This blog will be about the human, personal side of my research in coastal Ecuador on pottery making and weaving techniques that are pre-Columbian in origin.
I am both a potter and cultural anthropologist, having graduated with a Master´s degree in Anthropology from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
As a potter, I trained for over a year with a native coastal Ecuadorian peasant woman from the Guayas Basin region. This women, Panchita, made her vessels using the most sophisticated hand forming method I had ever witnessed–a technique that is neither coil, pinch pot nor slab. I call it drag-modeling. The shape is perfected and the surface smoothed and polished using only the tools derived from nature – ‘cucharas’ for shaping made from a tree gourd, bamboo knives for rimming and scraping down the walls, and weather worn stones and a sea heart bean for burnishing the vessels. Firing takes place outside in a tee-pee fashion bonfire.
I plan to post a video that I made showing how coastal Ecuadorian potters make their vessels – starting from digging the clay out of the ground to slipping and burnishing- to firing. This video, however, is not just about technique, but occurs in the context of the daily ebb and flow of village life. So check back.
Today, I continue making my vessels using the hand building technique taught to me by Panchita. However, I decorate my vessels using two pre-Colombian techniques which I have been able to rediscover – an Andean smoke resist technique and ´iridescent painting´, a finger painting technique using ferric oxides that has a unique reddish to silvery metallic-like patina on the band and dot decoration.
Currently, I am making a video on my thesis of how the ancient coastal Chorrera potters were accomplishing iridescent painting, a technique which goes back to about 1000 years before Christ. I will be showing you images from this video as it progresses.
Now, about weaving in coastal Ecuador. Although I cannot claim to be a weaver, I documented in some detail the methods of the last family of cotton weavers in the province of Manabí. These weavers make primarily hammocks and cotton saddlebags. Although the saddlebag was introduced into Ecuador by the Spanish conquistadors in 1534, the type of loom, how it is warped, and the use of vegetable dyes to color the cotton skeins are typical of the pre-Columbian Andean coastal cultures.
My research into their dyeing methods is still ongoing. In particular, I am interested in reproducing a lost direct dye method of the great grandmothers using the fermented leaves of an Indigofera plant to achieve a dark blue-green color. Stay posted for more on this topic.