A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!

Rosana

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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!

Rosana Hart and Ken Edwards 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.

Ken Edwards, November 2007 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, Rosana and Ken talkingwhen 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 ankenedwards4d 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.

Ken Edwards talks about his early years in Mexico

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.
    Ken

  • 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
    http://earthbagbuilding.com/projects/projects.htm

  • 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.

16 Responses to “Meeting Ken Edwards of Tonala”

  • Jan Owens-Martinez says:

    I just found your blog after looking up Ken Edwards. I have lots of dishes and pots and platters and cups and vases that my parents & I bought when they lived in Santa Anita (outside of Guadalajara) from 1973 to 1980. I thought the factory we went to was inTlaquepacque & everyone always referred to it as the Palomar Factory, not Ken Edwards. Is that correct or was there another in Tonala? Was it Palomar first and then taken over by Edwards? I just inherited more wonderful pieces (unique sharpes that I don't see listed on other sites) from the 70's and wanted to know if the pieces from that era are lead free. Can you answer that?
    I was just in Atitlan and sorry I didn't know Edwards was there. I have loved Palomar/Edwards pottery for years & have lugged it home in cardboard, rope bound, boxes many times.

  • Rosana says:

    Jan, I'm sorry that I don't know the answers to any of your questions!

    I remember Ken reminiscing about the old days, and I believe that Palomar is an outgrowth of his work. Not sure though.

    I also don't know about the lead-free situation, but some determined googling or emailing to whatever addresses you can find should get you the answer to that. If it does, please come back and post it here!

  • Sarah Trevino-Anderson says:

    Hi folks. I am a big fan of “El Palomar” by Ken Edwards. When I was in college, I worked for a china/kitchen shop in San Antonio, Texas called the Plate and Platter. We carried “El Palomar”, which is the name of the pottery designed by Ken Edwards. There are different patterns of El Palomar, Tonala being my favorite. Tonala has a blue-ish grey background with darker blues and browns in the birds and butterflies, and brown edges. There is another pattern just like Tonala with green tones rather than blue. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of that pattern as we did not sell it at the Plate and Platter. But I’ve seen it and I’m not as fond of it as I am the Tonala. Also, I believe the pottery was more ornate when Mr. Edwards owned the factory, or maybe the ornate pieces were just pieces made personally by him, I’m not sure. I loved the pottery so much I registered for it when I got married and I still have a huge amount of it today. To my knowledge there is no lead in it. I don’t believe we could have sold it at the Plate and Platter in the early 1980s if it had lead in it. I am not a microwave person so I don’t use it in the microwave. However, I do put it in the dishwasher and it does just fine. I would love to be the wholesale marketer of El Palomar in the United States so if anyone knows how to hook me up to do that please let me know at denvershopgirl@gmail.com or (303)587-4601. I hope this information sheds a little light. Que le vaya bien. Sarah Trevino-Anderson

  • Rosana Hart says:

    Sarah, I met Ken when we lived in Mexico and spent time with him 2 or 3 times. I don’t have a clue about how to reach El Palomar, but as a librarian I know that lots of things are buried in the later pages of Google searches. If I were you I would dig around there and also make phone calls to cmpanies in the US that carry the El Palomar line, and just ask them how they get it. Best wishes!

  • Peter says:

    Hi Rosana, Do you still have this mp3 or a transcript of it? I am trying to do a little research for my Ceramics class at school and there seems to be very little information on the history of Ken Edwards work. If you could re-post it, or something, it would be a great help to me. Thanks

  • SJC2Dominguillo says:

    I’m sorry. Peter, I checked my files on my webhost and it’s not there. if I have it anywhere, it’s on an old computer a thousand miles away from me. Never made a transcription. In a very brief nutshell, he talked about going to Mexico as a young man and developing stoneware there in the style he’s famous for, with a Mexican friend who I think had the first name of Jorge. He lived and worked in the Guadalajara area for many years, but at the time I met him, which must be almost 10 years ago, his factory was being run by others and he was living most of the time in Guatemala, by Lake Atitlan, and helping some of the local people there to create pottery, I think also stoneware. He must have been in his 80s when I met him, and he was filled with zest and enthusiasm. Truly a great man.

