A Tale of Two Nicaraguan Piggy Banks

kiln of piggy banks

Clay piggy banks are a tradition in Nicaragua and it is not unusual to see an entire kiln load of them. I was told that Nica children receive clay piggy banks (without holes in the bottom) on their birthdays and at the end of the year they break them, spend the money, and are given a new one. Sounds like a potter’s dream, doesn’t it?

two piggy banks

I bought my first Nicaraguan piggy bank (the one of the left above) from a woman named Maria who lives on the side of a hill, on the way to the pottery at Loma Ponda (a regular stop for the annual Potters for Peace brigade). Maria has three jobs: farming, making clay piggy banks (the only clay work she does), and praying for the dead. About five years ago we visited Maria in the tiny house that her father built and that she shares with her sister, Marta. Maria had just unloaded the barrel kiln that Potters for Peace had recently built for her and there were about a dozen piggy banks set out on a table. Each of Maria’s rough and ready pigs had their own charm and I chose this one because of the enigmatic expression on its face. Before she got a barrel kiln, Maria had fired her banks, one at a time, in the wood-burning cook stove in her kitchen but now that she had a kiln, she could fire several banks at a time and do it outside which is much healthier. This spring I got an update on Maria and Marta from Robert Pillers, the Nicaragua Director for Potters for Peace:

“Maria and Marta’s house fell in and a government program built them a new one. When we went there late last year I noticed that they were back to firing their pottery in the kitchen stove. In the past I had noticed an asthma inhaler hanging from a string from the ceiling so I said to myself, this can’t continue. So on the January brigade we built them a new barrel kiln, and when we went back in February, they had fired it and said they were happy with it.”

I bought the larger piggy bank (on the right above) from Ducuale Grande, a communal workshop where a group of women work together on throwing, handbuilding, burnishing and decorating, so that no one pot is made by a single person. For decoration they¬† use a slip-resist technique that I described in a previous post. On my last visit there, a voluptuous, polka-dotted piggy bank kept watching me as I walked around the little showroom. The look on its face reminded me of my sister’s Labradoodle dog, Cedar, but I still tried hard not to buy it because it seemed too large and fragile to make it home in one piece. In the end I succumbed and that piggy bank travelled from Nicaragua to Toronto (Ontario), then on to Moncton (New Brunswick) and finally to Vancouver (BC) without even getting scratched.

Now the two piggies, one humble and unassuming and one more sophisticated but still a bit needy, sit together on the windowsill in my kitchen and watch me live life as I know it. I look at them often but I still can’t figure out what they’re thinking.

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