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.
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.
And then I walked up the steps onto the filigree-embellished balcony of the workshop of Lourdes Martinez.
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.
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.
Enjoyed this post? Please pin it!
Are you a fan of pottery? Has anyone visited the pottery village of San Juan de Oriente?