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Nicaraguan pottery is absolutely, beautiful and today, very popular.  Certain Spanish colonists known as the Gallegos and Bracamonte settled in Nicaraguan sometime in the late 1500s.  The village was called San Juan el Batista, which years later, was renamed to San Juan de los Platos because of the successful pottery industry.  In fact, the Spaniards were paid in the form of pottery.  Then when Nicaragua became independent from Spain in 1821, the village was again renamed, this time to San Juan de Oriente. 

Interestingly, the making of pottery was considered work only to be performed by women, as well as other domestic chores to include cleaning, cooking, and caring for the children.  In fact, the women living in San Juan made the pieces of pottery all by hand, just as their ancestors had done, using a free form design and coil method.  The firing of the pottery was down outside in a campfire where the pieces would be fired quickly in an open flame, usually from one to three hours.  Today, you will still find some woman in San Juan still using this same method. 

In addition, oxen pulled carts are still seen, each pulling clay in burlap sacks coming from the farms as they head into the city.  The clay is taken to the workshop where artisans empty the clay from the bags into a hole, filled with water to help soften it.  The next day, the clay is soft enough to be worked, at which time sand is added.  Then, the clay is put on top of a sack at which time it is stamped to help soften it further while also blending in the sand and working out any unwanted air bubbles.  This process generally takes about three hours, which is per mix. 

After the clay has been softened and blended, it is massages by hand, clearing out roots and rocks.  One person will dedicate up to 16 hours, again for one mix.  At this point, the clay is stomped on by foot and then ready to be formed.  The artisan then takes a ball of the clay and using a kick wheel will begin to shape it into many different shapes.  Then, it is cut from the wheel using a piece of nylon.  The clay is set aside and the pieces all turned upside down, allowing the indentation to form for the base.  For this process, it takes anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the ball and the skill level of the artisan. 

Once all the pieces of clay have been shaped, the surface is polished.  With this process, any smaller roots or stones can be seen or felt, allowing the potter to remove them and continue with the polishing.  When this is done, the clay is smooth and the surface ready for color.  For just the polishing portion of the procession, it takes the artisan between 10 and 30 minutes per piece. 

Now, once all the pieces of clay are smooth, black liquid clay is painted on.  This special clay known as “black clay” or “cogove” comes from El Sonce.  When diluted with water and then strained over several days, what remains is the black clay.  In fact, some natives will use black clay as face paint.  However, for making Nicaraguan pottery, several layers are applied.  Once all the pieces of clay are painted, they are placed into a plastic bag and allowed to dry up to seven days.  After completely drying, the clay again undergoes the polishing phase with a flat-type instrument. 

The next phase involves applying a layer of Oxido de Zinc, which is bone white oxide.  The tone creates a nice base on which additional color can be painted onto the pottery.  Again, the wet pieces are placed in a plastic bag where they dry for 2 to 10 hours.  After drying, the Nicaraguan pottery pieces again go through the polishing process.  Now, beautiful designs are traced, drawn, or painted onto the pieces using a pencil.  Typically, repetition patterns are drawn onto a piece of paper at which time they are transferred through tracing but at different angles.  On the other hand, curricular lines are painted using the wheel. 

For the decoration and painting of the Nicaraguan pottery, using the colored oxides, the designed are painted on with paintbrushes made from recycled plastic shell belonging to a ballpoint pin and the hair of children who had haircuts.  This process takes anywhere from one to four hours, which depends on the level of detail.  Once all the color is painted on, the pottery pieces are smoothed out and polished.  Again, they are dried (not in plastic), which takes up to six days. 

The next step of creating Nicaraguan pottery is to outline the designs with a sharp instrument.  This particular technique must be done very carefully so just the top layers of the clay are removed, allowing the rough surface of the style to remain.  The tool uses is generally from broken bicycle spokes or a broken umbrella and then sharpened to a find point. 

Firing is the next step that has changed somewhat over the years.  Originally, kilns were shared and precious but today, you find many of the Nicaraguan artisans with their own.  Each kiln is made from clay bricks, along with other necessary materials needed for making a burning oven.  Some of the potters who are just starting out in the pottery business will experiment with the process but in most cases, the firing would start with two hours of heat. 

From there, the heat is gradually increased over a three-hour period.  Then, the heat is turned up high, burning the clay pieces for about four hours.  Finally, once the kiln has cooled (usually the next day), the pottery is removed and with a soft cloth, shined.  To bring out the shine to its fullest, natural shoe polish is used.  The result is amazing piece of art that is a one-of-a-kind and completely, handcrafted.

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