Saturday Art: Historic Ceramics of Central America
Figures above from the early centuries of history represent cultures present in the Caribbean and Central American region before Europeans arrived.
Currently an exhibition of ceramic work collected in the early 19th century is featured in the Smithsonian’s Indian Museum. The works represent the icons and themes of a culture that preceded European influences.
Ceramics were both the used and decorative objects created from local soil, various native clay mixed with herbal content and formed, then dried and colored in many ways. The pots, vases and objects of various uses could be done by the family or, in large communities, a central workshop. Special uses usually called for design that showed more than the purpose of the object, and included designs from their history.
Local fauna were often featured, along with representations of the local worship and appreciation of the human form. The fantastic designs often told stories the local tribes passed from one generation to the next.
Common in the works are featured jaguar, armadillo, feline and tortoise characteristics, as well as the appearances of the local peoples. As with our northern tribes, often the works showed a reverence for varying qualities of the creatures used as models. The costume reflects ceremonial use, and often practices used in local celebrations or official events.
Most of what we know of the cultures comes from the artworks collected from the region’s past.