Francisco Martínez of Taller Pitao Copycha on going against a town's traditions. 

— As told to Rodrido Cruz and Melissa Patenaude

Francisco Martínez in his home studio.


Finding his own way.

Out of necessity came a passion, a family, and recognition.


Words by
Melissa Patenaude

When I grew up, pottery was very badly paid. You didn’t earn enough money to say that you were going to survive from pottery. I did it just for play and later, as the Americans say as a "hobby”.

Hi! My full name is Francisco Guadalupe Martínez Salazón. I'm the founder of Taller Pitao Copycha, and this is my home.

I grew up here in Atzompa, near the city of Oaxaca. I went to work in the United States for a while, and have been back for eleven years now. At the time, I didn't have any plans to return, because the problem here, in Oaxaca, was always about finding work more than anything.

When I was growing up, my mother worked with clay. I liked to play with clay, like any child plays. It was never in my true interest to take up the craft. Because when I grew up, pottery was very badly paid. You didn’t earn enough money to say that you were going to survive from pottery, so I never took it as a job. I did it just for play and later, as the Americans say as a "hobby”.

It has always been very difficult to find work, find a good job, here in Oaxaca. And above all, the many requirements that they ask of you now, makes it even more difficult to get a job. I went to work abroad for 2 years, and when I came back I had the need to return to pottery because of this job market.

A multi-faceted love for clay

I grew up with eight siblings. I'm the oldest. Most of them work in pottery right now because clay work took a totally different turn in the last few years. We started to get a little more sales, we started to become known to people from abroad.

My mother, Ana María Hernandez has dedicated her life to working clay. My father does not work clay because he is not originally from this town—he is from a neighboring town. He helped in her workshop to by preparing the clay and lifting heavy blocks of clay, but he never did pottery. The one who works the clay is my mother, she was the one who started the workshop.

My grandparents were bakers. They worked clay, but still, they did not dedicate themselves to clay totally for the same reason. It was not a job to support a family. They did very little pottery work. My mother was the one who started pottery working, out of necessity, and a little more when I was growing up.

I started building this house when I was working in the United States. I already had this land. My mom always wanted me to come back. And it was granted I guess! I did not stay there. I eventually came back here because of the political and government situation there. There are laws, and sometimes issues that change a lot. That is why things were difficult. It wasn’t only terrorism, it was everything. They started attacking everyone, not only terrorists, many Latinos too. There was always discrimination. With everything that was happening there, I didn’t feel I couldn't walk free anymore. To say "I work, I am free to go for a walk, to have fun" was no longer possible. There was no longer that freedom and I never liked feeling restricted, it wasn't very good for me. I didn’t want to continue in those dilemmas, so I decided to come back.

Right now, because I have the family, it is already very different, I have to take care of the family. I have five children. Right now, they are still undecided if they want to work with clay moving forward. They want to find their own way. We will see, at least they have the knowledge and the basis. It will be up to them later if they want to continue with the trade or take another path. But they are taught. Sometimes they don't want to work, but at least they want to have the knowledge.

My vision is to create a unique style, different from everything that was known in the town.

My vision of clay has always been different, not the way of the town. My vision is to create a unique style, different from everything that was known in the town. That is how I started with this work, with my own style, my own finishes, something that had not been seen. And thanks to that, business went very well for me. I began to like my work a lot. I got invited out to some fairs, participated in some, and my work began to be known. That’s how we got here, in this workshop, and we continue to work and grow.

I have always liked archaeological pieces a lot. I was always struck by their finishes, their colors, and the pieces that our grandparents made. That’s where the idea of ​​making pieces in grey color, and also black and red, but in natural clay, came from. Without using so many chemicals or so many colors that were introduced to Mexico later. My inspiration was born from wanting to make some finishes more attached to the color of the clay. At the beginning my work was more sculpture, not so much utilitarian pieces. I always liked making figures more. There, in the garden I have several figures, and all over the workshop. I have always liked that type of work, in fact, I started doing that type of work. But it has its disadvantages—it sells very slowly. Not everyone buys a sculpture. So, for me, what I sell right now and always has demand are utilitarian pieces like plates, cups, and various pieces for the kitchen.

For the future of the taller, I no longer think that I would ask for much. My work is now established, so I feel good, I'm fine.

In the future, what I want to take up again is sculpture. Right now my work is mainly to provide for my children. When they grow up and provide for themselves, I'll see if I have time to resume my sculpture.

I have always been good at doing this type of sculpture work, it's easy for me to do. I see other people who do not find it easy, even though they like it, study the art and the techniques. I think it is, as they say, "I already have it in my blood."

More on Francisco and Taller Pitoa Copycha coming soon.