The Always Distinctive Cazuela of Metepec

Señor Roberto Castillo continues the famous tradition~

A rich terra cotta background…distinctive black designs in just the right places…a touch of golden yellow that brightens the entire piece. These are the distinctive features of the simple but beautiful cazuela of Metepec. Although many masters create the cazuelas, most-notably "Los Camachos", we are visiting the equally talented "taller" of Roberto Castillo for several reasons.

The traditional Metepec cazuela

First, Roberto Castillo is working exclusively with the traditional designs and methods for which Metepec is known. The Camacho brothers are venturing into fantastic, monarch butterfly patterns…exquisite and creative, but definitely in a new design direction . Also, we are drawn to practical cazuelas. Some Metepec artists now receive up to $3,500.00 US dollars per cazuela. Deserved? Of course. But not in our price range today. The most convincing factor may be that Roberto is good friends with Tiburcio Soteno, and Tiburcio insists that Roberto's cazuelas are the best at the fairest price. How can we ignore this endorsement?

LEFT: The "gesso" molds ensure that every cazuela is perfect
in size and form. RIGHT: Molded clay forms await the artist's touch.

What may appear as road construction on each block is actually the first step of clay preparation in Metepec. Earth is mounded IN the streets, the idea being that it is YOUR job to drive over the dirt. If everyone does their duty, large clumps will be broken down making the earth ready for sifting through successively finer screens and mesh frames. The next time you visit Metepec, be certain to drive over (not around!) the dirt speed bumps knowing that you are part of the artisan process.

An ingenious invention is employed.

Although I am sure it exists in other "tallers", I had not seen an inverted, turning mold. It makes perfect sense that the heavy cazuela form should move as the clay is applied by the artisan, rather than the artisan circling the mold, again and again.

Precise stamping of the traditional designs
applied by Roberto Castillo.

Inventive tools are again employed in the application of the repeated border designs. Wire in the shape of hearts, squares and triangles is used to apply the uniform patterns over the broader, hand-painted strokes of black.

Cazuelas drying in the sun.

Roberto Castillo has been making cazuelas for more than 30 years learning the skill from his grandparents. On an average day, he can make 12 cazuelas then must wait 8-15 days for the clay to dry. The clay forms are first fired for a duration of five hours. Next, the designs and glaze are applied, followed by a second firing of 3 hours. Due to the variety of sizes of the often times gigantic cazuelas, a huge "horno" measuring approximately four feet deep is required. The loading and unloading of the kiln is backbreaking work.

The finished product. In Metepec, red and green CHORIZO will be prepared many times in these cazuelas.

The number of cazuelas in production at the Castillo "taller" is impressive. Lacking a good photo of Roberto, one might incorrectly assume that he is timid or camera shy. This is not the case. He simply won't take a moment to pose today, excitedly rushing from work station to work station. The sun is finally shining after weeks of rain, and he is thrilled to have a chance to dry the clay and get everything into the oven.

The photos above show the traditional details for which Roberto Castillo is famous. This cazuela with lid was entered in the National Ceramic Show and Competition in 2004 in the lead free division. The traditional colors and designs are present, but the patterns are much more elaborate with hopes of catching the judges' eyes. Although this cazuela did not garner a ribbon, it caught OUR eye and we gladly brought this stunning example of the Metepec cazuela home to our own kitchen.

Yes, we will be returning for photos of this maestro in Metepec, and certainly to buy more practical cazuelas. As our friend, Tiburcio Soteno, correctly stated, these ARE the best cazuelas at the fairest price.

Traditional and simply beautiful.

October 8, 2004
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO