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Notes from the field: Chulucanas

The scorching sun of the northern city of Chulucanas, Piura, warmly embraced us as the Allpa team embarked on a captivating visual journey through the workshop led by artisan Alex Calle. A sixth-generation artisan, Alex has not only carried on the family tradition but has also elevated it to new heights.

Alex’s workshop, initiated when he was 30 years old and without a dedicated space, has evolved into a thriving space today. Through sheer determination, he now owns a piece of land housing areas for finishing, kilns, packaging, and an expansive orchard of various fruit trees. Located just minutes away from the city’s main park, Alex’s workshop stands as a testament to dedication and progress.

Reflecting on the past, Alex recounts how the area lacked basic services like electricity, water, or drainage when he first arrived. Over the years, he has witnessed and actively contributed to the transformation of his workshop and the broader community.

Chulucanas ceramics, renowned globally for their exquisite quality and unique finishes, trace their cultural roots back to the pre-Hispanic Vicus and Tallán civilizations. A tradition passed down through generations, the art of Chulucanas ceramics is a living heritage. 

Alex, however, notes with concern that some of these traditional skills are fading away. Tasks like kneading or polishing, integral to the process, are finding fewer hands willing to engage due to diminishing demand and individuals seeking employment in other industries.

During our visit to the workshop, we had the privilege of witnessing the diverse techniques that Alex and his team have developed over the years. Their commitment to constant creation, innovation, and reinvention breathes new life into Chulucanas ceramics.

One of the most captivating and beautiful techniques we observed was the process of smoking. Ceramics are placed in the kiln, and mango leaves are burned, emitting black smoke that not only adds color to the ceramics but also leaves a resin, imparting a stunning final shine.

Alex Calle’s workshop stands not only as a hub of artistic expression but also as a beacon of resilience against the challenges faced by traditional crafts. The journey through the workshop is a testament to the dynamic evolution of Chulucanas ceramics, a dance between tradition and innovation, and a commitment to preserving the rich cultural heritage embedded in each piece.

As we left the workshop, the impact of Alex’s dedication lingered, echoing the sentiment that every piece of Chulucanas ceramics carries not just artistic beauty but also a profound story of craftsmanship, culture, and the unwavering spirit of those who breathe life into this timeless tradition.

 

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