Central and southern Mexico was once ruled by a powerful tribe of hunters and gatherers from northern Mexico called the Aztecs in the 15th and early 16th centuries.
Apart from being famous for giving the world the exceptionally accurate Aztec calendar, their contribution to pottery is significant and their craftsmanship much admired world over today.
Pottery, besides being useful to the Aztecs, was considered a religious craft form. The shapes, sizes and designs were all symbolic of the Aztec culture and religion.
In the time of the Aztecs, pottery was owned by every Aztec or Mexica household no matter how poor they were. They used pots for storing water, soaking beans overnight and other household items. The wealthier families also owned several pieces of handmade plates and goblets – all made from the finely-textured clay found in abundance in Mexico.
The reason we have extensive knowledge about Aztec pottery today and the changes it underwent, is due to a peculiar tradition the Aztecs followed of destroying all their household goods every 52 years.
One of the most famous styles of Aztec pottery is what is now known as ‘black – on – orange’. Though many designs were used over the course of their history, most designs used black and white as well as red and orange colours. A white background with black, red and orange painted designs was at one point, the most popular style. Depending on the geographical area the pots were being made in and the materials found in that area, the pottery varied in style.
A transition in the designs of Aztec pottery was noted as they changed from traditional geometric patterns and abstract motifs to nature inspired ones depicting fish, birds, insects and other plants and animals with more ornate borders. This change without a doubt boasts an ‘international’ influence of sorts on the style. The Aztecs made pots using plain strips of clay which they moulded into many shapes with deft, nimble fingers and a keen eye due to the absence of a potter’s wheel. The end of the 15th century saw more refined and delicate objects with sophisticated designs being made as compared to the coarse, basic shapes and rigid designs of the mid 14th century.
Mexican pottery to date reflects strongly the influence of the Aztecs by making use of earthy tones and colours such as deep red, burnt orange and terracotta. Mexican pottery pieces are used by scores of interior designers all over the world to give rooms focal points and the ‘Indian’ vibe. The use of pyramid themes and designs in Mexican décor even today serves as a constant reminder of the powerful Aztec tribes’ contribution to the land’s arts and crafts.