Nov 28, 2007 — I have long known of Ken Edwards’ famous pottery, produced in Tonala, near Guadalajara. On a long trip we took all over Mexico in 1979, we visited his factory and I bought a mug which was my favorite for a long time, even after I dropped it and it lost its handle. Last year, Kelly and I went to the Ken Edwards store in Tonala, about an hour away from our Lake Chapala home, and bought ourselves a lovely set of of dishes, mostly seconds and very reasonably priced. I’ve enjoyed them tremendously. That link takes you to my blog entry about visiting there last year. At that time, we learned that Ken himself was mostly living and doing pottery in Guatemala, by Lake Atitlan.
Recently I was emailing with a man who had some questions about getting set up with a website. He mentioned that he was Ken’s nephew, and that Ken was in Tonala for a few days. This fellow, Peter, thought that we and Ken had a lot in common and would we like to meet him? I said sure, and so Ken and I exchanged a few emails. It was obvious that Ken had a far-ranging mind… He was fascinated by Kelly’s earthbag building techniques, for one thing!
So yesterday we found Ken at his apartment next door to the Tonala factory. He sold the business a while back, keeping just a small percentage ownership, but he still comes to Tonala regularly and is involved with it. We settled down to chat a while. I hadn’t really known what to expect, but Ken Edwards is a fascinating raconteur, and that far-ranging mind goes everywhere! At 82, Ken has lost none of his marbles… he has more on the ball than most people of any age. That’s inspiring to us as we look ahead.
I knew that he had first come to Mexico in 1954, and I asked him to fill in some of his history with my little voice recorder going. You can hear part of that via the link at the bottom of this blog entry.
I notice now, playing the mp3 file back, one spot where my editing of the file last night makes for some confusion. Where he’s talking about working with Jorge Wilmot in doing pottery, I cut out some bits and suddenly he’s saying “We came down,” and I ask if it’s Edwards James. James was an eccentric Englishman whom Ken had known in Malibu, famous for later building the surreal Las Pozas in the tropical jungle of Mexico… that link takes you to my photo page from several years ago, when Kelly and I went there and were enchanted by the place. I digress… but that’s the way the conversation went! This selection is about 11 minutes long and talks about teaching English as a second language, Bohemians, and more, with a few bits about pottery. Now and then you hear Kelly’s voice too.
Ken went on to tell us about the years in Tonala and Tlaquepaque, his life with his wife Jackie who is mentioned in the conversation. (She died 12 years ago, and her ashes are in this pot, which was her favorite.) His pottery became world famous. This seemed to matter less to him than the adventure of whatever is next. I was intrigued by how technical his mind is… besides the artistic side, he was always coming up with new ways to do things in the factory. Ken and Kelly talked about earthbag building and catenary arches. Ken was astonished to learn that I’m the daughter of Cordwainer Smith, as he loves science fiction. The time sped by. I asked him if he had any advice for staying so sharp mentally. He commented that in his case, he always has a new project going.
Eventually, we went next door to see the factory, and I will blog about that shortly.
Now here’s the link to the mp3 file of the first 11 and a half minutes of our conversation… It will probably open to play in the same window or tab you are now in.
6 Comments from the old blog:
- At November 28, 2007 1:30 PM, Ken Edwards said…
WOW! Rosana, you sure do work fast! You had this page up 15 hours after you and Kelly left here. Are all Gringas like that?
The page is Great! And I was horrified to hear my rusty voice saying all those dumb things.
Let me take some time to absorb all of this.
Joel arrived late last night and he is all excited about you guys and your Blog!
He wants to know if you can help him make a blog for KE.
- At November 28, 2007 10:09 PM, A scientist in the kitchen said…
I’m interested in the earthbag homes. DO you also have an earthbag house in Mexico?
- At November 29, 2007 8:40 AM, Rosana Hart said…
Our home in Mexico is an old brick one that Kelly has used earthbags just to insulate the large front porch roof which we are turning into a sunroom.
People are using earthbags more and more all over the world. There’s a list of projects at
- At April 21, 2008 3:29 PM, Babs said…
I have just discovered your blog today as a result of comments on Mexico 501. I commented also on living in Mexico.
I am SO happy to know that Ken Edwards is still around – I knew him back in the 80’s and early 90’s when I was exporting out of Mexico for restaurants and hotels in the US I was designing and building. THEN I was in Guatemala two years ago in a VERY remote village and saw the words KEN EDWARDS and was so surprised. I’m glad to know I wasn’t hallucinating.
Add to that that I’m taking a tour group to Xilitla and the Sierra Gorda to see Edward James Las Pozas in August and it adds up to the fact we have some things in common. I’ll be reading your blog regularly now…………I’m at www.babsofsanmiguel.blogspot.com if you’re interested.
- At January 11, 2009 1:44 PM, Anonymous said…
“I’ve forgotten the details of what was unique about this particular kiln” .. Prior to Ken Edwards setting up shop in Mexico most Mexican pottery contained lead. Ken Edwards received an award from Mexico’s President for teaching Mexican potters how to increase the temperature of their kilns to burn the lead out of the glaze used to decorate the pottery making it safe to eat off of or drink out of. That may be the answer to your question.
In the early 70’s, while on vacation in Mexico I picked out my dinner plates and other pieces of decorative pottery from the factory in Tonala and cherish them to this day.
Your website brings back many wonderful memories of meeting Mr. Edwards and visiting with the artisans who lovingly create and sign (by small animal design) the back of each piece of pottery. Thank You
- At February 11, 2009 1:36 PM, Stephanie Raffel said…
Oh my gosh, I am absolutely thrilled to find this blog and these posts, but especially to hear the interview with Ken Edwards! This man is nothing short of a living legend.
We lived in Guadalajara 1974 – 1977 while my husband was in medical at UAG. With the devaluation of the peso in 1975 we were able to go to the factory in Tonala and purchase a set of dishes, all seconds and we cherished them for many years. As starving students it was indeed a luxury to be able to buy what we did. We returned in 1987 and bought another entire set of dishes which we still use today. We had arrived in Tonala on a Sunday and the factory was closed. Jackie met us at the factory and let us in to select our dishes. I’ll never forget it. Albondiga was a bit testy that day and bit our son, but she was getting older and not about to get friendly with some nine year old kid.
My husband and I have listened to the interview again and feel honored to hear words from the master. We are now retired and heading to Guanajuato with the intention of buying a set of Mayolica style dishes . . . . so far I have not seen anything that is as beautiful as what we bought from Ken Edwards, Tonala.