Roger lives in a town of ancient potters. Pottery has been a thing in his town for hundreds of years because the locals discovered that there was clay in the ground centuries ago and have been using ever since to make things. Originally they would make utilitarian pieces to eat and drink out of, as well as ceremonial pieces like figurines and Ocarinas, which are whistles shaped like animals.
Lately, pottery in the region has become popular because of their modern designs with geometric shapes and colorful palettes. Potters in the town make everything from more traditional pots to award and contest winning contemporary pieces
Although Roger has a lot of experience he doesn't work alone. He has a team of friends and family that work with him, as is common in the region.
Roger is one of the few potters in town that does everything from extracting the clay from the ground to putting the finishing touches on each piece. These are the people that help him and how they do it.
In this southern region of Nicaragua clay sits on a layer that is about 4 feet deep, so before the team can extract the clay they must dig out this top layer and set it aside. After this they take out the clay, which sits on another layer that is about 4 feet deep. Once they are done extracting the clay they put the dirt back in the hole they have dug out and move on to another spot. Roger doesn't own the land where he extracts the clay from, he rents out parcels from the land's owner who keeps track of which areas have been dug out.
Extraction of clay can only happen during the dry season which goes from early December to early May. This is a very dry and hot time of year, so the team starts work at 4am, before sunrise. They work until 8am, at which time the heat becomes to intense so they take a break and go home. They come back at 2pm once the peak of the heat has come down and work until 6pm.
During these months they extract the clay they use year round. Roger doesn't only process clay for himself, he also produces clay that he sells to other potters in town for them to create their own pieces. There are only two clay providers in town.
THE MAGIC MIX
Once the clay is extracted it needs to be processed so they can use it for creating pottery.
First they soak it in big tubs with water, where it sits for a week. The result is a mud-like layer on the bottom with water floating on top. They remove the water and mix in sand with the mud. The sand helps dry out the mixture and makes it lighter in weight.
They pour this mixture out on tarps they lay down on the floor in preparation for kneading it. The process of kneading the clay is so physically demanding that Manuel can only do it every other day, with a rest day in between where he stays home and works on his own pottery pieces. Manuel has a counterpart that does his same job the days that he's resting. Because of the weight of the clay Manuel kneads with his feet, stomping on it repeatedly, taking out air bubbles that might be in the clay and compacting it. It takes two men to roll up the clay and get it ready to be bagged. Lorenzo jumps in to give him a hand and help him roll the clay up.
After this the big rolls of clay are cut with a nylon string and bagged. Some bags will be sold the same day to local potters and some will be stored in a big warehouse-like structure for Roger and his team to create their pieces throughout the rest of the year, until the dry season comes again and they can extract and process more clay.
BRINGING THE PIECES TO LIFE
Each piece Roger and his team make goes through a similar process. They all start with creating the shape on a kick wheel, which by the way they have built themselves. Once the shape is made they let it dry a bit so it hardens and is easier to handle without deforming it.
At this point they add any additional clay touches or parts like studs, legs, handles or any other details. If the piece is going to be glazed they cover it with a layer of primer that helps even out the surface, which can be a bit coarse because of the sand in the clay mix. The primer will also ensure that the glaze isn't completely absorbed by the piece.
Primed pieces are then covered with the glaze. Once glazed but before they go into the kiln additional touches like carved out lines are applied.
The pieces are fired in the kiln which is heated by burning wood. For pieces that have a smoked finishing a special type of wood is burnt underneath so that the smoke of the wood gives the pieces a burnt like finish.
Although many hands touch a piece, each one is inscribed with Roger's name on the bottom.