Tracunhaém is the “Capital of Ceramic Crafts”

Ceramic figures - Tracunhaém PE
Ceramic figures - Tracunhaém PE

The main attraction of Tracunhaém is the transformation of clay into utilitarian and decorative pieces, making it the main source of income and employment in the region.

The city of Tracunhaém is located 55 km from Recife.

The municipality has a name of indigenous origin, meaning “pan of ants”, and stands out for the production of saints, animals and utilitarian pieces, using clay as a raw material.

The Municipality of Tracunhaém, located in Pernambuco Forest Zone, received the title of “Ceramic Craft Capital” by the Pernambuco Legislative Assembly.

The site is one of the most important ceramic centers in the state.

Watch the video “Tracunhaém is the Capital of Crafts”

Tracunhaém the city of clay crafts

Practically 50% of the population survives, directly or indirectly, from the transformation of clay into utilitarian pieces or works of art.

They are the anonymous workers who work in the city's potteries or the various famous artisans in the city, some of them known even outside Brazil.

In his justification, he states that "thanks to the entrepreneurial vision and daring of the artisans, Tracunhaém is known in the state of Pernambuco as the tourist city of clay crafts, whose artists, who, using their knowledge and vocation, transform clay into extraordinary works" .

Tracunhaém clay figures
Tracunhaém clay figures

In addition to the utilitarian ceramics, which date back to the colonial period, Tracunhaém stands out for its figurative and decorative clay art, creating saints, angels, animals, such as the famous lion with curls and human figures.

The clay figures are inspired by everyday images, from the popular culture and, above all, of religious faith.

Tracunhaém became so prominent as an artistic hub that some of its artisans ended up adopting the city's name as their surname, and only in this way are they identified. Many artists are the children or “grandchildren of potters.

They are people who learned to model clay in their childhood, starting the production of figurative ceramics, which later became a point of reference, both for the city and for Brazilian popular art”.

The artists of Tracunhaém use clay as the main raw material for making utilitarian and decorative ceramics. The saints produced by local artisans are nationally famous.

Between the 1970s and 80s, the city was obligatorily visited by Brazilian intellectuals and artists who passed through the state of Pernambuco.

When he was in Recife, in 1980, Pope John Paul II took an image of Nossa Senhora do Carmo produced in Tracunhaém.

For the deputy "the title of "Ceramic Craft Capital" is deserved due to the activity in the ceramics sector that is predominant in the municipality of Tracunhaém, whose production has its own style that guarantees the aesthetic recognition of the pieces produced in the locality".

The parliamentarian also emphasizes that, on the other hand, the tribute seeks to value and honor the artisan artist who, with his beautiful art, is part of the history and construction of the city.

Clay Crafts

The art of clay is an ancient activity existing for over 3.000 years before Christ.

Clay Crafts
Clay Crafts

In Brazil it is a very representative practice for popular culture.

It is a legacy left by the Indians. The Indian women made clay toys for their children and household objects such as troughs, bowls, bowls, pots and modeled them according to their creativity and/or need, and painted with strong and colorful paints, inspired by nature.

The clay craft is a spontaneous production that stems from the artisan's sensitivity and ingenuity.

The matuto is cunning and has a fertile imagination to create. He uses clay to make something that gives him pleasure, beauty and art, making crafts a source of income for his livelihood.

The clay artisans are anonymous artists spread across the hinterlands of the North and Northeast of Brazil. In many municipalities in the Northeast of Brazil and, in particular, in Pernambuco, the practice of clay crafts is widespread, made in a rustic way in Caruaru, Tracunhahém and Goiana, which are the cities that stand out in the production of utilitarian and ornamental ceramics. in the State.

In Caruaru, the practice of clay crafts originated in Alto do Moura, the place where Mestre Vitalino lived, who stood out in the production of handicrafts in Pernambuco and became the best known potter in the Northeast. His sculptures were and are still successful in Brazil and abroad.

Tracunhaém, located in the northern forest of the state of Pernambuco, is known as the “ceramic pole”, because the majority of the population is dedicated to the production of clay saints.

Among the main artisans in this region, Zezinho de Tracunhaém stands out, who models his pieces representing Santo Antônio, São Pedro, São José, Padre Cícero and others.

Goiana, the land of clay, located 50 kilometers from Recife, has as its main activity the modeling of clay images that resemble patron saints of the Catholic Church (São Pedro, Santo Antônio, Santo Expedito) and representative figures of folklore from the Zona da Kills, such as the crab catcher, the pineapple seller, the coconut taker, the fisherman.

The heroines of Tejucupapo, rural maracatu, pastoralists, washerwomen, beggars, charcoal workers and various other representations that express and enrich the regional culture are also represented.

The most outstanding artists in clay crafts are Zé do Carmo and Gercino Santos, both internationally known for their talent and creativity.

