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For The Home

Ceramic Pineapples

Author: Kim Hill
Issue: January, 2009, Page 46
Ceramic pineapples vary in color, height and style. Shown here, clockwise from top left: a 26-inch gold and green traditional form; a 21-inch design with an elaborate lid; a 6-inch vessel with touches of gold; an 11-inch dark-green pineapple; and a heavily appliquéd design.

Photography by David B. Moore
The celebrated ceramic pineapples of the Mexican state of Michoacán are a “true classic in the world of popular Mexican art forms,” explains Christy Martin, a Tucson interior designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest. Admired for their artistry and vibrant colors, including a deep emerald-green, the pineapples—international icons of hospitality—require a considerable amount of work to create.

The clay is extracted by hand from de-posits near the villages of San José de Gracia and Patamban, the only places in the world where these pineapples are made. Using a hand mill, artisans grind the clay into powder. Some vessels require the clay to be both molded and modeled; designs also may require appliqué work. The first of two firings takes place in an open kiln. Afterward, the pineapple is left inside the kiln to cool completely before the glazing process begins. A second firing must be done with care so that pieces do not touch each other, or they will be ruined, according to Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art (Fomento Cultural Banamex, 1998).

“Generations of knowledge have allowed these artisans to create and fire something incredibly ornate and complex without the conveniences any modern-day ceramist would have,” marvels Deb Hall, co-owner of Zócalo Fine Folk Art, a retailer with locations in San Miguel de Allende and Pátzcuaro, both in Mexico. “That makes the pineapples even more magical to me.”

These ceramic objets d’art were first created in the 1930s. Hall says Elisa Madrigal Martínez is widely considered to be the first to have made them. She taught her son, Hilario Alejos Madrigal, the secrets of working with the clay, and today he holds the national designation of Great Master of Mexican Folk Art. A ceramist in Patamban, Neftalí Ayungua Suárez, also holds this distinction.


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This intricate pineapple was crafted by Patamban artist Pablo Contreras

Photograph by Deb Hall

As knowledge of the technique spread to other artisans, they began experimenting with such forms as punch bowls, candelabras and platters. The green color was employed first and is therefore the most traditional, but as new glazes became available in the mid-1970s, pieces in hues of gold, yellow and cobalt blue were introduced, according to Hall.

Ceramic pineapples can range in height from 6 to 38 inches and vary in price from $25 for the smallest works to around $900 for a large, intricate piece.

“With a lot of folk art, you can find something equivalent to a particular form elsewhere in the world, but the ceramic pineapples are singular to this one little spot in Mexico,” explains Hall. “I find that absolutely endearing.”

What to Look For 
Singularity: Each pineapple is handmade, and therefore each is slightly different.
Origins: “If the retailer does not know the name of the artist, that’s not necessarily a red flag,” Deb Hall explains. “If you love the piece and the dealer is reputable, the purchase will probably turn out very well for you.” Pineapples typically are not signed by the artisan, although there are a few exceptions.
Fragility: The pineapples are quite delicate, particularly those with appliquéd elements. Remove the top before transporting, and use both hands to lift the base.
Beso: The underside of the base and the pineapple “feet” usually are not fully glazed to ensure the piece does not stick inside the kiln during firing. This is called the “kiss of the oven,” or beso, and is expected.

WHAT TO AVOID 

Crackling: Steer clear of pieces with fissures or crackling on the surface. This is caused by insufficient firing time.
Temperature extremes: Best displayed indoors or in protected outdoor areas, ceramic pineapples cannot withstand extreme cold or dampness. The high-gloss finishes will dull if the pineapple is exposed to direct sunlight over a long period of time.

WHERE TO FIND THEM
Regionally: In the Phoenix area, visit Ticipas Imported Home Furnishings or Fiesta Furnishings. In Tucson, try Zócalo Fine Colonial Furniture and Stuff, Antigua de Mexico, or Colonial Frontiers.
In Mexico and online: In addition to its galleries, Zócalo Fine Folk Art operates a Web site—zocalofolkart.com. Pricing is in U.S. dollars. If you’d like to buy direct from the artisans, wares are displayed along the main road in San José de Gracia, Mexico, which is only three blocks long.

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