    I’m a librarian by background and out of curiosity I just googled history of Ken Edwards pottery. Here are a few links:

    http://www.mingei.org/feats-of-clay/
    mentions the Jorge I remembered, it was Wilmot.Says Ken moved to Tonala, outside of Guadalajara, in 1954, which rings true to me.

    http://www.colibridesignvallarta.com/portfolio/ken-edwards-stoneware-collection/?doing_wp_cron=1427749097.1927978992462158203125
    the top 2 photos are from my website but I do’t recall if they are still there.

    http://www.delsolstores.com/pages/ken-edwards-stoneware-pottery-the-story-behind-the-magic

    If you keep going on that search or one like it, you may find more.

    Best wishes!

  • Lannie Loeks says:

    We bought an entire set 5 or so years ago at the factory store…lots of seconds…Was trying to tell my girlfriend how to find it but can’t exactly remember? It was in Tonala on some side street. Anybody have the address? Kind Regards, Lannie

  • SJC2Dominguillo says:

    That must be where we got our dishes… all seconds. We picked through carefully and got a great set, still using them every day. If you are in the area, I imagine you could go to Tonala and ask. Even without Spanish, if you went into craft stores and said “Ken Edwards?” that could do it, with maybe a misstep or two because of the Mexican desire to be helpful even when they don’t know!

    Alternatively, there is a phone number on this page of a Ken Edwards store in Tucson: http://www.kenedwardspottery.com/index.php?main_page=contact_us
    and I’m sure they would know.

    Best wishes!
    Rosana

  • jim sutherland says:

    thanks for the great info on ken edwards. we visited mexico years ago but never hit on ken or tonala though we had developed a taste for certain hand made pottery and stoneware.several years ago we were driving in northern virginia and spotted a yard sale just closing up end of the day.two young mexican ladies with a 2’x 2’carton full of old stoneware all decorated with birds & flowers,signed “KE”. i asked “how much for all of it?” reply “$5.” !!! thus our ken edwards story began.

  • SJC2Dominguillo says:

    a good story!

  • Jane Risley says:

    This is all wonderful information about Ken Edwards. Today I was unpacking a box of Mexican pottery I bought in the 70s in Halifax, NS, (Canada). My wonderful Tonala Ke. It had been in storage for almost 20 years (or more). My son looked it up on line and here we are. I may or may not have known the name Ken Edwards when I bought it (truly don’t remember) but so wonderful to see all this history behind it on line. I have always loved it and even more so now! It will be used and loved in our home once again –

  • SJC2Dominguillo says:

    We use our KE pottery every day, Jane!

  • Gab says:

    Hi, In May 2017 I was at a garage sale in California and found some KE dishware! I found it to be a sign as my mother was born in Juanacatalan, a small pueblo near Tonala, Jalisco and she had just passed away in April 2017.

  • SJC2Dominguillo says:

    Thanks for sharing that story, Gab. Lovely!

  • Lucie Murphy says:

    Hi. I took a trip to Mexico in 1973with my parents. I was just recently married at the time and my husband was on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. We found the market at Tlaquepaque and my father bought a set of KE stoneware for me – mostly seconds of course. I still have most of it and absolutely adore it. Just recently I found La Fuente as a source to get the el Palomar stoneware but it does not have the KE painted on the bottom. I realize it is not the actual Ken Edwards stuff but should I worry if it is lead free. That was supposed to be the advantage of his stuff is that he used a lead free glaze. I do love that stoneware. It is truly “my stoneware” and a part of my heart. I always delight in the birds, the color and the joy of it.

  • SJC2Dominguillo says:

    We have a lot of seconds also, Lucie, which we chose very carefully at the factory in Tonala when we lived there. Love them too!

    Ken used very high-fire methods and here is a bit from wikipedia about that: In the 1950s and 1960s, Jorge Wilmot and Ken Edwards introduced more modern high-fire ceramics to the Guadalajara area, starting in Tonalá. These are wares fired at over 1000C which vitrifies the clay and eliminates the need for lead-based glazes. Wilmot mostly kept local traditional designs although some Oriental influence is mixed in as well, along with Asian glazing processes. Edwards introduced new designs with the techniques…

    So I wouldn’t worry about lead. Actually when we lived in Mexico from 2005 to 2010, I remember hearing that most pottery was lead-free by then.

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