Tile Installation at the Uriarte Workshop (Image: Venice Clay Artists Blog)

For decades, my family has had a beautiful tile mural that sits on the fireplace mantle in my grandmother’s living room. Recently, after a visit to the McNay art museum, I discovered the origins of my family’s heirloom. Captivated by my curiosity, I spent a few hours learning that the tiles were created by the Uriarte talavera workshop in Puebla, Mexico.

1933 Photograph of the Uriarte Tile Workshop facade

The Uriarte Talavera company is one of a handful of workshops in the world which can produce genuine talavera ceramics. In the 1990’s the Mexican government deemed that the production of genuine talavera required the exclusive use of traditional methods of clay production and glazing. According to this law, all other producers can only call their product “Talavera style.” While Mexican tile can be found in many places, genuine talavera is rare.

Sketch of an Uriarte tile mural on paper (image: Uriarte Talavera 2014)

The beginnings of the mural on tile (Uriarte Talavera 2014)

This Moorish style of tile was brought to Spain in the 12th century, where it became a staple of Spanish architecture. During the Spanish colonial period, the tradition of talavera tile making was brought over to the Americas, where the practice became rooted in the culture and architecture of Mexico.

Master artisan beginning a tile mural (image: Artist Guillermo Ceniceros, Uriarte Talavera 2013)

Sample of the modern Uriarte finished tile mural (image: Uriarte Talavera 2013)

Today, bits of these unique works of art, which speak to the Spanish and Mexican heritage of Texas, can be found across San Antonio including the McNay’s peacock murals in the courtyard garden, and the mysterious Miraflores Garden just outside of Brackenridge park.

Peacock mural at the Uriarte Workshop that inspired the tile mural at the McNay (image: Uriarte Talavera 2015)

The McNay Art Museum (also known as the Atkinson Residence) is the former home of Marion Koogler McNay, which was designed by famed San Antonio architect Atlee B Ayres. As a child, Ayres lived in a home across from the Alamo and often admired its “golden hue”. As an adult, he worked in Mexico and later traveled to California often, where he fell in love with the Spanish American colloquial architecture of California. He Combined these influences when he was commissioned by Mrs. Atkinson (McNay) to design her home. McNay, an avid art enthusiast who also spent time visiting Mexico, commissioned a tile art mural by the Uriarte workshop based on her sketches. These murals, as well as other genuine talavera art displays, prominently adorn the walls at the modern day McNay art museum.

Celebration at the McNay in the early 20th century in the courtyard where Uriarte murals are found

At around the same time when the McNay was being constructed, at nearby Brackenridge Park, renown San Antonio figure Dr. Urrutia commissioned the creation of Miraflores Garden to bring a piece of his beloved hometown of Xochimilco, Mexico to San Antonio.

Large celebration circa 1930 around one of Miraflores Garden’s intricately designed custom pools (Elise Urrutia, Rivard Report, 2016)

Passing by the garden off Broadway in modern day, it’s easy to overlook the tile murals that line the wall, but the garden was once an artistic Eden. There were large fountains and a large tree lined passage tucked neatly behind a large entry gate coated with genuine Uriarte tiles.

(Elise Urrutia, Rivard Report, 2016)

(Elise Urrutia, Rivard Report, 2016)

The Miraflores entry gate is no longer at its original location but is being preserved at the San Antonio Museum of Art as a work of art on display.