Rufina Ruíz López believes she was born to be a potter. The fifth-generation ceramist, who runs the Santa María Atzompa, Oaxaca–based studio Taller Ruíz López, has been making bespoke earthenware pieces with her bare hands since she was a child. “My pottery is inspired by the generations that came before me who have passed down this sacred craft,” she tells Business of Home. “In my community, you are born, raised and live each day by the clay—every part of my being is woven through the story of this magical mud.”
When López was growing up in a family of 11 children, her mother taught her how to create ceramicwares with clay using 3,000-year-old techniques. As a young adult, she enrolled at the Centro de las Artes de San Agustín in Oaxaca, where she learned an array of modern clay-making methods to help hone her distinct style. “It gave me the necessary tools to be able to transform traditional Atzompa pottery into something more contemporary,” she says.
Though the Taller Ruíz López studio—located just a few miles outside of Oaxaca City inside her family’s home—was originally started by six of her brothers, López took over in recent years and uses it as a workshop to help support, train and employ other women and young people in the community. “Our greatest dream is to continue sharing this knowledge so that the tradition of the craft does not die,” she says.
All of López’s creations are forged using clay dug straight from the ground. Using simple tools such as wooden spoons and plastic forks and knives, she cuts, shapes and fires her one-of-a-kind vessels—ranging from pitchers and vases to incense- and candleholders—with little more than her hands. “Using your hands to tell stories through the clay is a process where you work guided by your inner instincts; driven by a desire to show your roots, traditions and culture,” she says. “The process, like life itself, is full of goals, errors and unexpected outcomes.”
While traditional Atzompa pottery is typically left unglazed, López uses various enamels and pigments in neutral tones to modernize her designs. “I apply the colors according to how I’m feeling about each piece, and also according to the season,” she says.
More recently, López launched a collaboration with artisanal decor brand Obakki, bringing an assortment of her custom creations to the masses. “My biggest goal with the pieces for Obakki was to communicate strength and to be able to share that with the entire world,” she says. “The collection was driven into existence by my past life experiences: Dreams are born, along with challenges; sorrows are relieved; trust is recovered, and bridges are built. All of this is communicated through the clay for this series.”
In López’s mind, her life’s work is to keep her community’s centuries-old native pottery traditions alive. “I was fortunate to be born, grow up and currently exist surrounded by the magical mud of my people,” she says. “I have been working with this same clay for 40 years, and it is my true passion to share it with different people around the world and leave this same legacy for the generations to come.”
If you want to learn more about Rufina Ruíz López, visit her page on the Obakki website.
Homepage photo: López inside her Atzompa, Oaxaca studio | Courtesy of Obakki