Is it sane to build a pottery studio in Mexico?

articles Culture & Arts

Marybeth Coulter-Best

A potter’s story: an answer for all those who asked

A friend asked me, “Is it sane to build a pottery studio in Mexico?”

I could hardly answer. I didn’t even know if was sane to move to Mexico. I see myself as a sensible and self-reliant farm girl, but after moving to Mexico, even I question that picture of myself.

Five years ago I suddenly told my family, “I’m going to get married, sell my house and studio in Colorado and move to Mexico. I’m going a build a house, continue my love of photography, and build a new pottery studio.”

My mother, who is quite English and is a member of every historical and genealogical society in existence, said, “You’ll never get me to Mexico.”

I flippantly replied, “We’ll drug you and take you there and when you wake up you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.”

“Absolutely never.”

A very loving and protective cousin said, “Mexico will have another revolution, take away your property, and then ship you back to the states.”

I blabbered something about this being almost the 21st Century and told him that the world has changed and about our need for our neighbors to the South.

Another friend said, “I don’t understand why anyone would move to a third world country.”

My mind flooded with memories of the eight weeks I spent in Nepal as a photographer. Chickens, cows, and children rushed to the side of a small field located on top of a mountain as our prop-plane landed on the very bumpy meadow. Then we walked twelve hours on steep mountain paths to reach our destination. Each morning the sherpas came to my tent and delivered a tiny bowl of water to me to use for washing.

I said to my friend, “In my opinion, Mexico is not a third world country.”

I thought to myself, “Either admit the insanity of it all or talk them into how sensible it is.”

Little did I realize that more tests of my sanity were ahead . . .

Driving in Guadalajara was the first real test of my sanity. There were hardly any signs with printed street names. People honked and turned in front of me as I tried to maneuver around the “gloriettas.” I had to watch the traffic and could not look more than a few feet in front of my car, so how could I even begin to find land-marks? After hours of trying to make a left turn, I would give up and drive back to Ajijic.

I became obsessed. The devil himself would have to be reckoned with in order to learn how to drive in Guadalajara. I prayed to God. I prayed to what I call the “spirit of compassion for poor lost gringos.” I tried positive visualizations saying over and over, “I am now finding my way to the place I want to be.” I pulled over and recited Buddhist Meditations searching for compassion in my heart for the wild Mexican drivers. I believe some of these prayers helped and now I feel sane when I drive in Guadalajara. I mastered the game so well that I wonder why Americans don’t play by the same rules.

Driving in Guadalajara just requires that your bumper is in front of everyone else’s bumper.

But risky driving is nothing compared to the insanity of rebuilding a pottery studio and kiln in Mexico.

I said to an acquaintance, “You won’t believe how great it will feel to continue working in clay.”

“Why are you making pottery in a place where there are so many potters? Their work is world famous and it is not very expensive,” she replied.

“Because I have been insane over this last year with not having my hands in clay. We’ve had to concentrate on building the home and studio.”

At this point, I felt weary explaining all my actions and I remembered the popular saying, “just do it”

I had to find supplies and a kiln builder.

On my first search to find a potter to help, someone asked me why a woman would want to build a kiln. They said, “pottery is dirty work.” I told him I had been doing pottery for almost 24 years, thanked him for his time and drove back to Ajijic. It seemed as if I was constantly driving back to Ajijic from Guadalajara after trying to accomplish some small goal. I felt frustrated but knew I had to be persistent.

With the tenacity I inherited from my mother (still un-drugged and still not in Mexico), I flipped through the yellow pages of the Guadalajara phone directory looking for the words, ” ceramica, ultra tempetura.” I found a name, Rodo Padilla, High-Fire Ceramics and then called Señor Padilla for an appointment. In his studio I saw familiar books written about ceramics. Pottery magazines from the US, France, Canada, and Japan were laying on his desk. I discovered Rodo had worked in clay all his life. He studied pottery in Japan, Argentine, and in Italy. Rodo’s understanding, his knowledge of the clay field, his friendly manner, his respect for other potters and his enthusiasm for the world of clay put me at ease right away. I was where I needed to be. “I can put you in touch with a high-fire kiln builder from Tonala and together we will work on what you need.”

“You can get high-fire clay and materials for your studio from Marie in Mexico City. She ships truck-loads of supplies from Laguna Clay in Los Angeles and distributes them to potters all over Mexico.”

“Wonderful,” I replied.

I called Marie and ordered ten boxes of high-fire porcelain clay that arrived in a couple of weeks. I talked with the kiln builder and told him I needed to fire to 2,300 degrees and described the cube-shape kiln I wanted him to design and build. We agreed on a price. “I believe they are finally taking me seriously,” I say triumphantly to my husband.

A couple of months later a huge red truck with a giant crane arrives with a high-fire kiln poised on the top. My husband is in the street below photographing the kiln as it dangles up and over the wall. I stand in the yard clicking my camera as fast as I can from another angle. Between shots, I jump up and down with delight as the crane lowers the kiln to the ground. The builders move the kiln efficiently on rollers to its permanent place in the new pottery studio. The kiln builder and his helpers return to the truck to drive back to Tonala.

I think about all the kind and industrious Mexican people I have come to know and say to my husband, “I have the answer to the question about my sanity.”

“What’s that?”

“If becoming less self-reliant, trusting good people, and depending on others is a sign of sanity, then I am more sane.”

“Yes, you are more sane than you were before.”

Published or Updated on: February 4, 2007 by Marybeth Coulter-Best © 2008
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