San Juan de Oriente, close to the Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua seems like a small sleepy village. Turning a street corner by the church, we see a display of pots by a house prompting us to give it a closer look.
Inside the shop, a wide variety of shapes, colours and textures of ceramics are showcased, while a young teenager is focused on moulding the next batch. Letting his apprentice work, Don Espinoza welcomes us warmly, and after exchanging a few words, he jumps on the turn to show us how he makes the pots. Taking the clay that is extracted by a cooperative in the village, he starts his new creation in front of us. Gently and firmly holding the clay, he shapes it as he likes while adapting the rotating speed of the turn with his worn out sandals. He grabs a piece of plastics that he recycled into a tool to flatten the bottom of the vase with dexterity. Explaining his story at the same time, the man is radiating. There are many families of renowned potters in San Juan de Oriente, but Don Espinoza is a self-taught maestro. Passionate about his craft, he turned it into an art winning several contests such as the local Grandes maestro de la cerámica en San Juan, where he is competing against his exigent pairs, to the Premio nacional de Nicaragua and international ones in El Salvador. He lets his pupils work on the handicrafts the locals plebiscite, such as very colourful bells, small houses to hang on the walls, funny piggy banks and else. He focuses on the pre-Columbian art which is more popular among travellers from other parts of the world. Researching Mayan art, symbols and rituals, Don Espinoza creates original pots on which he combines ancient rites and modern abstract art, dominated by earth tone colours. Every piece is unique.
A teenager during the contra war, his family couldn’t afford schooling and he was walking the streets bare feet, selling whatever he could from candies to fruits. Today, he is a master of his art that he sells all over the world, happy to pass it on to his kids who are all going to the university. Actually, Don Espinoza himself frequents the university… as a teacher. Beyond building a successful business, Don Espinoza is very proud of his accomplishments. His eyes are shining with pride when he turns an anthropomorphic pot looking like a piece of Pre-Columbian art to show us the signature: “Ingrid”. This piece is his daughter’s. The Espinoza’s are just starting and are growing their reputation as a family of potters of San Juan de Oriente way beyond their small and sleepy village.