The town of Guaitil, located in San Vicente de Nicoya, Guanacaste, has for more than 5,000 years produced some of the world’s most stunning pottery. Today, residents use the same traditional and ancestral techniques of the Chorotega indigenous groups, a population that emigrated from Mexico to northern Costa Rica around 800 CE.
This process begins with the extraction of materials. The resident artisans bring their carts and shovels to the Rincon de San Vicente to remove the mud, the most basic ingredient. Curiol, the stone that gives rise to colors, can be found in Cerro San Vicente. At the riverside, the place where iguanas lay their eggs, the iguana sand is collected, a crucial component.
Once the materials have been brought home, the process of creation begins. First, the mud is sprayed into a cone shape and passed through a sieve. The iguana sand is then poured into the sifted mud, and water is added to form a paste which can be molded. Finally, the mixture is kicked by the barefoot artisans until a desired texture is reached.
During the next phase, the individual pieces are shaped using a small lathe and the expert hands of the craftsmen. The shapes range from big bowls and vases to ornaments, plates, and even whistles. Once molded into the desired shape, the piece is given the finishing touches with a gourd knife or spoon, then placed under the sun to dry. Once dry, the object is polished smooth.
The curiol – natural mineral stone – is then used to add color. The stone is first pulverized and mixed with water, a process which produces white, red and black “paint.” The pieces are first covered in a white bath, dried and polished once more, and then decorated with colorful designs. For the final step, the pieces are dried in a clay oven from one to 24 hours, depending on the size.
Though more than 85% of the families in Guaitil make their living from the creation of pottery, this great tradition is currently in danger. The clay mines in San Vicente have been sold to foreign companies which are extracting the raw materials and selling the clay at exhobitant prices.
To learn more about the 5,000 year old tradition of Guaitil Pottery, we encourage you to visit the Chorotega Ceramic Ecomuseum in San Vicente. There you can see exhibitions, hear talks about the history of indigenous pottery, see demonstrations, and participate in workshops on local traditions. Chorotega ceramics are also for sale at the museum. Hours: 8am to 4pm. Tel 2681-1563.
For more information contact the reception.