General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 21 Nov 2017/6 Vulture
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The painted church, San Lorenzo, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico

Community education in practice in Culiacán, Sinaloa

We’re delighted to share the story here of the small community of San Lorenzo valley, Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico. Inspired by youngsters finding remains of ancient artefacts in the local area, an entire community education project has been born, now encompassing community museum, pottery workshops in local schools, campaigning to establish an archaeological zone, a rediscovery of ancestral techniques such as the Aztatlán ceramic tradition, and much more... Written by and thanks to Norberto Aguirre (translated by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore).

The San Lorenzo valley, Culiacán, Sinaloa
The San Lorenzo valley, Culiacán, Sinaloa (Click on image to enlarge)

Conservation of Cultural Heritage in the San Lorenzo Valley, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico: Preserving and Reconstructing Pre-Hispanic Crafts, including an educational project the aim of which is to conserve, restore, create and diffuse the culture of our pre-Hispanic ancestors.

‘The marks of fingers, the scratches of fingernails....’
‘The marks of fingers, the scratches of fingernails....’ (Click on image to enlarge)

‘All material archaeology is the archaeology of human beings. What clay hides yet also shows is the transition of human beings through time and space – the marks of fingers, the scratches of fingernails, the ashes and charred remains of burnt-out fires, the bones of friend and foe alike, the paths that eternally split in two and go their separate ways. The fragment that we find on the surface today provides a memory, the mark of a living body now buried’ (José Saramago).

Using ‘local materials native to our community of Navito’
Using ‘local materials native to our community of Navito’ (Click on image to enlarge)

We are a group of artisans who work independently in our community. Ten years ago we began a research project on Local Clays. This community cultural project on local materials arose from the experience of recovering the remains of pre-Hispanic objects, found in this area. The first objectives were to create pieces of craftwork using local materials native to our community of Navito in the ejido (community lands) of San Joaquín, in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico.

Children creating reed mats
Children creating reed mats (Click on image to enlarge)

What began in a community kitchen garden soon spread out to involve searching for clay materials near rivers, lakes, the sea and in some mountain areas. Our pottery is based essentially on the transformation through fire of clay-based material. Each object involves extracting and working the clay, cleaning, drying, shaping and firing it traditionally in a wooden kiln. This is followed by the search for natural dyes to use in the final decoration of the piece. Each and every one of these stages has undergone a process of improvement.

‘Our pottery is based on transforming clay through fire...’
‘Our pottery is based on transforming clay through fire...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

We use these main ingredients in preparing our clay paste:-
• Surface clay, or common red/blue clay. As it is, this tends to be too sticky, though sometimes it contains sand or stone, so we work it in liquid form once it’s passed through the sieve to eliminate any impurities. Mixed with water it acquires high plasticity, and once heated above 800ºC additional sonority and strength
• River slime
• Sand
• Cane husks
• Bulrush ears as natural fibre.

‘Firing temperature is in the range of 950-1,100ºC’
‘Firing temperature is in the range of 950-1,100ºC’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The clays are mixed in water at a ratio of 2:1., and then poured into a plaster vessel to dehydrate the paste; during kneading more raw material can be added in order to increase the plasticity and workability of the paste. Firing temperature is in the range of 950-1,100ºC.
The clays take on different shades of colour according to where they came from and the amount of impurities in them: from orange-red and blue to white if particularly pure.

‘We’ve tried to recover some of the pre-Columbian designs from local Valley of San Lorenzo culture’
‘We’ve tried to recover some of the pre-Columbian designs from local Valley of San Lorenzo culture’ (Click on image to enlarge)

During the firing process, lasting 2-3 hours, the objects can reach 900-950ºC. On cooling they are removed from the kiln.
Since the launch of the project we have tried to recover some of the pre-Columbian designs from local Valley of San Lorenzo culture. These evolved over time, and our own products reflect this: they are the fruits of our labour in pottery workshops, made entirely by local participants, leading to group exhibitions of our art – the purpose being to raise awareness of and to promote the rescue of our archaeological zone.

‘Free Saturday pottery workshops in local primary schools...’
‘Free Saturday pottery workshops in local primary schools...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The project now includes free Saturday Pottery Workshops in local primary schools, part of a programme of events aimed at boosting cultural production in our local communities and the creation of arts and crafts using natural raw materials.
Inspired by finding pre-Hispanic remains at the El Palmar archaeological site (on the outskirts of our community) whilst doing field work, local children, youths and adults are developing an interest in preserving ancestral pottery-making techniques; at the same time they are becoming more and more aware of issues surrounding archaeological zones.

‘Inspired by finding pre-Hispanic remains whilst doing field work...’
‘Inspired by finding pre-Hispanic remains whilst doing field work...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Currently the community is applying for the area to be registered officially as an Archaeological Zone. In 2007, supported by staff from INAH (Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History), and by local authority staff, local residents created a programme to protect the Zone, which until then had lain waste through neglect. Local INAH officials are now well aware of the cultural and educational programmes we now run.

‘Children see for themselves demonstrations of ancient techniques...’
‘Children see for themselves demonstrations of ancient techniques...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

By seeing for themselves demonstrations of ancient techniques, children and young people are making their own pottery pieces in traditional portable brick-built wood-burning kilns. As a result, we have been invited to take part in local and regional arts and crafts festivals, both in Sinaloa and Jalisco states.

‘We are also in the process of forming a cooperative for the extraction of our clays’
‘We are also in the process of forming a cooperative for the extraction of our clays’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Thanks to this participation, the ejido management donated a piece of community land (15 x 20 metres) for the building of our own Community Museum, where we intend to install a pottery workshop. This has the widespread support of local families who see it as an important part of community development, and, by introducing a crafts market into the local economy, as a way to generate new sources of local income. We are also in the process of forming a cooperative for the extraction of our clays – our most important raw material.

‘Revolution is also made with bricks…’
‘Revolution is also made with bricks…’ (Click on image to enlarge)

We’re delighted to collaborate with Mexicolore and are grateful for your encouragement to our work. We’re reminded of the story of the young Mexican muralist David Siqueiros who recounted in his autobiography how [education minister following the Mexican Revolution] Dr. Atl placed a hand-written sign on the front of the muralist’s school that read ‘Revolution is also made with bricks…’

‘Rescuing the craftmaking tradition that has been abandoned in our community for far too long’
‘Rescuing the craftmaking tradition that has been abandoned in our community for far too long’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The information on the Mexicolore website is very valuable and broadens the perspective of our youngsters as they embark on their creative work. We remain committed to our community task of building a home that can showcase the archaeological objects recovered locally and to rescue the craftmaking tradition that has been abandoned in our community for far too long; ironically, local people have been using handmade tools and other objects in daily life without recognising the importance of the age-old techniques used in their creation.

‘We have much more to learn and to tell...’
‘We have much more to learn and to tell...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

We hope to continue working with you in promoting and encouraging the rediscovery of our collective Mexican heritage. We have much more to learn and to tell about the techniques employed by our ancestors in the manufacture of pre-Hispanic artefacts...

All photos supplied by Norberto Aguirre.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Oct 26th 2017

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