Paipai Pottery Workshop with Daria Mariscal, Native Master Potter of Santa Catarina, B.C., Mexico
For 5 days Daria shared her mastery of pottery and pit firing in the traditional way of her people. The Paipai Band of Baja Natives are distant cousins of the Baja Kumiai, who are closely related to the Kumeyaii Bands of Southern California. The Paipai are the only native people in Baja California who still produce pottery in the traditional way, without the use of a potter’s wheel or kiln.
We learned how to process raw clay, the “paddle and anvil” and coiling methods of producing forms, burnishing, and pit firing.
After several hand-building sessions, the pieces needed time to dry before burnishing. Burnishing them compresses the clay and drives out excess moisture. Taking burnishing breaks, we had ample time for horseback riding, hiking, relaxing, and two trips off the ranch.
One trip was to Valle Guadalupe, Mexico’s famous wine region. Another day we visited the Paipai Museum on the reservation at Santa Catarina, B.C. On display were arrowheads, arrow making tools, pots and grinding stones (manos and morteros), all found on the reservation property. All the pots had distinctive “smoke and flame” patterns. Native pottery is fired without a kiln. Pots are placed on the ground and a bonfire of dried cow dung is lit creating an intense temperature shift in a short period of time and most commercial clays cannot take this shock, resulting in cracked pots.
We were able to see the where this special clay is dug. The Paipai have gathered clay in this area for generations, and the pits dot the landscape near the river bank.
Before leaving, we had the honor to meet another Paipai artist, Theresa Castro, a well-known master potter, weaver, and basket maker. Living in the most humble of homes, she spends much of her day creating the traditional items of her people.
The next afternoon, Daria helped the group build a bonfire with cow dung. As we watched the flames for a few hours, Daria shared a bit of her family history; she is a descendant of the Californios, the first Mexican families on the Baja peninsula.
When we dug out the ashes each pot told the story of its journey through fire. The hottest parts of the fire made the most color, and the peripheral areas were barely changed but emerged in beautiful warm browns.
We said our farewells to our master teacher and inspiration, Daria Mariscal. We headed home to family, friends, jobs, and homes, but with powerful memories for a lifetime.