Pottery in Guanacaste Costa Rica ~
What a great thing it is being on the road without too much of a schedule in beautiful Costa Rica. After a three day beach retreat I was heading back to the capital and my gallery when all of a sudden I saw the sign to villages of Guaitil and San Vicente. I spun the steering wheel to take the car down that road and after 10 km I was seeing beehive ovens (ancient kilns) all over the place. Little tables displaying beautiful Chorotega pottery were on the left and right of the road and I picked one of the several workshops at random and decided to visit and, of course, buy some choice selections for Galería Namu. The gallery contacts are in San Vincente, and although Guaitil is the second most famous Chorotega village of traditional potters, it is not as well known, and I hadn’t visited there for many years.
It is a sad thing to think of a fully functioning people as being extinct in their culture. In fact it is difficult to imagine a fully developed people being snuffed out! Well, thus it is with the people who are the descendants of the Chorotega. In around the sixth century A.D. the Chorotega indigenous tribes first settled in Central America and put down roots in the area that is today’s Guanacaste. As can be seen from their pottery designs, these Mesoamericans were directly influenced by the Mayans and Aztecs Of all Costa Rica’s eight indigenous peoples, only this group originates from the North, a fact which gives their art a particular “look.”
And what do the Chorotega have left today? Something quite extraordinary… one single cultural attribute: pottery. The same techniques, materials, symbols and talent are alive and well in the people of these tiny villages, San Vicente and Guaitil, all of whom are involved in one aspect or another of the ancient art of shaping clay to make beautiful pottery. The town of Guaitil offers visitors an opportunity to dive into this ancient traditional Chorotega art form. Workshops, stores and organizations maintain this rich legacy of traditional pottery-making, which has been passed down from generation to generation; a visit here is a journey back in time through art.
Painting, polishing and baking the clay is complicated and will be the subject of another discussion at a later date, but it is worth mentioning something about the function of the beehive oven – such a dominant presence in each family’s workshop, yet it is only second place to the powerful presence of the sun in this very hot part of the country! You see, the pottery is placed in the sun for two days and only then, after this drying out, does it goes into the prepared woodburning oven, where it will be cooked between 800 – 1000º for 25 or 30 minutes.
Whether traditional or in a contemporary vein, the indian pottery of the Chorotega never look out of place anywhere, whether in a modern or a rustic home. They make the perfect memento for those who like to take something back from their Costa Rican vacation, or for those who live in the country and who want to remember who was here first!