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Fantastic Beasts (and How We Found Them!)

by Andrew Williams | February 09, 2017 | 0 Comments

Of all of the new products we discovered on our trip to Mexico in January 2017, probably the range that stands out the most is our "Fantastic Beasts" - surreal ceramic figures made in a style known as "barro betus." They weren't easy to find, but we were glad we made the effort. 

We only had two days in Tonala, a suburb of Guadalajara famous for arts and crafts, so we had to move quickly to work out whether anything was going to be right for us. Most of the shops were selling much larger pieces - chairs and tables, floor to ceiling sculptures and the like - and while these were incredible they were not practical for us to bring back in our cases!

On our second afternoon however, we found some amazing animal pieces tucked away at the back of a furniture shop. Crazy colours, psychedelic designs, surreal combinations of animals - right up our street! The pieces were signed "Ortega," and the helpful shopkeeper explained as she was wrapping our items that the figures were known as "barro betus." A quick Google search revealed that we were in fact only a hop and skip away from the village where the Ortega family had their workshop - and a quick taxi ride saw us standing outside the door!

We were welcomed by Eleuterio Ortega, fourth generation of craftspeople who create the incredible designs. The courtyard workshop was home to further members of the family, along with a good number of wandering cats and chickens. We saw pieces at all stages of the design process, some newly sculpted, others being fired in the open kiln, while the finished shapes were hand painted as part of the final stages. A true family business and a truly amazing sight to see. 

As the pieces are ceramic we were limited to what we could bring back - we chose some amazing whistles, frighteningly beastly masks, and some other cool designs which we have online now. We hope to be able to continue our relationship with the Ortega family for many years to come - for now, we are proud to be what we think is the only outlet in the UK for their fantastic beasts!

Tagged: barro betus, eighteen rabbit, Fairtrade, fantastic beasts, hay on wye, mexico, ortega family folk art, tonala