All the polished, black, surprisingly light pottery, called barro negro, that you find around Oaxaca in hundreds of shapes and forms – candlesticks, jugs and vases, and decorative animal and bird figures – comes from San Bartolo Coyotepec, 11km south of Oaxaca. To head to the pottery’s original source, look for the signs to the village's biggest workshop, Alfarería Doña Rosa, a short walk east off the highway.
It was doña Rosa Real Mateo (1900−80) who invented the method of burnishing the barro negro with quartz stones for the distinctive shine. Her family alfarería (potters’ workshop) is now the biggest in the village, and they will demonstrate the process to anyone who asks. The pieces are hand-molded by an age-old technique that uses two saucers functioning as a rudimentary potter’s wheel. They are fired in pit kilns and turn black from smoke and from the iron oxide in the clay.
The workshop doubles up as a shop and is also something of a museum. It's well worth visiting, even if you have no intention of buying.