Skip to content.
Cordry Internship 2000-2001

Cordry Internship 2000-2001

Photo Gallery

Ceramic Production and Pre-Columbian Replicas from San Vicente de Nicoya, Costa Rica

San Vicente de Nicoya, Costa Rica (Map based on Weil, 1995. "Changing Sources of Livelihood From the Earth and Sea in Northwestern Costa Rica.")

Tucked away among the hills of Guanacaste is San Vicente, a seemingly sleepy village located far from the beaten path that most tourists—or, for that matter, native Costa Ricans—tend to tread. Quite possibly for this reason it retains a certain aura of magic and deep connection to place that many people never have the opportunity to appreciate. This connection is supported psychologically by oral tradition and physically through daily contact with the land. The latter is much more easily witnessed, as men and women alike make their living through manual labor in the form of agriculture, animal husbandry, or—as with the focus of this particular study—ceramic production.

The Cordry Internship has focused on folk-arts such as ceramics and textiles of Chiapas, Mexico. The 2000-2001 Cordry Intern worked on Ceramic Production and Pre-Columbian Replicas from San Vicente de Nicoya, Costa Rica. The 2002-2003 Cordry Intern studied changes in style, manufacturing and marketing of huipiles, or woven blouses, of the Maya living in San Andrés Larrainzar, Chiapas, Mexico. Our most recent intern (2004-2005) just concluded his study of contemporary Costa Rican ceramics, also in San Vicente de Nicoya, Costa Rica.

Archaeological timetables indicate that ceramics have been produced in the region surrounding San Vicente for thousands of years; however, according to the people who live there, this local ceramics tradition is measured in family generations. Originally, ceramics were produced only by the women of the community and the tradition was passed on matrilineally—from mother to daughter. Although it was considered taboo for the men to make ceramics, they did aid their mothers, wives, and sisters in the overall process by collecting and hauling the basic clay, curiol (fine colored clays), and firewood to be used in the women's workshops. As women continued to be responsible for domestic chores, it only made sense that they would produce ceramic forms that made their daily labor more efficient. Thus traditional forms such as the tinaja, the frijolera, and the comal were crafted respectively in order to store water, cook beans, and make the family's daily ration of tortillas. In generation after generation these ceramics were produced and passed on like family heirlooms, or possibly they were considered more like members of the family themselves. As time takes its toll and effects change on human lives, so that change was embodied in the ceramic forms produced in San Vicente.

Archaeological timetables indicate that ceramics have been produced in the region surrounding San Vicente for thousands of years; however, according to the people who live there, this local ceramics tradition is measured in family generations. Originally, ceramics were produced only by the women of the community and the tradition was passed on matrilineally—from mother to daughter. Although it was considered taboo for the men to make ceramics, they did aid their mothers, wives, and sisters in the overall process by collecting and hauling the basic clay, curiol (fine colored clays), and firewood to be used in the women's workshops. As women continued to be responsible for domestic chores, it only made sense that they would produce ceramic forms that made their daily labor more efficient. Thus traditional forms such as the tinaja, the frijolera, and the comal were crafted respectively in order to store water, cook beans, and make the family's daily ration of tortillas. In generation after generation these ceramics were produced and passed on like family heirlooms, or possibly they were considered more like members of the family themselves. As time takes its toll and effects change on human lives, so that change was embodied in the ceramic forms produced in San Vicente.

The original research proposal for the Cordry Internship in San Vicente de Nicoya, Costa Rica, had a wide variety of objectives, some of which were accomplished while others are still in stages of development. The primary objective was to enhance the Science Museum's collection of ceramics from San Vicente. Totaling close to one hundred pieces, the Science Museum now has a beautiful array of ceramics that includes nearly exact pre-Columbian replicas as well as hybrid pieces that artistically meld pre-Columbian design with the potter's own imaginative expression. Several of these pieces will soon be on exhibit in the Collections Gallery of the Science Museum. A separate group of pieces were purchased for resale as souveniers in the Science Museum's Explore Store. In addition, the Cordry Intern became involved in a variety of community development projects stirring in San Vicente. The ethnographic fieldwork included several other areas of interest, such as gender and work roles among the artisans and cultural beliefs about ceramics production. One community movement has emerged for the construction of an ecomuseum in San Vicente, which would be done in collaboration with the Costa Rican government and international governmental and nonprofit organizations. Another is the development of a consortium between San Vicente and Guaitil, a neighboring community that also produces ceramics. Together the two communities are addressing a problem that threatens the source of their very cultural and economic foundation—the increasing scarcity and lack of access to available clay for ceramic production. These are just a few of the many concerns addressed by the people of San Vicente as they struggle to develop their community while working with limited resources.

An entire wealth of information has been collected about San Vicente, its ceramics, and the gifted and truly beautiful people who call this small village home. There is still much left to learn.