Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Well known traditional potter has died

 One of the last traditional potters has died on Sunday. The deceased was well known near and far as 'Rufina from El Cercado' and highly respected for her skill and her kindness. Rufina Gonzalez was still shaping the local clay in the traditional way without the use of a potter's wheel until very recently. She always had time to have a friendly chat with visitors at her workshop. Rufina was 75 years old and will be sadly missed by all who had the pleasure of ever meeting her.

This is how Barbara Kingsolver many years ago described a visit to the mountain village of El Cercado, one of the very last places where pottery is still made in the traditional way as it was done by the done by the original settlers more than 1500 years ago (the following quote is from an article which appeared in the The New York Times):
''El Cercado. I spot a group of white-aproned women sitting in an open doorway, surrounded by red clay vessels. One woman wears a beaten straw hat and holds a sphere of clay against herself, carving it with a knife. She is not making coils or, technically speaking, building the pot; she is sculpturing it, Guanche fashion. When she tilts up her straw hat, her gold earring glints, and I see that her eyes are Guanche blue. I ask her where the clay comes from and she points with her knife: "that barranco" -- the gorge at the end of the village. Another woman paints a dried pot with reddish clay slip; mud from that other barranco, she points. After it dries again, she rubs its surface smooth with a beach rock. Finally, an old woman with the demeanor of a laurel tree polishes the finished pot to the deep, shiny luster of cherry wood. Her polishing stick is the worn-down plastic handle of a toothbrush. "What did the Guanches use?" I ask, and she gives me a silent smile like the gardener's and the parrot's.
The youngest of the women, a teen-ager named Yaiza, carries a load of finished pots to the kiln. We walk together through the village, past two girls sitting on the roadside stringing red chilies, down a precarious goat path into the grassy gorge. The kiln is a mud hut with a tin roof and a fire inside. Yaiza adjusts pots on the scorching tin roof, explaining that each one must spend half a day there upside down, half a day right side up, and then it's ready to go into the fire, where it stays another day. If the weather is right, it comes out without breaking. After this amount of art and labor, each pot sells for about $13. I tell Yaiza she could charge 10 times that much. She laughs. I ask her if she has ever left La Gomera and she laughs again, as if the idea were ludicrous. I ask her if a lot of people know how to make this pottery, and she replies, "Oh sure. Fourteen or fifteen." All belong to two or three families, all in this village. We return to the pottery house, and I buy a pair of clay bowls. I pack them into my car with care, feeling that they belong on an endangered species list.'' (© The New York Times 1998 )
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