Uvalama Pottery & Carmen Portillo

63… A little village of potters do as it has been done…

Carmen Portillo at work in her La Colonia de Uvalama studio-home.

Carmen Portillo, matriarch of her Uvalama pottery family, died in 2004. She had been making pots since she was 12. Her grandaughter, Carmen Tomasa Ayala, She had been making pots since she was 12. Her grandaughter, Carmen Tomasa Ayala, now retired and no longer making pots, continued the traditional craft, continues the traditional craft, selling her own creations from the studio and at Uvalama Pottery in Álamos on Calle Obregon and Guerro near La Casa de los Tesoros. Years of taking clumps of clay and creating shape and function has it rewards. Artists know when they have got it right, and this moment of recognition and acceptance, priceless, warms the soul and perpetuates the process. Carmen Portillo had this moment, handfuls of times every day, for each day, each year, each decade and each generation of her life as a potter. And she was one with all those from the past who took clay in their hands and formed balanced objects for reflection and service.

Carmen Portillo making pot in La Colonia de Uvalama near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Carmen's pottery is the product of water, earth, fire and handed down traditions

The car ride to Carmen’s house, a couple of miles west of Álamos and south a mile off the highway, in La Colonia de Uvalama was a drive back to another era. The Uvalama turnoff, as I am consulting with a Google satellite map, may be Arroyo Encanto. La Colonia de Uvalama was a small community with a house here, a house there, a primary school, countryside and a road that was a wash. When we arrived at her house a younger woman came to greet us. She went back into the house and Carmen, along with several family members, appeared moments later as we all converged at the work table in the front yard.

Carmen Portillo at work, La Colonia de Uvalama near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.olonia de Uvalama

How many years, and pots, had Carmen worked-created at this table?

The clay Carmen uses is this land, Uvalama clay, these potters live at the source of their material. There is no need for electricity. The clay is hand coiled and shaped. It is then fired for nine hours in a wood oven that can reach 1000 degrees C. So simple. So universal. So true.
Prayers of labor, meditations of perfection: each finished pot joins a long procession of pots as the skills, desire and discipline are passed from one generation to another. It is the Mexico way. It is the human way.

Carmen Portillo family in Uvalama village, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

This is a Portillo family portrait from the new Alamos slide scanning effort

One of the reasons I am writing this journal is to identify what slides will be in the next batch of scanned images, and what stories, of the thousand of stories and photos, will need further illumination and illustration. In this spirit, today, I will look for a couple of family portraits of those who posed for my camera on this day in Uvalama. And above is one of these newly processed images. This is a good example of the Journal being a work towards an end.

An introduction to a Short History of Álamos, Sonora, Mexico.
“Here is something Special”, Spanish explorer Vasquez de Coronado noted in 1540 as he headed north, passing by tall white rocks on Álamos de Sierra. This is the opening chapter to “A Short History of Álamos” written, filmed and edited by Anders Tomlinson. Narrated by Bruce Miles. Soundtrack by SonicAtomics and Estudiantina de Álamos.

Álamos shares a strong maternal bond, steeped in history, with all the Southwest.
Juan Batista de Anza arrived and departed from Álamos in the spring of 1775 with silver, and local families, to settle “Monterey and the Californias”, including San francisco. Another expedition, five years later, left Álamos to settle Los Angeles.

The conclusion to a Short History of Álamos, Sonora, Mexico embraces the Sierra Madre.
Here, Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral in the Plaza, a three-tiered belfry, shines gold in morning light. Here, looking east, one’s imagination is stirred by the forbidding beauty of the Sierra Madre Occidentals. Together, they shape the Álamos experience.

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