The heart and soul of Potters for Peace are the potters of central America. Since 1989 we have had a full-time presence in Nicaragua, and one of our goals is to meet every potter there. At present PFP has long-standing friendships with most Nica potters and works in neighboring countries.
We encourage these potters to maintain their unique aesthetic vocabulary and at the same time we assist them in obtaining and using technologies that can help to make their work economically sustainable. We also help them find markets outside of their local communities.
Here’s a short video that will introduce you to our work with potters:
Here’s a short video showing the black pottery of Nicaragua:
Potters Teaching Potters
Campesina potters can rarely afford the time or money it takes to travel for any reason, even in their own country, and would never visit potters in a neighboring country. Interchanges that allow pottery communities to share their knowledge and skills are an ongoing PFP priority. We provide transportation and cover other expenses in order that the potters can learn from each other.
We also provide scholarships to Nicaraguan potters for in-country apprenticeships and training on specific techniques such as throwing, bead-making and drum-making. We now have a skilled corps of Nicaraguan potters that we can hire for most of this work.
PFP organizes national conferences of Nicaraguan potters that serve as forum to share skills, voice concerns and evaluate projects. These events also host important national pottery exhibitions and sometimes include presentations by international buyers who explain their design and technical concerns to those interested in the export market. Fun events such as a “Pottery Olympics” are included too.
Technical and Design Assistance
PFP provides materials, technical assistance and training for building equipment such as wheels, extruders, energy-efficient kilns and burners. Most often the potters buy equipment at a PFP subsidized price, either by payments or by trading for pottery.
PFP contracts professional designers for both long- and short-term work in the communities in order to refine existing products and develop new ones in order to maximize their marketability.
Manny Hernandez, a retired Northern Illinois University professor, who was also a PFP technical volunteer, has developed a fuel-efficient downdraft kiln called the “Mani” kiln, which is constructed with local brick and labor and can reduce firewood use by up to 50%. After Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998, Manny went to Nicaragua and trained a kiln-building team. In two months 15 kilns were built, and the potters were back in production. To date, more than 60 Mani kilns have been built worldwide.
Alternative Fuel Burners
In the developing world, forests are rapidly disappearing, firewood is ever more expensive and regulations are becoming more restrictive for wood firing. Soil erosion due to deforestation can also lead to tragic consequences during the severe rains common to the tropical third world. In response PFP has been developing energy efficient, solid fuel burner systems that utilize agricultural waste such as rice husks, coffee husks or sawdust.
When possible, the alternative fuel burner and a Mani kiln are introduced as a package that provides a reliable firing technique that is less expensive and more environmentally friendly to operate.
Ceramic Raw Materials Research
PFP staff and volunteers are constantly on the road maintaining contact with many widely dispersed potters and pottery projects and they keep an open eye and ear for possible local sources of raw materials. We have a small testing facility in country and we occasionally sponsor individual shops to do their research.
Despite Nicaragua’s perilous economic position as the hemisphere’s second poorest country, there is an in-country market for pottery and PFP works with the artisans to make the most of it. Here are some of our strategies:
- Using a common color and logo, PFP has developed a roadside sign for each pottery community. These signs increase visibility and thus increase sales.
- PFP has helped and encouraged each workshop to create a small showroom area and we maintain a showroom at our Managua office.
- PFP has organized and funded rural potters to participate in artisan fairs
- PFP has produced brochures for some of the potters’ groups.
- In 1998, PFP arranged an 18,000-piece Pier I order for a small women’s collective.
Coordination with Other Organizations
PFP maintains contact and consults with a variety of national and international aid/development organizations and craft importers in order to direct donations and other help in the most effective directions.
Educational Outreach and Documentation
PFP keeps audio and visual records of the lives and work of our potter friends. Seeing their own and others’ work in visual formats can be an invaluable in the personal development of these potters. We have also placed Nicaraguan potters’ work in international publications.
Over the years we have arranged and/or financed the trips by Nicaraguan potters to the U.S. to participate in conferences and conduct workshops at colleges, pottery guilds, high schools, community centers and intercultural fairs.