Something I don't really talk about often (because, honestly, it embarrasses me!) is the loneliness I've felt since relocating to Mexico City from New York four and a half years ago. I can't quite put my finger on where the shame comes from because it seems like an entirely logical and understandable feeling, uprooting your life and moving to a new country. But I suppose maybe the embarrassment comes from the fact that, in many ways, my loneliness is self-imposed. It's my own paradoxical nature that seems to isolate myself by choice. So by extension of this, I deeply admire people who seem to transition from place-to-place open and engaged, energized by the lack of familiarity. My husband is one of these people. And my friend Perla, I feel, is another. However, I suppose none of us can really do this without some struggle. 

Perla Valtierra is a ceramist from Chihuahua who spent much of her childhood living in Mexico City. Yet for a lot of her adult life she has lived abroad, returning to Mexico during the pandemic. Her life outside of CDMX has had a significant impact, but her roots seem to be such a huge part of the work she creates: Commanding clay vases, weighty plates and flatware, mugs and coffee cups that are a delight to hold. Many of these feature her signature scallop design, a detail that adds a layer of delicacy to her sturdy sculptures. I talked to her about being an ex-pat, loneliness, the challenges of being creative and a business owner at the same time and more...

Can you tell us about your background: What kind of childhood did you have? What did you like to do when you were a kid?
I lived in Mexico City until I was 10 years old at which point I moved to Chihuahua and lived there until I was 18 to finish high school. 
I was a very happy as a kid, my parents separated when I was very young so I was always moving with them: Traveling, visiting our various family members around [Mexico]. I moved to Chihuahua because all my cousins lived there and as an only child, my birth parents wanted me to have more family around. Living in a big city as an only child can be very lonely. 
When and how did you find ceramics? 
I remember when I was still living in Mexico City I took a summer course on ceramics but it wasn't until I was in my last year of University that it really became a part of my life. I attended UNAM, the national University of Mexico City, with a gorgeous campus [ed note: And one of the most rigorous and prestigious universities in the country—which also happens to be a public university]. In my last semester I had only 1 credit left so I took a ceramics workshop for 6 months, every day all day. I got super addicted to spending time there and got very interested in the process and the finishes, the glazes and ways to decorate.
Perla Valtierra Ceramics
What was your experience of living as an expat? Did you ever feel lonely? If so, how did you make peace with those feelings? If not, why do you think that is?
I lived abroad for 10 years and before that I also did an exchange while I was studying, so I did 2 additional years abroad during that time. When I moved to Europe, I was first in Brussels where I was doing a masters degree that I ultimately didn't finish. The first year was difficult, I had a lot of resistance to the weather, and of course over time I got used to it. And yes I felt lonely many, many times. I think I  also got used to this feeling. After a few years, I found myself coming back to Mexico much more for work—and maybe I didn't realize how much I missed it but found myself spending a lot of time back here. Growing up in Mexico I was super social, and had a lot of friends. So now that I've moved back here, I'm back to those social practices again. And of course I have very good, dear friends in Europe but less than I have here in Mexico.
Perla Valtierra earringsPerla Valtierra at Home in Chava Studio
As a business owner and a creative person, do you find those two personalities live harmoniously within you? Or do you find them fighting with one another? 
Wow, that's a hard question. I think I'm a creative person with a sense of business and organization that's very high, so I don't find the two sides of me fighting, really. What was hard was when I focused most of my energy in the business-running and admin, and made less time for the creative part.
For a while I've been setting up a team that helps me to have more time for being creative, as the office work definitely takes a lot of my energy and then it is hard to be creative if you are stressed. Poco a poco, I'm finding the people I need for my team, and this is creating a coherence that works for me and my very personal way of working.
Perla Valtierra for Chava Studio
What has been the hardest part of watching your business grow? What sacrifices have you had to make during this process? What have you done to bring more balance along the way?
A while after I came back [to Mexico], I was focusing so much on work as a way to be busy and productive, so the first years here I was working so much, there was not much balance.
I have decided to be more free for other hobbies but I think it is hard when your job is also your passion and you put all your time and energy on it. So little by little I've been creating some practices to have more time for leisure and also for just doing nothing. I started to surf and I love it!
It's been hard for me to loosen control of my workaholic situation—but right now life is much more balanced and I can honestly say I'm happy.
Perla Valtierra Home Mexico City
Perla Valtierra for Chava Studio
What do you like to wear? Has your style changed through the years? 
I'm an aesthete and I love clothes. I try to not buy too much, and I love to buy quality items I can wear for a long time. I love natural fabrics. My style has changed for sure over the years but I think certain things have been constants: I've always loved nice cuts that fit my body well, I love elegant clothes that can be worn any and every day. 
Perla Valtierra Home Mexico City
What kinds of clothes make you feel like yourself? [ed note: Perla wasn't going to answer this question so I proposed my observation and it feels helpful for this story! So including it below...]
Olivia: I would describe your style as a reflection of your work itself in many ways. It feels functional and beautiful at the same time. You always seem to be wearing something that seems to have been made with care. Not trendy. And jewelry seems to be a big theme for you, like very substantial pieces that you can feel the weight of and that have a presence. Very sculptural and interesting. 
Perla was photographed in her home by Alexia Puga Ramirez Garrido.
Written by Olivia Villanti


Love what you’re both doing in your respective businesses! Beautiful, soulful ceramics and clothing: thank you!

Rhiannon on Dec 02, 2023

Leave a comment