Clay bust attributed to the Farias studio, private collection.
A Jalisco Magnate who Revolutionized the Pottery Trade
Heraclio Farías may well have been, the first to understand the big picture, that the artisans and their pottery are the wave of the future.
by Ruben Rodriguez
The terracotta bust of a neoclassic woman appears to be staring out of a vintage photograph, directly into the photographer's lens. Encircling her is the Farías family, surrounded by enormous pots and clay urns. Patriarch Heraclio Farías, one of the men responsible for shaping the cities of Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque from a cluster of small local markets into today's modern business centers for fine ceramics, stands in the image's center.
Although from Spanish descent, Heraclio Farías Vargas y Machuca was born in the Tapatio capital of Guadalajara, Jalisco known in 1841 as the Sultan of the West. Distinctively enterprising and industrious, he opened a cigar and cigarette factory in Guadalajara, La Concha, in 1871, which was famous for its fine Veracruz tobaccos. The line received several awards for excellence, including at showings at the Primera Exposición Municipal de Tepic and the Segunda Exposición de Las Clases Productoras. Farías also participated in the 1889 Worlds Fair in Paris. Besides producing cigars and cigarettes, the entrepreneur also patented a machine for chopping tobacco. The device, which was marketed in Spain, gave rise to the still famous Farias cigarette brand in that country. In Guadalajara, his local popularity lead him into politics, where he held several different positions, including city mayor.
Economic growth in Jalisco accelerated dramatically with the completion of Guadalajara's first railway system in May, 1888. Although hand created items from the Tlaquepaque area had been transported to all parts of Mexico and the US for years, the introduction of a rail system offered area businessmen an even greater opportunity to expand their markets. The entrepreneurial spirit, practically unknown among the descendants of the country's indigenous population, has awaken with the arrival of the Ferrocarril Central Mexicano locomotive system. An era of almost unimaginable progress has been born for dealers in pottery and ceramic goods. The abundance of items being shipped from the freight station to other parts of Mexico, and even to the United States, and the ease with which it is being accomplished, is astonishing, declares the Jalisco periodical, El Correo, in 1895.
Heraclio Farías may well have been, the first to understand the big picture, that the artisans and their pottery are the wave of the future. After returning from a trip to Europe, he opened a ceramics store right next to the San Francisco neighborhood train station, and another studio in the center of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, in front of the Parián. There, he manufactured unpainted clay and terracota items, as well as encrusted, Chinese, Babylonian, Egyptian and Mexican pots, urns and jars. In another studio, he commissions the best known indigenous sculptors to create detailed clay or gesso busts of society ladies and gentlemen. Tremendous amounts of merchandise was being produced out of the Farías studios, including pieces by Pantaleón Panduro and others. Revolutionary Jose Martí, who was then residing in New York, even stated his admiration for the great variety and beauty of Mexican pottery, and the clay work from Guadalajara.
Farías drove Tlaquepaque's market like no one ever had, employing new techniques and materials, and to a certain extent, even teaching. After the Escuela de Artes y Oficios (School of Arts and Trades) closed in 1891, several students joined his studio to continue their training.
In 1893, Farías participated in the Chicago World's Fair with yet another of his inventions a new type of tile. During that period of booming construction, his tiles scored a premium for being light-weight, waterproof and strong. Other Tlaquepaque producers were also awarded prizes at the Chicago exposition, including Narciso Hernandez and brothers Prudencio and Salvador Ruiz Velasco. Sculptures from the Farias Studio were also included in the Paris Universal Fair of 1900.
Heraclio Farías died in Guadalajara in 1913, but the industry didn't die with him. Farías was prototype to the entrepreneurial capitalistic spirit of the Porfirian era. The modern, wholesale potter with catalog and fixed prices was born in San Pedro Tlaquepaque through him. Prior to that, purchases were only direct from small family workshops, with no organized wholesale outlets or distribution centers.
After his death, the Farías studios were taken over by his sons, who had been involved in the business since childhood. Reports by the area press on the Farías artists stated, Three of Heraclio Farías sons continue pushing their father's love of the arts forward. Dressed in the studio's long white shirts, one masterfully wields a brush, stroking out a landscape on the surface of a large ceramic urn; another dexterously molds a prominent political figure from raw clay; while the third puts the finishing touches of perfection on a pottery pitcher.
Juan Ixca Farías, Jesús, Ignacio, Agustín and Salvador maintained the family's reputation of excellence in quality, design and technique. Juan Ixca, in his publication, Artes Populares (1938), attributes his father to introducing the potter's wheel to Guadalajara in 1887. The family was also famed for the great variety and sizes they produced, as well as for mixing a clay of greater strength for oversized pieces, fine workmanship in construction and decoration, glazing methodology and firing techniques.
On February 14, 1916, the highest ranking official of the Constitutional Army, Venustiano Carranza, visited Guadalajara and surrounding areas, including Tlaquepaque. Accompanied by Generals Benjamin Hill, Joaquín Amaro, Jesús Davila and Luis Caballero; Secretaries of State Jesus Acuña, Pastor Rouaix, Ignacio Bonillas, and others; and the Governor of Jalisco, Manuel Aguirre Berlanga, the town of Tlaquepaque eagerly awaited the arriving expedition. The groups first stop was the Farías showroom and work studio. Agustín and Salvador took charge of showing the assembly around and introducing some of their artisans. Marcos Silva was among one of many well-known artists present at the studio. In less than fifteen minutes, he molded an excellently executed eight-inch clay bust of Carranza. The outfit marvelled over Silva's work, before heading back to the main plaza. There, they found General Alvaro Obregón, who had arrived late. They insisted on taking Obregon back to the Farías studio, before continuing on to their other scheduled stops.
Business remained strong for the following few years, until an economic downturn forced the owners to close the store and studio. The company's inventory was liquidated in the United States. The Farías brothers, however, did not stop working. They went on to create the Talavera tiles which can today be seen around the old Agua Azul Park fountain in Guadalajara, as well as the tile work for the Los Arcos fountain in the same city. Agustin Farías reputation for fine workmanship gained him the attention of President Lázaro Cárdenas, who invited the artist to Michoacan, where he later spent some time teaching the art of pottery production.
If Heraclio Farías had engraved an epitaph on his tombstone, it very well might have been a brief message of posterity, a curious Hasta mañana. His son Agustin, who, as had his father, dedicated his life to the production and promotion of quality ceramics, who once received the heads of the Constitutional government in his studio, said with nostalgia to his children, If I am reincarnated, I would live in San Pedro Tlaquepaque again, and be a potter...
Top: Interior view of the Farias studio. Above: One of the first trains to run in Zapopan, Jalisco Left: Heraclio Farias with an enormous clay urn Photos: Farias Family.