Baja Crafts and Culture: Pottery in Tecate

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Leño Contreras of Alfareria Contreras

After a trip to visit Finca Altozano in the Guadalupe Valley, we returned via Tecate and passed one of the many pottery stands along Highway 3. Pottery in Baja is one of those things that you assume has no real origin and is somehow magically made.

Anytime I find people who are creating things by hand in our rational, industrial and highly mechanized and computerized economy, I am filled with admiration (which is why I have interviewed so many custom surfboard craftsmen).

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But as we stopped to check out the pottery of Leño Contreras of Alfareria Contreras (Carr. Tecate-Ens 15 1/2 -Cerro Azul, Tecate), I realized that the art of turning clay from the hills into pottery is more than likely a dying tradition and is representative of long-standing cultural traditions that are pre-Hispanic in origin throughout Mexico and the Southwest.

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“We’ve been here since the early 1980s,” said Leño. “We gather the clay in the hills. In order to fire our kilns, we used to gather dead trees from a nearby forest, but the Forest Service stopped that. Now we buy recycled wood that is collected from the factories in Tijuana.”

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“The widening and improvement of the Highway has brought us more tourists, as has the tourism of the Guadalupe Valley. A few years ago when the economy was bad, things were not good. Now we’re doing better.”

Emily and I purchased some luna and sol wall hangings for our backyard. Now we have a nice reminder of our nice with visit with Leño.

Alfareria Contreras is on Highway 3 (Km 15 1/2) just about 10-15 minutes south of Tecate on the highway to Ensenada.

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