June 15, 2018

''Why are you making pots in Honduras?''

By Peter Wakefield Jackson
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''Why are you making pots in Honduras?''
In 1990 I began working with potters in Central America on my first trip to Nicaragua with Potters for Peace . Soon after that, I became friends with Holland Millis, a former Peace Corps volunteer from North Carolina, who had moved to Honduras to work on handcraft projects for the nonprofit organization, Aid to Artisans. Holland founded a workshop called Atuto in Sabanagrande, Honduras to develop pottery, iron and wood items that could be exported to the U.S. For the artisans of the community, the opportunity to sell their work to a wider audience besides the occasional tourist who found their way from Tegucigalpa, began to make a real economic impact. Jobs are very scarce in Sabanagrande, and especially in the surrounding rural areas, where most families are engaged in subsistance agriculture.

I began working with the potters of Atuto in 1997 to help improve the quality and quantity of their production. In 1998, just after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, I took my friend Guy Wolff with me to Honduras to explore the possibilities of making his garden pottery line in greater volumes than we were able to do in the U.S.

Guy was amazed at the skill and artisanry of these potters, who with virtually no formal training, had become so proficient at throwing beautiful forms. Guy always felt that working with these potters was very close to working with artisan potters from an earlier time, when pottery was a tradition handed down in a family, not learned in an MFA program. Their approach to making pottery was similar to what you might find in workers from other artisan traditions such as furniture making, blacksmithing or other trades which make beautiful objects for everyday use. They made them in an unpretentious manner, without looking at themselves as "artists".

One of my favorite moments on our first visit in 1998, was Guy in a very animated manner, practically leaping around the workshop trying to explain the form he was looking for in one of his flowerpots. "It should have the grace of a ballerina, and the beautiful form of the arch of a cathedral..." I dutifully translated this into Spanish, and the response from Tonio, one of the most experienced potters in the group was, "Ask him how tall he wants it."

We worked for many years with the potters of Atuto, making garden pottery both for Smith & Hawken, and for wholesale customers of my company, Wakefield Studio. In 2005, I joined Napa Home & Garden, an Atlanta based importer of home and garden decor, to do both product development and key account sales. Through Napa's contacts with producers around the world, Guy and I were able to work with potters in Portugal, Mexico, Malaysia, China and Vietnam. While all these other countries have pottery industries that are much more developed than what we found in Honduras, we never found any other potters with whom we had the same personal connection, or were able to acheive such consistenly high quality pottery.

In 2013, I was asked by Napa to develop my own designs for them to sell on the wholesale market. My first choice was to return to my friends in Honduras to continue and expand upon the relationship we'd built over the years. When I first worked with Tonio and his fellow potters in 1997, we all had little kids. By 2013, our kids are grown, and in fact Tonio's son is now working with him in the pottery, and my 20 year old son Eli has also become a very proficient young potter.

I'm very proud of the pots that we make in Honduras, and hopefully you'll enjoy them in your home and garden. When you have your pots all planted up, notice how well the form and finish compliment the natural beauty of your planting, and think of my friends in Sabanagrande, the good work they are doing, and the families they're supporting with their artisanry.