The heart and soul of Good Foundations International (GFI) are the potters of Nicaragua. Since 1989, we have had a full-time presence in Nicaragua and currently work with rural, ceramic cooperatives throughout the country. We encourage these potters to maintain their unique aesthetic traditions while offering them new technologies to help make their work economically sustainable and find new markets outside of their local communities.
Here’s a short video that will introduce you to our work with potters:
Potters Teaching Potters
Through donations, Good Foundations International is able to provide ceramic cooperatives the opportunity to have educational exchanges with chances to network and share ideas. We provide scholarships to Nicaraguan potters for in-country apprenticeships to further their skills in pot throwing and bead making. Over the years of training they have developed a skilled corps of Nicaraguan potters that serve as the primary instructors for the new apprenticeships.
Over the years, we have arranged and/or financed trips by Nicaraguan potters to the U.S. to participate in conferences and conduct workshops at colleges, pottery guilds, high schools, community centers, and intercultural fairs.
We have also organized national conferences of Nicaraguan potters that serve as a forum to share skills, voice concerns and evaluate projects. These events host important national pottery exhibitions and sometimes include presentations by international buyers who explain their design and technical concerns to those interested in the export market.
Technical and Design Assistance
GFI provides materials, technical assistance and training for building equipment such as wheels, extruders, energy-efficient kilns and burners. Most often the potters buy equipment at a GFI subsidized price, either by payments or by trading for pottery.
GFI contracts professional designers for both long and short-term work in the ceramic communities to help refine existing products and develop new ones in order to maximize their marketability.
Manny Hernandez, a retired Northern Illinois University professor, who was also a GFI technical volunteer, has developed a fuel-efficient downdraft kiln called the “Mani” kiln, which is constructed with local brick and labor and can reduce firewood use by up to 50%. After Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998, Manny went to Nicaragua and trained a kiln-building team. In two months 15 kilns were built, and the potters were back in production. Today, the Mani kiln is built world-wide to fire both pots and ceramic filters.
Alternative Fuel Burners
In the developing world, forests are rapidly disappearing, firewood is ever more expensive and regulations are becoming more restrictive for wood gathering. Soil erosion, due to deforestation, can also lead to tragic consequences during the severe rains common to tropical regions. In response, GFI has been developing energy efficient, solid fuel burner systems that utilize agricultural waste such as rice husks, coffee husks or sawdust.
When possible, the alternative fuel burner and a Mani kiln are introduced as a package that provides a reliable firing technique that is less expensive and more environmentally friendly to operate.
Ceramic Raw Materials Research
GFI staff and volunteers are constantly on the road maintaining contact with many rural ceramic cooperatives across Nicaragua. As raw materials get scare or as new needs for different clay arise, GFI keeps an eye open for possible local sources of raw materials. We have a small testing facility in country and we occasionally sponsor individual groups to do material research.
Despite Nicaragua’s perilous economic position as the hemisphere’s second poorest country, there is an in-country market for pottery and GFI works with the artisans to make the most of it. Here are some of our strategies:
Using a common color and logo, GFI has developed a roadside sign for each pottery community. These signs increase visibility and thus increase sales.
GFI has helped each ceramic cooperative to create a small showroom area.
GFI has organized and funded rural potters to participate in artisan fairs.
GFI has helped produce marketing materials.
Coordination with Other Organizations
GFI maintains contact and consults with a variety of national and international aid/development organizations and craft importers in order to direct donations and other help in the most effective directions.
Educational Outreach and Documentation
GFI keeps audio and visual records of the lives and work of our potter friends. Seeing their own and others’ work in visual formats can be a valuable tool in the artistic development. We have also placed Nicaraguan potters’ work in international publications.