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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ceramic pottery of San Juan de Oriente

Over 180 potter families live and produce ceramic pottery in San Juan de Oriente. Anyone from this town, on the edge of the Apoyo volcanic crater, can boast of talent at the potter's wheel. The students at Apoyo Spanish School visited a potter family at this town recently and here are some photos from their visit. 
Apoyo Spanish School
Clay from near the Apoyo volcano is prepared and then thrown to make ceramic pottery shapes by hand on a foot-driven potter's wheel. Photo by Corky Peavy. 
The majority of the artisan potters in San Juan de Oriente work in homeworker enterprises, with members of the family occupying different jobs in the business which is located on the property of the family home. High quality clay is found near the town for making the pottery. The products are fired using low-quality fuelwood, from softer tree species or wood that has partially rotted, that burns fast. The ceramic pottery-making traditions in this area date from before the arrival of Europeans. Ceramic pottery is found throughout the area whenever excavations are performed, dating back as far as one thousand, five hundred years ago. 

Nicaragua Spanish School
After bringing the wheel to speed, the potter begins to manipulate the clay, first removing any air pockets. Photo by Corky Peavy. 
This town was once known as San Juan de los Platos. In those days, most people ate from rustic fired ceramic plates known as comales, which were not even fired in ovens, but instead they were fired in bonfires of stacked pieces of wood with the plates inside. The plates didn't last long, but they were cheap and easily obtained. As comales were replaced by porcelain plates, the town switched its focus to improved techniques and decorative pieces. During the 1980's, efforts at improving the quality of the pottery resulted in excellent artisan reproductions of precolombian pieces, and worldwide recognition of the skills of this group of potter families.

Apoyo Spanish School
Within minutes, the potter has the clay at the appropriate conditions and begins to fashion the base of his desired clay object. Photo by Corky Peavy.
Apoyo Spanish School
As the ceramic object takes form, the potter continues to add water to the clay. Photo by Corky Peavy.
Nicaragua Spanish School
A barrel shape emerges on the wheel. Photo by Corky Peavy.
Apoyo Spanish School
The potter widens the midsection of the clay object, once the clay has become easily handled. Photo by Corky Peavy.
Apoyo Spanish School
A thin-necked vase, based on a "tinaja" motif, is now ready to dry slowly in fresh air, then be fired. Photo by Corky Peavy.   
Spanish school
Plates are drying in air, soon ready to be etched, painted, then fired. Photo by Corky Peavy.
Apoyo Spanish School
Duilio explains the ceramic finishing process to students of Apoyo Spanish School. Photo by Corky Peavy.

Apoyo Spanish School
Ceramic pottery is still fired the "old fashioned way", in rustic kilns using firewood. Photo by Corky Peavy. 
Apoyo Spanish School
An artisan potter shows off his firing kiln as fired pieces are being removed from it. Photo by Belen Camino.
Learning Spanish means more than grammar and vocabulary. The students of Apoyo Spanish School learn about the lives of ordinary Nicaraguans and the cultural traditions that penetrate their lives. Ceramic pottery making is one of those traditions that forms the livelihood of hundreds of individuals in the area around us. All Nicaraguans value these traditions by keeping ceramic items in their homes. Students of Apoyo Spanish School have the opportunity to meet families with a centuries-old heritage of this craft, and learn from them how these traditions are part of their cultural identity.

Apoyo Spanish School
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