4,000-year-old industry jeopardized by cost of clay

Museo Nacional photo
Ceramics frequently is a family affair

The phrase dirt cheap does not resonate in the Costa Rican communities where residents produce traditional pottery.

The entire industry in San Vicente de Nicoya and Guaitil de Santa Cruz is in jeopardy because the clay that potters need comes from deposits on private lands.

Manuel Obregón, the minister of Cultura y Juventud was at a meeting there Thursday to hear about the problem. First he visited a site where the clay is extracted.

The Museo Nacional says that the residents of the San Vicente have been making ceramics for the last 4,000 years. That may be a conservative estimate. The production is known as cerámica Chorotega.

The community produces all types of dishes and pots as well as figurines and even some of those dramatic ceramic ritual pieces much valued by collectors. Some of the molds may well be the same ones that were used to put pots on the table of the Aztec elite in the Valley of México.

The museum estimates that about half the population of the community older than 12 years is involved in gathering the raw materials, fabricating the pieces, firing them and marketing them. The culture ministry estimated that about 700 families are dependent on this type of work.

The community even has its own museum, which is where the meeting was held Thursday.

Obregón told the meeting that the ministry was interested in protecting the heritage of the artisans because many families depend on these activities.

He suggested that the clay sources might be declared in the national interests, according to a summary from the ministry.

The clay has been becoming harder and harder to obtain because the best sources are on private land and the price has become so high that it puts the economic stability of the community at risk, said the ministry.

The purpose of the meeting was to explore ways to keep this traditional trade alive and keep the community prosperous.

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