Thursday, 23 May 2013

Ceramics in Nicaragua

San Juan de Oriente,the next stop on our tour of the Pueblos Blancos, is famous for its ceramics. In a town of approx 5600, 4000 are directly involved in the production of ceramics. The history of ceramics in the town dates back to 1000 BC. Legends tell the story of a female spirit that lived in the nearby Masaya volcano that was rewarded for he prophecies with offerings of food on plates made in the village. The Spanish named the town San Juan de los Platos as the 'plates' were so significant to the economy. The name only changed with independence in 1821.

We visited the house and shop of one potter. He explained that all the clay was dug from local sources and each potter has to prepare it ready for use himself. This involves removing gravel then adding sand before working to a suitable consistency. We watched his demonstration carefully. He used his feet to turn the wheel and copious amounts of water to create his perfect shape. Some of us were inspired to have a go including the boys. 

What brilliant first efforts!

Glazes are added often using recycled items. Human hair and old pens make the perfect paintbrushes. Intricate designs are then added and the pieces left to dry. 

 All the work needs to be fired and I was delighted to be able to see the homemade adobe  kiln, a style used by all the artisans in the area. It made me think about my own beast of a kiln in my workshop at home.I have electrical power and a temperature controller. These kilns are heated by  burning wood and need a whole lot of experience to control the temperature. The fire needs to be tended constantly for approximately 10 hours.

The finished pieces are displayed around the house and then sent to souvenir shops all over Nicaragua.It a pleasure to meet such a talented man. We all bought a few pieces and I'm pleased to report that they all made it home to England safely.

Browsing online I found an amazing charity called Potters for Peace.
The charity help potters develop their techniques and help them to find outlets for their work. They have helped develop fuel efficient kilns to make the process less fuel thirsty. The new kilns have reduced the amount of fuel needed by 50%. After the devastation of trees in the area by Hurricane Mitch this helped many potters back into production.

Browsing on ETSY as you know I love to, I searched Nicaragua and found a number of ceramic artists with work for sale. Try and take a look-amazing!



Friday, 17 May 2013

Basket Weaving in Nicaragua

 Can you locate it on a map? 
Do you know one snippet of information about this off the beaten track spot?

I was lucky enough to visit Nicaragua this February as a stop on my journey through Central America. What a fantastic country to visit! I would thoroughly recommend it. It's a country dominated by volcanoes and filled with super friendly people.

I stayed with my family for a week at the Mariposa Spanish School near Masaya, an area famous for local artisans.

 In the mornings we studied Spanish and in the afternoons we explored the local area. We crawled through ancient lava tubes, sampled local delicacies and watched in awe as local artisans created masterpieces before our eyes. 

 One afternoon we visited Los Pueblos Blancos. The buildings in these towns were originally painted white (blanco) to ward off evil spirits. Each village specializes in a particular craft. We started in Niquinohomo, the birthplace of Augusto Cesar Sandino, to visit a basket weaver and his family. 

First the bamboo is sliced lengthways. Note the knife is pointing towards to the man! Not a job for wimps! The man was covered in cuts and scars from knife wounds. His brother then creates a frame from the sliced bamboo strips in a star shape. A length of thinner bamboo is then woven in a spiral from the centre towards the edges of the basket. This too resulted in blood letting while we watched! The men worked at speed and at the end of each day have a pile of baskets ready for sale. Most of the baskets are used by locals to carry their wares to market. They are huge and sturdy enough to be thrown from the roof of the chicken buses on reaching the market.

Oscar was completely mesmerized by this process and later in the trip we made a mini woven rug from bits of palms on the beach. 

Searching online I found some great projects. Purchase of baskets from this site provides food for children in schools. Local women have been empowered by basket weaving projects. A little monthly income in Nicaragua goes a long way. This clip shows a lady using pine needles for her basket.