Chulucanas pottery is handmade in the district of the same name, located in the province of Morropón, department of Piura, on the north coast of Peru.
These ceramics are identified by the elements they use, such as clay, mango leaves, sand, and the warm climate of the country’s north, as well as the use of traditional techniques and tools from the area, which has been rescued from the pre-Columbian Vicus and Tallan cultures.
POTTERS OF SIMBILÁ
Chulucanas ceramics have as their ancestral heritage the Simbilá potters, came to Chulucanas to settle and used traditional techniques from Tallán and the Vicus Culture.
Tallán culture is a pre-Hispanic culture that was developed in this part of the Piura Region between 900 to 1400 years AD, and its ceramics stand out for the use of palette and stone method to model their vessels.
Vicús culture developed around the hill of the same name, between 500 and 200 BC., until 700 and 900 AD. Its ceramics are characterized by their rustic and solid appearance and realistic sculptural style. Vicús ceramics are divided into negative Vicus, white on red, and monochrome slipped. The negative Vicús stands out for its iconography based on circles, spirals, and triangles that appear in vessels with animal figures. In the negative Vicús ceramics, you can recognize warriors, musicians, and erotic scenes.
THE BEGINNINGS OF CHULUCANAS CERAMICS
In 1963, there were discovered pieces of Vicús ceramics in Chulucanas. Since there, the interest in learning more about the technical process of this beautiful and unique style began. It was José Luis Yamunaqué Bermejo, Teresa Yamunaqué Bermejo, Arnulfo Aguilar Córdova, and Max Inga Adanaqué who began the investigations and tests to achieve the finishes of Vicús and Tallán pieces found at that time. They were characterized by their black sculptural ceramics, achieved by a reduction furnace that consists of keeping oxygen inside and, as it is not released, penetrates the walls of the ceramic paste until they become black.
Chulucanas pottery emerged in 1974 when religious Gloria Joyce met Gerásimo Sosa, whom she inspired to rescue the ancestral technique of Vicus, which is the main characteristic of Chulucanas pottery. Nun Joyce was quite interested in knowing how the decoration of Vicus ceramics developed, so one day; she brought a piece of a Vicus vessel to Gerásimo Sosa.
The ceramist used household garbage to smoke the decorated pottery and later investigated the materials that Vicus culture used to smoke. Together with her brother-in-law Segundo, they tried paper, rice husks, banana leaves, etc. The one that worked the best was mango leaf, which is woody and has a resin that gives the ceramic an exceptional shine when smoked. Besides, it existed in abundance in the region. But since it was not an original plant, perhaps Vicus culture used the sapote leaf, which is very similar but smaller.
In 1979, the ceramicists Gerásimo Sosa, Flavio Sosa Maza, and Segundo Isaac Moncada began exhibiting at fairs with Max Inga, whom the religious Joyce helped with therapies for his muscular dystrophy and who had a remarkable ability to draw and sculpture. Later more potters joined this group.
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES
Clay is the primary input and comes from quarries in the Chulucanas district; one of the most important is La Encantada.
Carob is used as a combustible material since it is the most abundant tree in the area, and the branches are used without the need to cut down trees.
Likewise, in the production process (smoking), the mango leaf is used, which contains a large amount of resin and is found in abundant quantity in Chulucanas.
In the palette technique, which we will see later and also called the palette and stone technique, a rolled edge and the carob wood (Prosopis juliflora) palette are used to beat the dough.
Chulucanas pottery is characterized by different techniques derived from pre-Hispanic times: “the palette technique,” “polishing by stone,” “black ceramic by smoking,” and “decoration by the positive-negative technique.”
PRODUCTION PROCESS WITH PALETTE TECHNIQUE
Also known as the ancestral technique of palette and stone, it is inherited from pre-Hispanic Tallán culture. It consists of a unique method of modeling pots using only a wooden palette and a rounded stone.
It has three well-defined steps: the beginning, the smoothing, and the raised.
The beginning: For small and medium-sized vessels, the piece of clay is given a conical shape on the palm through constant rotation. It is then flipped over, giving it a perfect rounded shape. Continue with a closed fist and relax to hollow out the dough, starting at the edges and going towards the center.