Art of Molding Clay or Clay

Modeling has been around since the dawn of humanity. In antiquity, they molded clay and transformed it into utilitarian and representative pieces.

Video Art of Modeling Clay or Clay in Tracunhaém

Art of Molding Clay or Clay in Tracunhaém

Even in later civilizations modeling was always present in vases, masks, decorative objects and much more.

So we can define modeling as the act of molding, manually adjusting the shape of material such as clay, clay, and other malleable materials and transforming them into three-dimensional objects. Even with the technologies it is still a very artisanal practice.

Different from drawing and painting, modeling gives us a view from all angles and sides of the structure and we can even see its texture.

As a form of symbolic and playful expression, the act of manipulating clay becomes, in addition to being educational, a pleasurable form of expression and the three-dimensional comes to represent a new knowledge acquired through drawings.

Clay and modeling clay are the most used by artists in making their work.

Even in ancient times, clay was widely used in the making of pots and statuettes, in funerary urns and was always related to existence, life.

The first artifacts modeled in clay were simple and some had geometric designs like those found in Prehistory. Over time, the techniques were improved, the modeling was improved and natural pigments or colored clays, added to the piece.

The Greek civilization is the most representative in the expansion of ceramic techniques. They did the burning and painting and classified the pieces by functionality. The artifacts and vases were decorated in red and black. The Greeks are considered to be the best pottery makers in the world.

With the prosperity of clay modeling, ceramics, other peoples started to develop other techniques, like the Chinese, who started burning them to become stronger and using kaolin (white powder) that made the piece translucent and light, the porcelain.

Ceramics spread everywhere and gained new components, shapes and uses. What was once purely useful became also decorative.

Other materials were also used in the modeling, such as plaster.

In Brazil we have important ceramists such as master Vitalino, a simple man with great creativity. His pieces show the life of the inhabitants of the northeast in simple figures. For better knowledge, visit the website:

The Paneleiras de Goiabeiras, cultural heritage by IPHAN, produce clay pots, a function inherited from their mothers and has its origins in indigenous culture.

They created a cooperative (everything is modernized), the Associação das Paneleiras de Goiabeiras, which generates income for the families that work there.

Modeling stimulates sensitivity and creativity through the artistic language experienced in the transformation of the modeled material. Very important and not only as a means of livelihood, but with significance for the educational practice of teaching art at school.

Clay is a generic designation in which countless mixtures of clays with the most varied kinds of impurities have been grouped together.

The various minerals, metallic oxides and organic materials, associated with clays in very different proportions, make the clay varieties innumerable and have very different characteristics, whether raw or after being fired.

Note that in the same extraction it is common to find very different types of clay depending, for example, on the depth at which one is excavated.

Clays are rocks normally of sedimentary origin and originating from the alteration of silicate rocks.

The minerals that make them up are basically kaolinite, illite or montmorillonite. From a chemical point of view, clays are hydrated aluminosilicates with very varied species of generic formula.

How to Model Clay or Clay

Clay is a material used since ancient times for the manufacture of objects for daily use and decoration.

Working with clay requires little more than your hands. Advanced techniques include a variety of tools like a vise or potter's wheel that have a turntable to help shape a piece. With a little practice it is possible to make jars, mugs, pots, pans, plates and bowls.

A. Molding clay (clay) by hand

Molding the clay with your hands
Molding the clay with your hands

1. Prepare the clay (clay)

Good clay should be soft enough to work directly with your hands out of the box.

But you can achieve this effect by kneading the clay, which will be flexible and free from air bubbles or pellets. This process is called wedging.

  • Place a piece of clay on a porous surface such as concrete or canvas.
  • Press the dough with the palm of one hand and push it forward.
  • Stretch and bend the clay as you bring it close to your body. It's like kneading bread.
  • Repeat the movements until the clay is even and consistent (about 50 times).
Molding the clay with your hands
Molding the clay with your hands

2. Use the classic method

Kneading clay with your fingers must be the oldest and most practical way of working with this material. When the clay is uniform, use your fingers to shape what you want. It is possible to make a bowl, for example, with the help of this simple technique:
Take a piece of clay and make a ball.

  • Place it against the table you are working on and push it down slightly, but keep it in place.
  • Punch a small hole in the center of the ball. This will help open up the clay.
  • Pull the clay to the sides, horizontally, and start opening the inside of the bowl.
  • Squeeze the sides of the clay and pull upwards to make the bowl.
  • Keep pressing and stretching until you get the shape and size you imagined.
Molding the clay with your hands
Molding the clay with your hands

3. Try out the coil technique.

Making objects by putting together small clay rolls is versatile and only requires hands. Start by molding a piece of clay.

