What do you know about Uayma? If you can answer this question, you may think of its distinctive church and its particular look, which makes it so recognizable and unique in Yucatán. But in Uayma there’s more to discover than just the very Instagram-friendly former convent of St. Dominic.
In this village, 20 minutes northwest of Valladolid, there’s also a living tradition, passed down generation after generation: workshop Najil K’at, led by master potter Emilio Espadas Dzul. Like many artisans, for Don Emilio pottery is a family affair. He picked up the skill from his aunt, Juana Dzul Cob (†), better known as Juanita; a pioneer of local pottery who was also celebrated for her exquisite pieces and her skill at bringing them to life. This is made even more impressive considering Doña Juanita learned the craft using a man-powered potter’s wheel: her whole life, she used a pre-Hispanic wheel, known to the family as K’abal, which she turned using her feet.
That’s how Don Emilio got started as well; amused, he agrees to show off his skill. Once you’ve had the chance to see him turn the wheel, you won’t be at all surprised that his store holds such a wide variety of exquisitely delicate clay pieces. Each of them is perfectly imperfect: they’re clearly handmade, one by one, but with a level of craftsmanship that makes you wonder whether truly no casts were involved (they weren’t).
Walking into Najil K’at is an exercise in self-restraint: you’ll want to take everything home. A set of coasters, because you can never have too many; a few marbles, because they’re super cute and you can probably use them to play Chinese checkers; tequila glasses, even if you don’t even like tequila. Maybe a clay Alux instead, so the figurine will guard your home or business, as the Espadases say Aluxes guard theirs.
But Najil K’at isn’t only a store; it’s also a family workshop, led by Don Emilio, but also his brothers, their respective wives, their children and spouses, and their grandchildren. The calm, pleasant disposition of the Espadas family alone is good reason to visit the Najil K’at pottery workshop in Uayma, but the workshop itself is a beautiful place to spend a day (or many) developing a new skill, enjoying the sound of the wind and the birds in the trees, and marveling at how nice the temperature is, even in Yucatán’s hottest months, despite being so close to a literal oven.
Here, Don Emilio and his sons, Sergio and José Virgilio, share their skills and knowledge with anyone willing to learn. They’ll take you to see the kilns and the workshop where they create functional art pieces; they’ll tell you about Doña Juanita, and they’ll show you, beaming with pride, the works of their apprentices. These may include middle school students from Valladolid as easily as Mérida ladies looking to pick up a new hobby, travelers from all over the world looking for a different kind of tourist experience, or renowned artists who want to try working along with an equally talented colleague. All the works are on display, patiently waiting for the next step in their own process. You may notice there are leaves everywhere, and wonder how the wind blew them in so far, and why nobody has bothered to do some cleaning. The Espadases, wearing a patient smile, will be happy to explain.
Uayma does offer more than just a photo-stop. Come see for yourself and visit the store, take a class at the workshop, or even stay for a few days; due to apprentice demand, the Espadas family now offers eco-sustainable cabins which they now offer to travelers in general.
Pottery store and workshop and eco-sustainable cabins
Calle 27 x 22 y 26, Uayma
Tel. 984 105 7444 / 985 106 9308 / 985 107 0834
FB: Najilkat Uayma
By Alicia Navarrete
Communicologist born circumstantially in México City, but who says “uay” since 1985. Life has allowed me to see the world, which in turn has allowed me to discover how much I love the place where I live.
Photography by Alicia Navarrete, and Yucatán Today, for use in Yucatán Today.
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