Creative Paths

Ceramist Grimanesa Neuhaus brings home hand-rendered patterns from Peru, evolving into sophisticated Peruvian tableware

“I started my journey with clay and ceramics out of curiosity – and plain old luck. In 1975, during a break from my studies in psychology, I decided to try a ceramics class.  Since then I have been completly covered in clay,” designer and potter says Grimanesa Neuhaus. Her novice days are far behind her, and she is now known throughout Peru for handmade tabletop ceramics that reveal where she has traveled and the cultures she has studied.

Grimanesa has worked along the coast in Cholucanas, Piura, and Santo Domingo de los Olleros, where people still make the same pots as they did in the Colonial period. In the highlands she has worked in Quinua, Ayacucho; Pucará, Puno; Taricá, Ancash; Huallay, Cerro de Pasco; Puno and Cusco. In the jungle she collaborated with people in San Mateo, Iquitos and the Shipiba-Coniba from San Francisco, Pucallpa, whose ancestral knowledge is expessed in masterful geometric designs. All of these encounters resulted in new ceramic collections.

On the road, Grimanesa enjoys not only learning about techniques and traditions but also sharing simpler lifestyles. Traveling for her turns into a meditation on other ways of living, and older ways of expression. The main satisfaction she derives from her carrer is the opportunity to elevate and highlight very old techniques. Her main challenge has been to teach contemporary standards of quality while respecting cultural identity and creativity. 

She emphasizes quality control so that the ceramics she creates with her artisan partners can be used on contemporary tables. Her work is used in sophisticated places like the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, where she developed an exclusive collection inspired by the Masdevalia, a native orchid, mixed with ferns inspired by Inca ceramics. She has also made a pattern for the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco based on Peru’s national flower, the Cantuta, a favorite Inca motif.

Grimanesa also reached beyond Inca tradition, into pre-Inca and Colonial styles, as well as into folk art from remote villages.  Her journey is one of reverence and admiration for Peruvian history and traditions.  One of her most distinctive collections is del Molle, based on a Perúvian plant. For this collection, she uses copper green patinas introduced by the Spanish in the Seventeenth century -- considered by many as Peru’s first ceramic glazes.

As she looks beyond Peru for new markets, Grimanesa clearly sees price as the main challenge faced by Peruvian ceramics: Perú is unlikely to compete with  mass-manufactured goods from Asia. But she is just as clear on the answer to this challenge: few can compete with Peru when it comes to cultural identity, quality, and a willingness to experiment.

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