Crazy for Ceramics

502 Home’s huipil-inspired ceramics

There has been such a craze for ceramics lately. When I see a beautiful piece of handmade, hand painted ceramic, it’s a feast to the eyes. When I first laid eyes on 502 Home ceramics I was immediately hooked by their beauty.

502 Home products are marked by their impeccable use of color, ethnic patterns and modern aesthetics. Over coffee and banana bread I talked with Augusto Castillo, Isabel Arzu and Matthew Esposito, the co-founders of 502 Home. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Luciana Jabur: Where do you guys find inspiration to create 502 Home's products?

Matthew Esposito: I created a collection called LAQ based off of “huipiles” and their vibrant designs, giving a modern twist to the traditional patterns. A huipil (pronounced “wipil”) is a traditional embroidered and/or woven blouse worn by many indigenous Mayan women. In addition to being incredibly beautiful, these patterns also held tremendous significance for women in Mayan cultures. The patterns range in intricacy from simple and modest to incredibly ornate. We looked at hundreds and hundreds of huipiles from specific Guatemalan regions and played around.

LJ: Tell us more about the huipiles patterns that influenced 502 Home design concept.

Augusto Castillo: Traditionally, each village takes pride in evolving its own distinctive design. My collections are inspired by huipiles from Santiago Atitlan, embroidered with fanciful figures of animals, birds, flowers and butterflies and the town of Chichicastenango, which while renowned for its geometric patterns, has been going through an amalgamation of different styles reflecting a syncronicity of different regions' patterns.

The huipiles are just one element of our design and brand concept. The human talent is a big part of our success. We are very, very lucky to have world-class artisans in Guatemala.

LJ: What's 502 Home level of commitment to the traditional practice of pottery-making?

Isabel Aarzu: Our design and final products tell the story of the Guatemalan's handmade pottery heritage. We are committed to keep the Mayan pottery heritage alive. We work with communities located in Totonicapan, a rural area where many had to give up the art of pottery in order to survive, and now they are recruiting more and more people from the town to help in our production. .

IA: There are several stages in production, each time-consuming and laborious. The first stage is the preparation of the clay. Our artisans mix 3 types of volcanic clays to achieve the ideal plasticity. Long hours are spent in kneading, preparing clay lumps and wheel-throwing. It takes 2-3 days for drying as the pieces shouldn’t be exposed to the sun. Using sandpaper and sponges, artisans carefully work on the curves, contours and surfaces. After that, the piece is ready to receive a white base on which the design will be drawn over and color by color painted with lead-free pigments. The ceramic colors "bloom" after they are baked in the oven.

LJ What's your experience working with local and indigenous artisans?

AC: It is wonderful as at the same time challenging. Our artisans are predominantly indigenous Kachikel who have historically had bad experiences doing business with community outsiders.  Their trust we earned after showing them that we are truly invested in the community, value their traditional ways and understood their lives in the historical context. We try to be the best partners they could ever have. We absorb the costs of defective ceramics, help them market other products and support them in any way possible.

LJ: Can you tell me about the four different collections you have?

ME: We each have our own lines; each complements each other. Isabel's collection, called Kaq Omal - Kaqchikel word for color, uses a modern assortment of traditional patterns and is available in 4 color ways. It's meant to be very versatile for daily use. Augusto's heritage-honored line -The Chichi & Santiago - are very literal representations of the huipil of those regions. My collection LAQ - Kaqchikel word for plate, has a very contemporary edge and red, white, blue are the predominant colors.

We want to inspire the celebration of life with family and friends through the joy of a complete line of handcrafted dinnerware, table tops, placemats, napkins, coasters and much more.

For more information, visit www.handmade502home.com.

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