Ayacuchan ceramics are mostly inspired by aspects of daily life including people, animals, churches, musicians, traditional custumes, as well as religious scenes with Peruvian characters. Almost all of the ceramics are made by hand or mold. Very few artists use the wheel. If they do it is just for smoothing the surface of a round shaped piece.
To earn a living, the artists first make the original piece and then make molds from it for producing numerous copies. Of course, the amount depends on how hot the market is in Lima and other parts of the world. Mauralio mentioned that he also gets orders from Canada, Germany and Japan. Of course, most of the artists would prefer to spend more time making original large pieces but it is harder to find buyers for these.
On the first day we went to the workshop with Maurelio, he showed us how some of the pieces were made in molds and then how to sculpt a face. He made a ball of clay, a couple notches with a wooden tool (tallelor) for nose and eye sockets. Then with a few more quick moves, he shaped the features. Another couple notches became lips. A couple balls of clay were flattened and somehow delicately shaped into eyelids. He made it look incredibly easy and the whole process took him a couple minutes.
Then he showed me how to make the arms, legs, hands, fingers etc. I started using the faces that Mauralio had made and some of mine and made five musicians. Mauralio told me that the body part needs to be hollow which means that none of the pieces could be fired. He said that the next day we will continue.
The next day he showed me how to make a ball and use it for the face and body part. Still it was so difficult to make a right face at my level. I started making the other parts. After a few hours, I managed to finish four pieces (Accordionist, flutist, harpist and guitarist). During the day Mauralio also showed me how to make molds of the original pieces.
On Friday Mauralio went to Lima for a special fair at the American Consulate. The pieces were still wet but dry enough for painting. An unfortunate thing happend while I was painting the accordion player. I broke it into three pieces while trying to clean a color from the hat. Carlos told me that the pieces can be glued together after firing. But, I didn't like the solution. I explained to him in my broken Spanish that the broken piece wont be the same. It was a difficult time because Mauralio had told me that he was going to fire all the pieces on Saturday. A day was not enough for any piece to dry especially during the cloudy days in Lurin. Therefor, I started making some experimental pieces using the molds. I wanted to test the stone burnishing process and then use mango leaves while firing in a manner similar to that used in Chulucanas. Lucho, Carlos and I had lots of fun that day. I believe that all of them had lots of fun when I tried to explain something in Spanish. Carlos showed me how to cut clay into rectangular slices. Then he showed me how to use the molds. I made three bowls that day. I made a few bowls and paited one of them using black glaze on black pot to experiment New Mexico style.
Mauralio has been working on some new molds for customers since we had arrived. I made a small accordion and showed it to Mauralio. He got my message and started making the face. I asked him if half a day would be enough for finishing everything. He said "si"!
Without loosing any time, I started making the arms, hands, feet and other parts. It was amazing that he did the face almost the same as the broken one! I was so happy about the progress. After attaching all the parts, he started a fire and told me that I need the sit there and change the pieces every 5 minutes so that they would be ready for the kiln firing.
Later he came and took the pieces and put them into the kiln under a very light heat. After about an hour he took all the pieces out and I could paint the accordion player. He was going to start the fire that night at 7:00. The firing process took 7 hours under 800 degree celsius.
The first thing we did the next day was check the results. I was so happy since the pieces were fired properly.
The only remaining part of my experience was my mango leaf firing. This was also new to them. Mauralio asked Lucho to take me to some place where there were mango trees. Lucho and I walked for about 40 minutes and found some trees that looked liked mangos but I was kind of suspicius. When I asked Lucho about it, he said "Yes, these trees are mango trees". We collected a full bag of "mango" leaves and went bak to the workshop. Mauralio saw the leaves and told us that the leaves were not the right ones!
Since I didn't have any time, I made a small kiln using bricks and started the fire. After about 15 minutes I stopped the fire since everywhere became full of smoke! The result was not bad at all. Some parts of the blue pot were changed to black. We came to the conclusion that the right leaf was necessary.