Monday, January 6, 2014

Coasta Rican Pottery

Coasta Rica - Country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua on north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Meaning the “Rich Coast” in Spanish, Costa Rica was named by early Spanish explorers who imagined that the pristine beaches and the mountains covered with tropical rainforest held untold riches of gold and gems. The Spanish were both right and wrong. Costa Rica did turn out to be the “Rich Coast.” The country’s true riches were the beaches, volcanic mountains and rainforests.
During my travel to this amazingly beautiful country I found many gems myself interms of its nature, culture, people and handicrafts. Overall, it is the people of Costa Rica who really make the difference. With no military, Costa Rica has been able to invest heavily in education and health services. Country has one of the highest literacy rates in the Americas at over 95%, universal health care and lower crime rate.

Sounds like a paradise on Earth? This sure is one. That's why life here is referred as "Pura Vida" - means "Pure Life" !

Any new place I visit I always make sure to check out local handicrafts and of course bring few home. It so happened that this time I didn't have to go looking for them, instead I can say they found me. As I walked out of my beautiful resort towards beach in front it, I see this lovely CostaRican lady walking towards me with all kinds of handicrafts to sell. She fascinated me with her mannerisms and mix of Spanish and English, "Span-Lish" as I call it and within no time she convinced me to look at what she wanted to sell.

She had lots of different types of jewelry and also something else in her bag which I was curious to see. What she showed me didn't need any effort from her in grabbing my attention. Clay pots! Pottery is my all time favorite handicraft. But one she showed me definitely had a WoW factor to it. Don't you agree? These colors are amazing. I wanted to own every single one of these pots as she kept on taking one out of her bag each time. But as I mentioned I was on my morning walk on the beach (along with my 7 year old daughter) and all I was carrying was key to my resort room. I was not carrying any money with me. But to my surprise she said I can pick what ever I want and can pay her later in the day or next morning. WoW! how many times do you find a complete stranger in an equally unknown country who trusts a stranger like she did? By now I am completely sold! Not just me also even my daughter, who is a mini me in terms of likes and dislikes. We went over every single piece of her pile going crazy over what to pick and what not.

Art on these clay pots was really something...I can appreciate this even more now that I have been learning and practicing pottery, for an year now. With the limited knowledge I have of Pottery and Glazing myself I can say that it's not easy to glaze a pot and hope that it would turn out the way you expect. Personally I always have to say my prayers before glazing my pots because they can turn out smudged after spending hours trying to make a desired pattern with glazes.

For over 800 years, the Chortega Indians and their descendants, the residents of the town of Guaitil (located 12 km from Santa Cruz), in the Province of Guanacaste, have been making this beautiful works of art out of clay and raw materials extracted from the mountains surrounding this small town. This style of pottery making is commonly known as Guaitil Pottery. The archeological term "Chorotega" is used to refer to a society that emigrated from Mexico to northern Costa Rica after 800 B.C. These indigenous Chorotega people have been absorbed into the general population of Costa Rica but they still have traces of their culture and tradition in the pottery that they make in traditional ways as it has been over 800 years.

These pots are hand thrown using the clay from the Volcanic mountains and decorated with glazes from minerals found in the area then fired in wood burning kilns. Galleries and Potters Studios exist in most of the homes in Guaitil. You cannot help noticing that they don't have any fancy tools. Everything they use is simple and organic!

During our visit we spent few hours with an artisan family in Guaitil, where I had the privilege to see and learn more about their techniques and traditions. We were shown how these pots are made from the scratch.

Each of these wet pots are allowed to dry up enough and then they are smoothed using a stone to remove any imperfections.

After the pots have been dried and smoothed and the potter is satisfied that the exterior is nice and smooth. They are left to dry in the sun for a day or so. Then 7 coats of a white glaze made from zinc oxide is applied. Once the pot has received its seven coats of base glaze, it is left to dry again for another day. The potters in Guatil work with glazes they create themselves with minerals gathered from the nearby mountains. A glaze is a substance which gets fused onto the clay when fired in a kiln to either decorate a pot or to make it stronger or more waterproof. Most of the potters use 3 base colors , Zinc oxide for white, manganese for black and iron for red. Other leaf and flower based colors are used if needed. They grind the minerals with a mortar and pestle and then mix them with water into a consistency like paint and use brush to apply the glaze to the pottery.

Now that they are glazed its time to bake them in the kiln. Usually kiln is shared among couple of families and they wait until they have enough pieces to fill up their kiln before they start baking them.

Coming out of fire are these breathtakingly beautiful pieces! Of course, I couldn't have come back home without bringing some of these beauties along with me. I will share those in my subsequent posts.

You must have guessed by now that the inspiration of art on these pots is coming from rich Flora and Fauna of Coasta Rica's Rainforests.
@Copyright- Pictures in this blog are either taken by me or my husband and are property of RangKatha. You are free to use them but please do drop me a note before you do so.