San Juan de Oriente: A Pottery Village At Its Finest

with 10 Comments

 

San Juan de Oriente is a small village nestled in the volcanic Masaya department in Nicaragua (about 45 km from Managua). At first sight, it looks like any other village you would find across Central America – a few sleepy streets occasionally enlivened by the laughter of children, column-studded balconies adorned with flowers and locals riding their bicycles to work. But as you start to wander around past the Bienvendos a San Juan del Oriente banner, you’ll notice something very unique about this village; many of the homes metamorphosed into workshops where an art that’s been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years continues to thrive.

San Juan de Oriente is a pottery village at its finest.

 

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The clay pottery handmade in all the workshops lining the main street is available in a variety of styles: from traditional to pre-Colombian to modern. The artists make sure to please an array of personal tastes and potential buyers. With a wide range of oddly shaped vases, decorative plates, utilitarian bowls and traditional vessels designed with bas-reliefs or finely-incised details depicting native wildlife, geometric shapes or pre-historic symbols, the choice is overwhelming. The traditional colors are made with natural dyes rendering each piece more beautiful than the next. I wondered how I could possibly choose from the hundreds of items.

 

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And then I walked up the steps onto the filigree-embellished balcony of the workshop of Lourdes Martinez.

 

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In front of Lourdes Martinez’s workshop

 

Lourdes greeted us with a shy demeanor and kindly invited us to have a look around. Her modest atelier neatly showcased her beautiful pottery. Each and every piece was conceived, designed and made by her. I could tell she took great pride in her work; it showed in the quality of her workmanship and in the twinkle in her eye. Like many of the potters in San Juan del Oriente, Luisa didn’t speak nor understand much English but with my basic Spanish we managed to exchange a few phrases. I told her repeatedly how much I liked her work; I was already coveting a few pieces.

The prices were very, very reasonable for the quality of Lourdes’s work. After much debating and reluctantly using the good ol’ process of elimination, I finally decided on buying four pieces (I always buy a plate for my mom from every country I visit) which incited the biggest smile from Lourdes and a stream of very appreciative gracias.

Whenever I travel, I try to buy directly from local artisans and artists. This insures the money goes straight in their pockets without passing through a bunch of middlemen (and greedy hands). Buying directly from artists also contributes to the local economy helping communities stay alive (if not afloat) and boosts the confidence of those pouring their hearts into their trades.

 

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I asked Lourdes to engrave her signature on all the pieces we bought. She was more than happy to do so knowing her work would be traveling to another country – one she most probably will never have the possibility of visiting. But with her art she’s able to traverse oceans and lands carrying with it her love, her passion and her joy and that makes me very happy.

 

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The beautiful pottery we bought from Lourdes

 

 

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Are you a fan of pottery? Has anyone visited the pottery village of San Juan de Oriente?

 

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  • How cute is this place! I am not fussed on pottery but do love browsing artwork and fancy pots like this 🙂

  • Jennifer Morrow

    Beautiful pottery artwork. The plate gift for your Mom is such a great idea. I love buying mugs from different places.

  • Mel

    What a find! That pottery is gorgeous. And it is so nice getting to talk to the person who actually made it and see their personality in the work. I bet your mom loves the plate!

  • What beautiful pottery designs! I think this is a great way to be able to take home a piece of the local culture by purchasing art. Your mum must have loved the new piece to her collection. I agree 100% that it is so important to buy straight from the artist if possible, then you know exactly where that money is going. Nice piece!

  • How absolutely lovely! The 4 pieces you decided on buying were so lovely. I am sure your Mum would have loved the plate you got her – the orange colour looks beautiful. I too love supporting local businesses and artists wherever I go. I think it is so important to support these small businesses.

  • Kathy James

    How beautiful! It’s lovely to find places like this and a wonderful touch that you got her to engrave her name on the piece you bought.
    Thank you for sharing this unique town 🙂

  • Probearoundthe Globe

    This makes for a really unique travel souvenir! How did you bring it home?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Very carefully! 😉

      Lourdes wrapped up the pieces with lots of paper and we used our clothes for more wrapping. We weren’t backpacking in Nicaragua so all the pottery fit nicely in our suitcases. Fortunately, nothing was broken. 🙂

  • My friend brought home a decorative plate from Nicaragua (not sure if it’s from the same place) and it’s definitely a conversation starter as it’s just gorgeous!

  • Stacey Gilkes

    Wow that’s is amazing. What an awesome little town and a great travel momento. I love that you got her to sign it.