Meet The Potters PfP-4

Hive Kiln

Back on the Road
The potters we visited used primitive wood burning kilns with various degrees of success (and temperature). Most were inefficient and leaky. In the small villages, kids went out to gather wood from nearby hillsides. When I asked about the supply, no one seemed concerned if the kids had to walk a little farther to collect the  fuel.

In the larger towns of 300 or more, the potters bought wood  and stacked it by the kiln in traditional cord piles. The more commercial the operation, the more important a steady supply of wood.

The kiln at the Ceramistas Por la Paz is the only gas kiln in Nicaragua and it is very expensive to fire.

old-fashioned-clay-squeezer

In general, glazes are not used, but rather slips (tagues) are made from liquid clays and then colored with natural elements and chemicals (when available). Burnishing or intense rubbing with an old plastic shoe insole or a piece of gourd adds the lustrous sheen to lowfire ware, the national standard.

Las Sabanatas
300 families, 250 potters. All in one village.
They set up long tables to show off wares and demo techniques
Martiza, our host, first made water jugs then gradually began decorated pieces. She explained that it took a long time to figure out the proper mixture of clay, earth and other materials to achieve the right blend for firing. She used a Mani kiln, like the one we built, but had some trouble firing it consistently. As a result she relied on a traditional hive shaped kiln. Sadly, during a recent thunderstorm, a horse was tied to a post that supported the roof over the kiln.  The horse pulled down the roof and now the hive kiln hasn’t functioned as well since that horse-kicked, rain-soaked night.

Condega, means “land of potters” in the local Nahua dialect.
Before we get to the art, can we talk about our hotel? It was a jungle-themed compound with large thatched roofs and tropical furniture. The Jungle also featured a traditional outdoor, oversized disco dance floor and suspended speaker stacks
Look, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels over the years, but never a hotel where, after 9 PM they let the dogs out. All guests are advised to stay on the second floor only. A visit to the ground floor is at your own peril. The “dogs” by the way, on safe-distance inspection, appeared to be  two oversized, wooly German shepherds, more bearlike than canine. Somehow, I resisted the temptation to make friends with security.

We slept five to a room in shallow, bang-your-head-bunk beds. A TV played Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai and some Bruce Willis movie where he plays a serial killer. They both speak Spanish so well….

Ten of us shared one toilet and one shower with a single paper sign on the door “Occupado/ Libre” sign on the door. You were supposed to flip the sign over as depending on whether you wanted company or not. There was no lock.

But, the food was Terrific! Great heaping piles of rice and beans, scrambled eggs, a mountain of fresh fruit with every meal and delicious chicken. And Coffee. Great gallons of coffee, which we were able to order sin azucar (no sugar).

Great Breakfast !

Santa Rosa
is one of the last Sandinista holdouts. 600 families, all Sandinistas live on land grants that began with 32 originals plots that were awarded after revolution. It’s a community but not a commune. Pottery and agriculture are the main enterprises. Potters pay 10 % to the group on all sales

When we arrived, we helped unload their kiln, blew off the ash, saw cracks on a few pieces from uneven firings, but the work was more advanced and decorated than anything we had seen thus far. Wonderful spider web designs had been applied as a slip. The idea came from a magazine picture on the studio wall. We also saw some attempts at an Egyptian look.

Slip Decoration with a Sandwich Bag

Our host Isidro, demonstrated the application of slip designs by using the snipped off corner of a plastic lunch bag.

By the way, a joke: (told to me by a Nicaraguan)
What is the national roadside flower of Nicaragua? The plastic bag.

After Isidro’s demo, Moriah flashed her impressive production skills and then Tom created an amazing platter. His technique involved a canvas bat below the platter, so that it was very easy to lift off the wheel. The local potters were impressed. Then I jumped onto the wheel and showed off my one trick: wrapping a piece with a slip-soaked rope or chain for the textured impression that it leaves behind.
Hold your applause. They did.

The Fans Gather

La Maisuta
Later that afternoon we stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the bed of a 4×4 truck, rode up a steep mountain to a new filter factory that was just about to open.

