Alejandra Calderon’s first experience teaching art was not what she imagined.
After getting her bachelor’s degree at Sacramento State University, Alejandra was excited to share her knowledge and love of painting with students. However, she was thrown into teaching a ceramics class, a medium she was not entirely familiar with.
The pressure of learning alongside her students turned out to be a remarkable opportunity. She also wasn’t alone in her journey. To ease the frustrations, her husband and painter by trade Luis Magaña, also took up ceramics.
The couple decided to invest in a pottery wheel and taught themselves the basic concepts. Three years later, the duo felt they had honed in on their pottery technique. Around the same time, Alejandra was beginning to feel disillusioned with teaching due to the lack of faculty support at the school. She decided it was time to leave.
It was a difficult choice, leaving the students she’d invested so much time in, [not to mention leaving a cushy job with salaried pay and excellent benefits] Realizing that her true passion had shifted to pottery, she proposed turning their new hobby into a business. Luis agreed and Manjar Ceramics was born. Manjar Ceramics create everything from coffee mugs and succulent planters to earrings using Mexican influences and their personal outtake on their culture. They often find themselves in their studio, working together, assembling new pieces. While their strong backgrounds in art are helpful, the passion that the fuels the business stems from their love of and respect for Mexican culture and traditions.
Both are Mexican; Luis immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a child and grew up in the Central Valley, while Alejandra was born in California and grew up in Elk Grove. The word Manjar, meaning nectar in Spanish, stems from the intersections of their happy memories being raised Mexican and additionally their love of pottery.
Though their upbringings were different, they were both rooted in appreciating Mexican art, particularly those of Mexican artists and the indigenous peoples. It’s evident that most of Manjar’s inventory takes a page from the indigenous styles of pottery: the shapes, the patterns, the bright colors.
“In essence, we grew up with a lot of these shapes and a lot of these colors,” Luis said.
Their work is a love letter to their heritage, with an added bonus of being able to share it with others. At the beginning, they each had their own way of creating pieces. While sharpening their skills, they’ve learned to merge their pottery techniques together to create even more intriguing pieces. Alejandra and Luis both view it as an under appreciated art form, especially considering their backgrounds as painters.
They both enjoy the experience of learning a whole new set of skills while starting their own small business, from managing money to keeping stock of their inventory
“It doesn’t feel like a job necessarily,” Alejandra explains. “I dropped painting completely and I’ve been painting since I was four.” Luis echoes a similar sentiment, “Even compared to painting itself, it’s something totally different.” Creating ceramics has since become a daily joy; painting didn’t necessarily offer the same excitement.
At the time, neither of them would have thought they would ever appreciate the beauty or the creativity that came along with it. Alejandra explains,
“With pottery, it’s really time sensitive. There’s a process to it… it’s not just making a pot.”
Going into the technical aspects, Luis emphasizes that there are different theoretical situations. “You kind of have to plan the possible colors. Certain clays correspond well with certain glazes, so you’re kind of hypothesizing what’s going on right there.”
It’s challenging to decide what shapes to form, what colors to pick, along with making pieces that aren’t too obvious or not obvious enough. The desire is always to create something they are both satisfied with. “We get the most inspiration from when we go to Mexico,” Alejandra states, but because they both had different upbringings in the same culture, each has their own vision of what Mexico means to them, showing that neither are the same in their artistry.
On a personal level, both are committed to making an impact on Sacramento’s art community and they’re off to a great start selling merchandise and leading classes on selected days over at Sol Collective. Eventually, they’d like to expand into their own space with a brick and mortar shop mixed with a community studio that shares their love of ceramics and Mexican pottery with everyone.