exhibitions such as the 1965 New York World Fair; Expo Montreal in 1967; and expositions in Japan, Italy, the United States, Brasil, Peru, Uruguay, Egypt, Germany and France. Gorky Gonzalez’ pottery creations have truly touched the world.
Beautiful pottery at Gorky Gonzalez’ workshop