Cerámica de Gorbea: tradición e innovación

Gorbea ceramics: tradition and innovation

The attractive reddish color of the clay, its soft shapes and the bright white paving of its interior distinguish the pieces from Víctor San Martín's workshop. In Gorbea, in the heart of the Araucanía Region, the artisan and his family gave rise to a unique type of utilitarian ceramic, in which the pottery tradition of the area and innovation harmoniously converge. “We invented it. Like Quinchamalí, Pomaire, Nacimiento and other places that have clay and have their ceramics. Gorbea has a lot of clay, it is a city of clay, so we said why doesn't Gorbea have its ceramics? And we started producing it ourselves” explains Víctor enthusiastically.

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Gorbea: land of a rich pottery tradition

In the area of ​​the Donguil River, just over 40 km south of Temuco - where the city of Gorbea is today - an eltun was discovered in the 1970s; an old Mapuche cemetery [1] . It is the largest cemetery known in the south-central area of ​​Chile and is testimony to a significant Mapuche population that resided in the area. Archaeological investigations allow us to establish the use of eltun between the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century [2] . The Chilean military invasion starting in 1860 and the founding of cities meant the forced displacement of the communities that inhabited the area for generations [3] . In 1904 the city of Gorbea was founded and the old eltun fell into oblivion.

Although there is currently no evidence of the cemetery, the pieces found at this site - which are currently part of the Regional Museum of Araucanía - make up “one of the most important collections of Mapuche archaeological ceramics in Chile” [4] . Along with accounting for the rich pottery tradition in the area, whose origins date back to pre-Columbian times, “the beauty and peculiarity of these pieces has inspired the work of artisans and craftswomen,” who through reproductions of the original vessels have valued archaeological Mapuche pottery [5] . Among them, the San Martín family stands out, living in Gorbea since the 1970s.

Encounter with Mapuche pottery

Víctor discovered pottery thanks to his father: Sergio San Martín. Although he was originally from Mulchén, Sergio lived for a long time in Santiago, where he had an active life as a union leader of the Zig-Zag and Quimantú publishing houses. In the 1970s, political circumstances led him to move to Gorbea with his family: “My father always liked making clay sculptures and he went to the Catholic University [6] . She took a course with my mother to learn how to make figures […] When she went to learn that, with a teacher, who was Swiss, she was teaching Mapuche children to make Mapuche archaeological replicas, to make ancient pieces […] After My dad started reading and researching and said “well, there's history here! »”, recalls Victor.

Sergio dedicated his life to studying and rescuing pre-Hispanic Mapuche pottery. After long hours of study and historical compilation in private collections, museums, libraries and archives, he made “a registry and cadastre of more than 130 pieces” [7] . Using ancestral pottery techniques, he created reproductions that rigorously maintained the shape, size and color of the originals. Through his vessels - as well as his writings, conferences and workshops - he sought to spread the Mapuche culture, which he deeply admired since his childhood. That is why at the Traditional Crafts Fair of the Catholic University it received the affectionate nickname of “huinca of the Mapuches” [8] . In 2018, a few months after his death, the Gorbea Cultural Center received his name, as a way to honor someone who loved this place and its ancestral culture so much [9] .

A long-established family workshop

Víctor lived in El Paico, near Santiago, when his father moved to Gorbea: “he sent for me and I came here. And here we learned to work with clay,” says the artisan and adds: “My dad and I started doing Mapuche replica work. When that ceramic was made it didn't sell much […] I lived with my dad, so I said: “I have to invent something to earn more money!” There my wife and I started producing ceramics, trying to make it. It took us almost 17 years to get to what we have now. At first it was a big loss.” After many tests, trials and errors, Víctor and Sonia finally managed to develop the utilitarian pieces of clay that they proudly continue to make today in their home workshop for 37 years.

“The good thing is that we like what we do, we love what we do. It doesn't bore us, it can make us tired, but it doesn't bore us […] We like it when the baking comes out and everything comes out pretty inside.”

The couple shares all the tasks in the workshop, except for the “esponjeada” that Víctor leaves in the hands of his wife and daughters: it is a very delicate process, in which a sponge with water is passed over the outside of the clay. Currently, the couple works alone. Their daughters help sporadically, since they have their own jobs: “The good thing is that we like what we do, we love what we do. It doesn't bore us, it can make us tired, but it doesn't bore us […] We like it when the baking comes out and everything comes out pretty inside,” Víctor emphasizes.

Greda and paving

The pieces are made with the help of molds: “I make a piece in clay and that piece is molded in plaster,” indicates the craftsman. The liquid clay is then poured into the molds and baked in an oven at high temperatures. Subsequently, the white tiling is done. Víctor details the process: “The earthenware is a powder that dissolves in water… you first make the cake, the outside, burn it in the oven, take it out and put the earthenware there. It is filled and emptied at once and only what remains stuck. Since the cake is dry, it absorbs and the ceramic remains stuck. It is the same earthenware that is used daily, but of higher quality […] Then it is cooked again. It takes 7 ½ hours of cooking. The cake is nine hours.”

