Taiwan and Honduras may be nearly 15,000km apart, but people in the two countries have been pulled together by their passion for pottery and their interest in developing a niche industry around the craft.
The long-distance collaboration began when senior Honduran officials visiting Taiwan in 2010 came away highly impressed by Yingge (鶯歌), a town in New Taipei City with a celebrated ceramics tradition that has made it a top tourist draw.
Yingge houses numerous shops and factories offering a dazzling range of ceramics, from vases and teapots to tableware, decorative fountains and works of art.
Following the visit of the Honduran officials, Taiwan and Honduras launched a two-year “one town, one product” project in 2011 to help artists in Valle de Angeles, a pottery center in southern Honduras, improve the quality and the production of their ceramics.
The Taipei-based Corporate Synergy Development Center, which operates similar one town, one product programs in communities around Taiwan, was commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to carry out the program, focusing on the development of a niche cultural and creative industry.
As part of the program, six artists from Valle de Angeles visited Taiwan in September last year to see firsthand Yingge’s thriving ceramics sector and learn more about advanced production techniques.
In addition to visiting veteran pottery artists, the Honduran artists visited ceramics tourism factory, Shu’s Pottery.
The decades-old company is typical of the evolution seen among Yingge companies. Starting as a producer of ceramic bowls and tiles, it had to reinvent itself when faced with stiff price competition for low-cost commodities and has since emerged a ceramics brand showcasing modern, innovative designs.
The Honduran artists came away from the visit with a clearer idea of how to develop a creative and culturally oriented pottery industry that brings added value to basic ceramic techniques.
Jorge Arturo Herrera Navarrez, a member of the association, said his group of artists realized that to achieve their vision of a niche industry, they needed to bring greater creativity and something unique to their works. They saw Yingge as a good model to emulate.
The Corporate Synergy Development Center, and the center’s consultant who was responsible for the project until the end of last year, Laurencio Chen, encouraged the artists to infuse their products with more Honduran cultural characteristics, while improving their firing techniques.
According to Chen, one approach has been to add images and characteristics associated with Mayan culture, as Honduras is one of the birthplaces of the Mayan civilization.
Another, he said, has been to make products with angelic themes to reflect the town’s name, which means “valley of angels.”
In addition, to help improve the quality of the pottery produced by the Honduran artisans, Taiwan sent automatic machinery and equipment to the town, including electric potters’ wheels and an electric kiln.
“The machinery and equipment have significantly increased the volume of items they can produce per day,” Chen said.
After two years of cooperation that also focused on marketing strategies, Chen said he was happy to see that the program had brought clear benefits to the community.
In recognition of the results, Honduras has asked the program to be extended for a third year until the end of this year.