Mind Blowing Pottery
San Juan de Oriente is naturally, one of my favorite places to go in Nicaragua.
This was my second visit to a town of people who make pottery in a tradition that dates back to pre -Colombian times. I am particularly fond of the floral and geometric designs. They are a study in design, surface and color. Each is hand made and decorated with colored slip which is painted on and meticulously etched with designs and patterns that can almost make M.C. Escher look like an amateur.
Nicaraguan potters have to be some of the hardest working potters in the world. They dig their own clay, clean it and stamp on it to wedge it and “give life to the dirt.” They have a tight production schedule of throwing, slip painting and carving. The carving is done before the clay has been fired, which, given the intricate designs of scratching and carving is a testament to the skill of the artist as breakage during this vase of the clay process is a common tragedy among potters
I was able to sit and talk with Manuel Angelo, owner and main artist of Artiste Pre-Columbia while I watched a young man performing his sgraffito (scratching) magic with a sharpened bicycle spoke. After telling Manuel that I was a potterand also showing him some of my work, he let me take his kick wheel for a spin. I told him I was hoping that I could come back and spend a day in his studio watching and learning from his techniques but he gave me polite Nica no, which was to the effect that we are very busy here. Bummer.
Next I went to a studio where they make huge garden vessels like planters and bowls and some small pots as well. I always used to have a suspicion when I saw huge planters I the garden store that they were made in a factory somewhere by slip casting into huge molds or some other method. I didn’t think a person could throw that much clay to make a pot that large on a wheel. How wrong I was.
I watched with awe as a man threw huge pots that had to use 25-50 pounds of clay at a time, one after the other, while a kid prepared and wedged the clay for him to start the next one. I told him he was very strong for which he seemed very proud. I think he made 2 in the 10 minutes or so that I stood there watching him. He must have been exhausted by the end of the day!