“Sometimes we would find things out there in the field, old things and we would mold them. The old pieces and mine are all round, they are all smooth. And Sonia, my wife, sometimes when we go out to the supermarket tells me: "We could do this!" But I'll stop it now, because we have a lot of things."

For the design of the pieces, the couple is inspired by the ancient and the modern: “Sometimes we would find things out there in the countryside, old things, and we would mold them. The old pieces and mine are all round, they are all smooth. And Sonia, my wife, sometimes when we go out to the supermarket tells me: "We could do this!" But I'll stop now, because we have a lot of things,” explains the craftsman, laughing.

The secret of success

For Víctor, the success of his pieces is related to their color: “When I went to the Católica fair [10] , the little children would grab their mother and pull her to see the ceramics that we made. It catches their attention, maybe the love that ceramics has attracts people,” he says, laughing. The characteristic reddish color of the ceramic is the result of the mixture of red clay, kaolin, quartz – which allows the pieces not to collect or stretch –, calcium and sand [11] . The perfect proportion of these ingredients that cost so much work is what gives firmness and resistance to the ceramics, a quality highly appreciated by the artisan's clientele: "Sometimes people arrive with wells from ten or twelve years ago, all dirty and They ask me if I continue doing them,” he highlights.

A source of great pride for the artisan and his family is that everything they produce is sold. Since she began participating in the Bustamante Park Traditional Crafts Fair, her work was a success, so much so that she had to hide some boxes to be able to arrive with ceramics at the end of the fair. It also exported many pieces abroad through the Marketing of Artisanal Products (COMPARTE).

Crafts: a way of life

In Gorbea Víctor found a full and happy life. “People sometimes have everything and don't see it, they want more. People live thinking about what they are going to buy tomorrow […] We live simply, we have a nice little house, it is not big or gigantic, I have my nice workshop, I made a little barbecue, but we live simply […] What matters to me are my wife , my daughters and my grandchildren, they are my life,” emphasizes the artisan.

Víctor found something wonderful in his craft: “To be an artisan is to have life. Because before being an artisan I worked as an employer, as they say. And I lived with schedules and when I became an artisan, I had all the time in the world for myself: for my work, for what I wanted to do, to get up at whatever time I wanted, I had everything. If I wanted I went in and out, if I wanted I didn't go out. Ceramics gives you freedom, it lets you be you, it lets you do what you want.”

His house, next to the old Panamericana, is always full, because he takes all the time to receive visits from friends and family: “When my cousins ​​or friends come to visit me, I stop working. I can go one or two weeks without working, without losing the responsibility of delivering what one has to do. I have never failed in what I have to do, I am very responsible in that. That's life, being able to sit back for a week, as people say, talking and eating a barbecue." It is common for tourists to stop by his workshop on their way or returning from vacation, a reality very different from what he experiences day to day: “We have vacations every day, because we go where we want. Here we have everything close, we have the sea, we have the lakes,” says Víctor.

The craftsman not only dedicates time to his visits, but also to his work: “I don't work in a hurry, when we work in a hurry with the old lady, things always get messy. Or when I'm nervous or having problems, I start polishing a piece and it breaks. When that happens to me, I put work aside, go for a walk and do something else. And I come back and my nervousness goes away and I continue working and I don't break anything.”

"Maybe the affection that ceramics has attracts people (...) I don't work in a hurry, when we work in a hurry with the old lady, things always seem to fall apart"

Gorbea also taught the artisan to care for and connect with nature: “here I learned to hug a tree, I learned to take care of the rivers, so many things that one learns… to look at the moon at night.” Like his father, he feels great admiration for the Mapuche people and has learned a lot from them: “We live devastating lives and are not grateful for anything [...] the Mapuche were born thanking the Earth,” he says.

*You can find all these beautiful pieces here in our web store

**This is the sixth in a series of articles and research dedicated to traditional crafts, the work of our great collaborator Christine Gleisner @christine_gv

[1] Rodrigo Mena and Doina Munita, What time took away. Review of Gorbea-3, an ancient eltun in the Donguil River basin, Digital Collections, Research Subdirectorate, National Cultural Heritage Service, 2018.

[2] Ibid , p. 2

[3] Ibid , p. 23

[4] Ibid , p. 18

[5] Ibid , p. 22

[6] Ceramic Workshop of the Crafts Program of the Catholic University of Temuco.

[7] Management Information System for Intangible Heritage (SIGPA), Sergio San Martín Muñoz . Available at: http://www.sigpa.cl/ficha-individual/sergio-san-martin-munoz

[8] Alicia Cáceres and Juan Reyes, Urban crafts in Chile, Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage, Santiago, 2018, p. 97.

[9] Gorbea Cultural Center is named after Sergio San Martín Muñoz , Araucanía Noticias, November 18, 2018. Available in: https://araucanianoticias.cl/2018/centro-cultural-de-gorbea-recibe- nombre-de-sergio-san-martn-muoz/1118154341

[10] The artisan refers to the Traditional Crafts Fair of the Catholic University in Bustamante Park.

[11] Pilar Navarrete, A todo chancho , Diario La Tercera, September 20, 2018. Available at: https://www.latercera.com/masdeco/a-todo-chancho/

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