  • Separate the clay into several small pieces of the same size.
  • Make little balls.
  • Place your palms on top of the clay and make a back and forth scrolling motion and produce the long, thin spools.
  • Continue the movement until they are long.
  • Stop when you get the desired thickness. They can get thinner or thicker depending on what you are going to do (this will determine the thickness of the part).
  • Model it your way. To make a round bowl, for example, place the spools in a circle, pinch and flatten with your fingers.
    Stack the "snakes" on top of each other until they are in the correct shape.
  • Use the smaller ones to close the utensil (to shape the bottom, for example). It is possible to make a round plate and then glue it to the piece forming the base.
  • Lightly press the coils to secure them and smooth the sides of the object.
Molding the clay with your hands
Molding the clay with your hands

4. Produce small tiles.

It is possible to produce objects of different shapes from the joining of flat clay “sheets”. A good suggestion is to make a small terracotta box:

  • With the help of a rolling pin or something similar, open a piece of clay.
  • Use a knife or sharp object to cut the tiles. To make a box cut the boards into squares or rectangles of the same size.
  • A good tip is to use an object as a guide. Place a square of paper over the clay and cut the “sheets” with the knife using the mold as a base.
  • After all the pieces have been cut, make small cuts along the edges. This will help when merging one part to another when assembling the box.
  • Join one piece to another. Gently press your fingers or a small tool together to smooth the edges.
  • Repeat the action until the box parts stick together.
Molding the clay with your hands
Molding the clay with your hands

5. Use an extruder.

This is a tool that can make “strands”, “hair”, “snakes” and clay cylinders in a very practical way. Mini extruders can be purchased at specialty ceramic stores or on the internet. Place a piece of clay inside the appliance.

Use the lever to push the clay and produce the desired shapes, such as circles or squares. That way you will get coils or plates to mold the ceramics.

B. Using the potters wheel

Clay - Using the potters wheel
Clay – Using the potters wheel

1. Use the lathe.

This tool can be manual or electric. Prepare the equipment before molding the clay:

  • Set the right direction of rotation (counterclockwise if you use your right hand and clockwise if you are left-handed).
  • Install the dish securely on the base. This will help to reduce spillage and material falling while working.
  • Adjust the height of the vise to sit comfortably during molding.
  • Plug in if the appliance is electrical.
  • Test the wheel for proper rotation before use.

2. Prepare the clay.

Crush it on a porous surface, push with your fingers and pull it back. Repeat the process until it is pliable, consistent, and uniform in appearance.

Put clay on potters wheel
Put clay on potters wheel

3. Place clay on potters wheel.

Make a ball of clay and place it in the middle of the turntable.

center the clay
center the clay

4. Center the clay.

With your hands still dry, touch the clay to make sure it's right in the middle of the wheel. Start moving the vise very slowly and keep an eye on the material to keep it in the center without bending it.

5. Wet your hands.

Now that the clay is in the right place, it's time to mold. It is important to keep your hands wet while working on the lathe. Doing this makes the ceramic surface smooth (very wet as mud) and easier to mold. Leave a bowl or pot of water to moisten whenever you need it.

Molding the clay with your hands
Molding the clay with your hands

6. In the beginning, the piece is very simple.

Start turning the lathe until speed increases. Place your hands around the clay and squeeze lightly as the base rotates. Then it will start to shape the object. With a little practice, you'll be able to handle the clay and mold anything you want.

  • To produce a tall utensil such as a mug, push the material towards the center. This will cause the clay to move upwards.
  • To shape something a little wider like a bowl, lightly press the clay so that it spreads out to the sides. Then go shaping with your hands pressing down until you get the correct shape.
open the clay
open the clay

7. Open the clay.

Fingers work like a tool. Place them in the middle of the clay ball as you turn the lathe. Make a small hole, pinch and pull with your fingers, with your whole hand or with a tool to get the opening the size needed to shape the utensil.

  • To make mugs and pitchers, which are taller, keep the inside of the piece relatively narrow.
  • Widen the clay piece if you are making a plate or bowl, for example.
mold the clay
mold the clay

8. Model the clay.

Shape the clay and open it from the inside out with the help of your fingers. This will thin the “walls” of the piece. Keep working until you reach your goal.

To make jars and mugs that have higher sides, you will need to gently pull the clay upwards.

Take the clay out of the lathe.
Take the clay out of the lathe.

9. Remove clay from the lathe.

Clean excess clay from the turntable. Then pass a stretched wire or a spatula under the piece. This will separate the object from the base of the lathe. Carefully use a flat tool to remove and place the piece to dry.

Mix clay types to get a good consistency.

Pottery and arts stores offer various options for modeling clay. You can experiment with mixing different types if you find the clay isn't working well on its own. A suggestion is to add thicker material if the clay is sticky, or malleable if the product is hard.

Tracunhaém is the “Capital of Ceramic Crafts”

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