Zihuatanejo, Mexico
December, 2005
                                Tile Making

Directly outside of Zihua, along the two lane Pan-American Highway, is a tile maker. He and his family rent a piece of land from a man who has built his house directly in front of the clay pits.

The tile maker and his family live on the property. He learned his skill from his uncle many years ago and has taught it to his sons. His daughters make small pieces of pottery that they sell to tourists.

The local clay is dug by hand; it is naturally tempered with mica. The color is reddish-brown. The tile maker fires the bricks and roof tiles he makes in a brick oven using coconut husks that he buys from the local coconut plantation (more on this later). Some of the bricks and tiles break during firing. The broken bricks are stacked, then sold to use as the structural elements in adobe walls.

    Just like this...

Digging clay really makes huge pits in the land. There are few owners who allow this, hence there are not all that many brick and tile makers around, even though there are many sites suitable for digging clay. When a clay pit is exhausted, the land is abandoned. Within two years vegetation covers it all.

This is the "set-up." The hollowed-out tree stump contains water to make the clay more malleable. The frame for the tile is metal, as is the semi-round shaper.

The tile maker takes a gob of clay to which water has been added, and slaps it into the mold, adding additional water to pack it down and smooth it.

Then, he uses a small wooden roller along the length. He trims off the extra clay from the sides, then slides the clay onto the semi round form. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

He makes it look easy.

   

These are how many tiles he had made since 6 a.m. (we were there around 11). The tiles dry on their front sides for one day, then they are flipped over to dry on their back sides for another day. Then they are fired. Customers come out to the yard to buy tiles and bricks. The tile maker earns about $10 or $12 per hundred out of which the property owner receives 20%.

Next, I become the tile maker's apprentice...

Tilemaker Page 2