Potters for Peace

BY Ann Schunior | April 18, 2012

Courtesy of Potters for Peace

Fostering better pottery for environmental sustainability

Pottery-making in rural, underdeveloped countries is always hard work. The clay must be dug and processed. Equipment and tools are minimal; potters wheels are scarce. Potters work in isolation from each other and sell their work only at local markets.

Since 1986, US potters have worked with Nicaraguan potters offering support, solidarity and friendship. Support comes in many forms, from putting up signage along roads to attract customers to constructing fuel-efficient kilns. Potters for
Peace (Potters for Peace) has introduced cheap, easy-to-build kick wheels, and conducted workshops to train potters to throw. They’ve connected potters with fair-trade exporters, and perhaps more importantly, they’ve connected rural potters with each other.

Consuelo Blandon, a potter in Santa Rosa is typical of Nicaraguan potters. She comes from a family of potters learning from her mother, Angela Gutierrez, and making comales (a clay dish for forming tortillas) and other functional pots to sell at the local market. When the Santa Rosa potters ask Potters for Peace to help them build a better kiln and new studio roof, Consuelo was exposed to new ideas and techniques. A spark was ignited, and her pottery blossomed. She was invited to Potters for Peace conferences and training sessions, learned to throw, and was exposed to pottery very different from the traditional pottery of her community. Her work remains burnished, but unglazed, typical of Nicaraguan pottery, but it has became more artistic and adventurous. She continues to make pots as part of a family cooperative with her mother, husband, Isidro Zevala Perez, and other members of her extended family.

Believing that people learn best from people like themselves, Potters for Peace seeks potters like Consuelo who show leadership potential and are ready to take the risk of trying something new. Potters for Peace gives them more training and even invited Consuelo to accompany them to NCECA, the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts, the premiere gathering of North American potters. Consuelo now works with Potters for Peace, encouraging and training other potters around Nicaragua. She shows her work at fairs in Managua where it always sells out.

In addition to fostering better pottery, Potters for Peace has an eye towards appropriate technology and environmental sustainability. With forests disappearing and firewood becoming expensive, Potters for Peace has developed kiln burners that utilize agricultural waste such as rice husks, coffee husks or sawdust. Changing to alternative fuel is an obvious win-win situation: economical for the potters and better for the environment. For those still firing with wood, Potters for Peace has developed energy efficient wood-fired kilns.

Perhaps Potters for Peace’s most far-reaching project is assisting in the production of low-tech, low-cost ceramic water filters. Every year 1.7 million people, mainly children, die from diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water. Enhanced on the inside surface with colloidal silver, ceramic filters can eliminate approximately 99.88 percent of most water-born pathogens. In 1988 after Hurricane Mitch tore through much of Central America, destroying safe sources of water, Potters for Peace established its first water filter production facility in Managua. In six months, over 5000 filters were distributed through non-governmental organizations.

Potters for Peace has since provided consultation and training to set up filter production facilities in dozens of countries. The organization estimates that they have helped build more than 30 filter facilities in 25 countries, but it is impossible to know exactly how many more trace their roots to Potters for Peace. In an effort to share and develop filter technology on a global scale, Potters for Peace’s uses an open source manufacturing model. They do not hold a patent on the filter, and the technology is available to anyone. As in the case of the kilns and pottery wheels they have developed, their plans are on their website for anyone to use.

Potters for Peace is remarkable for the range of their activities. They are active both on a local, person-to-person level, training potters and helping communities with small, but important, problems. At the same time they play a leadership role in sharing ceramic technology and establishing small-scale manufacturing plants necessary to produce dependable water filtration systems. Their focus successfully blends the everyday needs of potters and the farther reaching challenges of ceramic technology.

Potters who wish to have a hands-on experience with Potters For Peace are invited to participate in their annual brigade to pottery communities in Nicaragua. For more information about Potters for Peace and their brigades, visit www.pottersforpeace.org.