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The art of ceramics in the Dominican Republic dates back as far as when the Tainos inhabited the island, in the days when Columbus arrived proclaiming the Dominican Republic “the most beautiful that human eyes could see”. This art, this legacy, which has been handed down through generations, continues to thrive here in Altos de Chavón, our “village of artists”.
The history of ceramics in Altos de Chavón dates back to the very beginning, when, in 1984, a ceramics school was opened. This school brought youth from all over the region, giving them the opportunity to make ceramics their profession. “It was something beautiful”, says Damar Castaños, a former teacher of the school, who is in charge of the workshop today.
Later, when the school became a workshop, many of the students left and moved on, but a few remained. Today there are 8 young men pouring their hearts into their craft, painstakingly bringing to life the intricate designs of Emilio Robba, “the sculptor of flowers”, whose ceramics are characterized by small, delicate roses, flowing lines, ridges, leaves, plants, ostentatious curves and majestic flowers.
This ancient artisanal craft begins with two different types of clay brought from Bonao and San José de las Matas in the north of the country. At the workshop, the rock is ground to dust in the hammer mill, and made into the doughish material we are more familiar with. From there, the clay is molded into its basic shape, be it a vase, lamp, or bowl on the pottery wheel, and thus begins the long, arduous task of bringing the designs to life. “Our boys are quick to capture Mr. Robba’s designs, he sends the design on paper and they get it right away”, explained Damar with pride. “They’re very hardworking boys that love what they do. What they make is a unique piece of art, something that you will not find anywhere else, we are very proud of them”, he added.
The ceramics workshop offers regular classes, for tourists and residents interested in an afternoon of artsy fun. The classes take place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:45pm to 6:00pm, cost US$55 for adults, US$40 children, are organized by the Casa de Campo Hotel [(809) 523-3165] and are taught by the young boys of the workshop, who take their time after work to share their skill and passion. “We’re always amazed by the people who come here, watching how they become relaxed and all dirty with clay, it is something they enjoy very much. Sometimes they surprise us- some people have a natural talent and create excellent pieces on their first try.”
These handcrafted ceramics can be found at the Art Studios by Emilio Robba in Altos de Chavón, yet we encourage you to go beyond the store, to go where the magic happens, and perhaps even take a class. The workshop, found behind the Robert García Salon, invites you to truly immerse yourself in the Dominican culture and be part of the historic legacy left to us by our indigenous forefathers.
This article was originally published in TODO Casa de Campo, edition 11.