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Barro Brunido, or "Burnished Clay" is one of the oldest known pre-Hispanic pottery techniques and the foundation from which numerous other clay techniques have been derived. Originally used as vessels to carry water, the creation process is a laborious one. It begins by selecting the clay and shaping the piece, which is left to air dry for up to a month. Next comes the first burnishing stage, where little by little the clay is moistened, then rubbed silky smooth with a river stone. Afterwards, a clay slip is applied to further ensure the pores are watertight, and the artisan then delicately paints the designs. Next comes the second burnishing stage, this time with a stone of iron pyrite, which shines the surface to a luminous glow. Lastly, according to pre-Hispanic tradition, the piece is fired between 500 and 700 degrees Celsius.
One of the most notable features of barro brunido is a non-glazed but strikingly polished surface. The designs pair local flora and fauna with complex geometric shapes, pre-Hispanic borders, and abstract themes including the mythical Nagual. Farmers tending their crops, seasonal celebrations, and observances of life and death are also among the subjects depicted.
Today, a small group of artisans in Jalisco, Mexico still hand-craft authentic barro brunido using only traditional processes. Even the colorful paints and slips are derived from local clays and oxides. For them, creating the pottery is not just a livelihood, it is their heritage. They are dedicated not only to their own work, but to the preservation and continuance of traditional Mexican folk art.