The Secret Behind the Ceramics of San Antonio Palopó
We recently spoke with our founder, Caryn Maxim, about her travels around Guatemala over the years. One story she highlighted was the discovery of a charismatic man who inspired and trained a community on Lake Atitlán to create beautiful handcrafted ceramics.
Back in 2003, my first visit to Guatemala was as a tourist. I visited Panajachel on Lake Atitlán and took the obligatory launch tour across the lake including visiting San Antonio Palopó, known for its distinctive ceramics. The ceramics are beautiful, handmade and hand glazed, and you can find them now all over Guatemala. It wasn’t until this past summer when showing my cousin some of Guatemala’s attractions that by a wonderful serendipity we stumbled into the Ceramics Maya Ke (though the business card says Maya Ken, it seems Maya Ke is their more recognized name). It happened to be the day of San Antonio’s annual fiesta, so only a couple of workers were around. They volunteered to call the owner and invited us inside to wait. Then, one worker asked, “Do you want to meet Ken?” I had no idea who “Ken” might be, but I am always game to meet new people!
So, into the next room we went and found Ken Edwards, an amazing human being. Ken was 94 years old, sitting in front of a computer screen in a simple studio-as-bedroom with a spectacular view of the lake. Ken is very hard of hearing, so our conversation seemed a lot like shouting, but his story was remarkable, and we felt so fortunate to meet him. Although I (and many others) thought that the distinctive pottery of San Antonio Palopó was a traditional local style of ceramics, that is not the case.
Ken and his wife arrived in Guatemala back in the 90’s, with kilns, and without specific plans. They were in search of high-quality clay that is found in this area because of the rich volcanic riverbeds. According to Ken, when his minivan arrived at the foot of a steep hill where his rental house was located, many local residents appeared and helped him move the kiln and his other belongings up the hill to the house. Amazed by the warm reception, he had the idea to see if any local residents would like to learn the ceramics work that he was taught while living in Mexico in the 1950’s and 60’s. He saw that many young men didn’t have a job or go to school, so he taught them some skills and eventually encouraged them to open their own workshops.
Ken taught the men how to use molds to make their pottery more consistent and to make it more efficiently. He also introduced modern high firing techniques that allow lead to burn out of the glazes, thus the San Antonio pottery is lead-free and microwave safe. All of the pottery is hand painted and no two pieces are alike. Now, in 2020, there are four different ceramics workshops in San Antonio Palapó, creating ceramics in the same style as Ken, and you can find these distinctive ceramics all over Guatemala…and the world!
Visit our Sale Page to find our embroidered Twill Bistro Aprons in three colorways.