For large pieces, with the clay bowl on a blanket on the floor, beat it with the hands. Following this, it is turned over and placed on the legs of the potter sitting on the ground with his legs stretched out. Set the piece on its edge; it is struck with the open hand on the outside and the other hand inside the piece. The blows are cushioned. It continuously rotates the piece of clay to achieve walls of the same thickness.
Once the beginning is finished, it is left until the next day to air.
The smoothing: The base of the vessel is worked from the beginning, thinning and shaping it.
For small and medium pieces, the potter sits on the floor with the right leg stretched out and the other leg bent with the sole at the level of the right heel. The beginning is placed on the arch of the right foot, holding it gently with the left heel and shaping the ceramics with the help of the palette (on the outside) and stone (on the inside).
It is the same process for large pieces, except that the potter places the beginning between his legs.
Using rhythmic and rotating strokes, a vessel is achieved with walls of the same thickness, leaving a thick part on the edges for the next process. The thinning palette is used at the beginning to shape the part of the base, and then to even out the roughness, the smoothing palette is used. Once this process is finished, the base is allowed to air in the shade.
The raised: With the smoothing properly aired at the base, the potter makes a small hole in the ground where he places a blanket. On top is the pot, and the potter kneels, leaving this piece in the center of his body and slightly inclined to the left.
He starts by leveling the edge with the thinning paddle and the stone inside that absorbs the blows. It is at this stage that the piece is closed, and it is here that its degree of inclination concerning the potter will allow the creation of more open or closed forms.
Neck: To close the piece, a roll of clay is added to the edge, thus closing the ceramics or leaving a mouth for a pot.
BURNISHING OR POLISHING
Once the shape of the ceramic is made, it is painted with globes made with clays and pigments. Then comes one of the most critical stages of the process: the burnishing or polishing with various shapes and sizes of river stones, done at least twice by hand and with great skill. It is achieved in this way with satin and homogeneous surface.
NEGATIVE OR SLIPPER TECHNIQUE
Liquid clay is used to cover with minerals and herbs those areas or designs they want to keep intact in color. Those that they want to darken are exposed. The piece decorated this way enters the smoking oven, where mango leaves have been prepared.
BURNING IN HANDMADE OVENS
When the ceramics are dry, they go to the wood oven and burn at approximately 700 and 900°C. These ovens are built by the ceramists themselves in an artisanal way, and they use the wood of the carob, willow, or sapote to fire the ceramics.
During this reduction burning, the mango leaf used as fuel will generate smoke that will darken the ceramic and produce a resin that, when adhered to the ceramic, will give it the characteristic shine of the Chulucanas style. This reduction burn is done 2-3 times depending on the desired dark tone, achieving a wide range of brown tones until reaching solid black.
The pieces are removed from the smoking oven; they are cleaned by removing the slip and then giving them the final finish with waxes and polishes, achieving an impeccable satin finish.
GERASIMO SOSA ALACHE AND SANTODIO PAZ JUAREZ, MASTER CERAMISTS OF CHULUCANAS
With exhibitions in Peru and abroad, master ceramicists Gerásimo Sosa Alache and Santodio Paz Juarez have presented their ceramic pieces in countries such as Finland and the Netherlands. The pieces that can be seen in this article are part of the collection of master ceramist Santodio Paz Juárez and a special thanks to master ceramist Gerásimo Sosa Alache for allowing me to have access to his soon-published book “Barro y Ancestro”.
LITTO, GERTRUDE, 1979 – South American Folk pottery.
MINISTERIO DE COMERCIO EXTERIOR Y TURISMO, 2015 – Cerámica de Chulucanas, MINCETUR.
MUNICIPALIDAD PROVINCIAL DE MORROPÓN – Chulucanas
SOSA ALACHE, GERASIMO, Barro y Ancestro (aún no publicado)
SOSA, ALACHE, GERASIMO, 1984 – El barro nos unió: Arte y tecnología de la cerámica de Chulucanas, Piura; Piura: CIPCA.
TOMOEDA, HIROYASU; FUJII, TATSIHIK; MILLONES, LUIS, 2004 – Entre Dios y el Diablo: Magia y poder en la costa norte del Perú, Institut français d’études andines.