Wait TIl the Other FIve Get in

Their clay was literally at ground level and it was wonderful and plastic to the touch. The site and the factory were named after Ron Rivera. A German contributor donated enough to build the large shed that will be used for filter finishing and storage. A note that Ron Rivera painted on the wall years before still remains.

tom-clayboy-of-the-western-world

Ron's Sign Refers to a Peru FIlter Plan on a Map

Loma Panda
Back in the back of the 4×4, we headed way up a mountain. A half an hour standing in like that is not unlike the Cyclone, except that Coney Island rides don’t dodge donkeys dogs and sheer drop-offs. After the ride, we continued on foot up where the 4×4 dare not tread; a steep rocky river bed. After a near fatal/ hilarious turkey attack, we arrived.

Attack Turkey Captured (digitally)

The women of Loma Panda have been potters for generations upon generations. The tiny, women, all under 5 ft tall, said their grandmother’s grandmothers have all been potters as far back as anyone can remember. A few children run around. There are no men. They told us “that’s how we like it. “

Men Need Not Apply

They women led us to a large room filled with wares for sale and wares that were demos. The unique creation of these Loma Panda women are large dolls with extruded clay arms, shaped into soft feminine curves. Their mermaids weren’t bad, either. It is clear that over the years they have had many outside influences. The walls were covered with pictures and calendars from US ceramics magazines. They had some lovely pots that showed the influence of a teapot calendar from some university.

Mermaid

When we asked how the spout was constructed, it turned out there they did not really have a word in Spanish for the “spout”. They made them, they know what they were for, but the word was not in their vocabulary. We authoritatively told them, that from this day forward, the word for spout was “boca” (mouth). They didn’t seem to care. Or they were putting us on and would have a good laugh while we climbed down the mountain.

Brave Moriah tried her hand on the wheel. Their clay is really tough to center and throw. Their potters wheel was broken. Alvaro and Jorge, our driver, spent a couple of hours trying to level their wheel and tighten up the plate. They did not fully succeed, due to a broken drill bit, but the effort was appreciated.

Deep in the darkened adobe home, the ladies served us lunch: Chicken parts and pasta. I tried their red soda instead of the Pepsi. That was about as adventuresome as I got. But there was entertainment during the meal. A continuous flow of farm animals raced past our table. It was the oddest thing. Chickens, roosters, a cat, a couple of puppies, a dog, more chickens. They just kept entering one end of the room, running the length of our table and out the other end of the room. It’s like they were catching commuter trains or something. The parade just never stopped.

On the way to the next town….
We stopped and met Maria and Marta, a pair of ancient shrunken sisters with a barrel kiln built by Ron Rivera. They make piggy banks. Fat, inflated round piggies, each with its own personality. Their “house” did not have adobe brick walls, only dark thatch, wattles and clay. A meticulous, tiny garden rose above the level of the animals, pots with cultured roses, and other small delicate flowers.

 

Barrel Kiln - What You'd Expect.

Robert (our leader) and Maria of the Piggy Banks

People come to buy their pigs; Maria and Marta are well known. They do not travel or ship or even visit craft fairs. Buyers come to them. One of the sisters (I don’t know which) is a professional worshipper. When she is not making clay piggy banks, she is hired by others to pray for them,

Ducale Grande
10 women and a few men work in a small factory operation. Years ago they received an order for 18,000 pieces from Pier One. A wall chart for production still records what the changes an order than size must have meant. There were day-by-day, minute-by-minute calculations for each type of piece they were to produce. Things seemed a little more relaxed, when we were there.

Their specialty is smoke firings with an ash slip resist. Each piece is triple burnished. with plastic from shoe insoles or jicara gourds. The slip is then applied with broken feathers and twigs. The pieces are then smoked in a brick oven with green wooden branch. Once cool, the ash is scrubbed off, scaffiddio (fancy word for outlining with a 20d nail) is applied.

We made a bunch of pieces and they fired them for us. It was mythic !

Smoke Fired Tea Cup
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