The Story of the Mexican Ceramic Pineapple
Today without a doubt the glazed ceramic pineapples have become an icon of Mexican folk art and are considered to hold great artistic value - coveted by collectors worldwide. At first glance our clients are enamored with their glossy rich enamel like surfaces and refined details. Crafted in San José de Gracia, a small village nestled in the pine covered mountains of northern Michoacán, these pineapples have an interesting history which ironically does not reference a fruit that is local, nor traditions linked to the indigenous Purepecha culture; so, what exactly is the story behind this famous piece?
The history of glazed ceramics dates back to the colonial times when the renown Spanish Bishop Vasco de Quiroga first introduced the technique of glazed pottery to the Purepecha people in the early 1500s. Tzintzuntzán, the original capital of Purepecha culture, soon became an important center for ceramics and quickly knowledge regarding new techniques spread throughout the state, creating a myriad of villages specialized in different pottery designs and forms.
The name “Piña” or Pineapple comes from the original form created by Elisa Madrigal Martinez, a traditional potter from Carapán, Michoacán. In the early 1970’s she moved to San José de Gracia and decided to create pieces different from the village’s traditional glazed cazuelas; she started making punch bowls in the shape of pineapples. Locally known as “poncheras” these traditional bowls are used to serve tepache, a fermented pineapple beverage. The shape is usually a large mouthed jug or bowl with a row of hooks below its rim, to hang small cups. Elisa’s ponchera’s barrel shaped pieces referenced directly the forms of pineapples.
Elisa soon taught her children, Alejos Madrigal, along with his brothers Jose Maria, Emilio and Bulmaro the art of pottery and today they all have have active workshops. This family’s work has played a key role in spurring the pottery tradition of San José de Gracia to diversify and become more whimsical. Alejo as well as the neighboring Hernandez Cerrano family began experimenting with freestanding pineapples, pineapple shaped bowls and even candelabras all inspired in the orginal ‘Poncheras” created by Alejo’s mother. Purely decorative, the freestanding Pineapples have no function other than to adorn spaces.
Carrying on in Elisa Madrigal’s tradition, the Hernandez Cerrano and Alejos families have been creating Pineapples now for nearly 50 years. Together, they opened a co-operative, named ‘Tsitsiki’ meaning “Flower of the Forest” in Purpura which literally describes this magical place where their art is created, displayed and sold.
Important to note, the Hernandez Cerrano family was instrumental in obtaining the official ‘Denomination of Origin’ status for the Michoacan Pineapple potters. This group copyright is granted by the Mexican federal government to protect against piracy, the artistic and intellectual properties of the original artists and producers of Mexican products considered to be ‘handcraft’.
Three generations are now active in the production of Pineapples, but, times are quickly changing. Berry farms and herb and spice hothouses are filling the valley floor. Jobs in agriculture may not pay very well, but the work is steady. More and more, the young people are drawn away from traditional crafts to the digital world wide web and smart phones. We hope the work at the co-op will continue. This is a truly unique and beautiful art form.
Tzintzuntzán, the original capital of Purepecha culture, soon became an important center for ceramics and quickly knowledge regarding new techniques spread throughout the state, creating a myriad of villages specialized in different pottery designs and forms.