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Clay Treasures from Nicaragua

Manitou gallery hosts a benefit for Potters For Peace

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A modest industry is prospering in rural villages throughout Nicaragua, driven by native talent and facilitated by a network of American artists, Potters for Peace. The group formed in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch (1998) to assist potters in the development of their trade and preservation of local tradition. The product of this relationship will be on exhibit, and on sale, at the Commonwheel Artists Gallery through Feb. 21.

The potters' interpretation of Yucatecan nature is the dominant theme of the collection, traversing pre-Columbian era design to contemporary motifs. Mayan deities, traditional geometric patterns, toucans, sea turtles, frogs, palm trees and serpents are all represented. The most interesting of the styles, however, is a modern hybrid of indigenous elements and non-native influences.

Apparently, a book of M.C. Escher prints found its way into the depths of the country and into the hands of a local artisan. The result is a series of pots featuring the aforementioned animals repeated in complex geometric patterns. Another interesting fusion found on a small number of pots is a style that uses minute, polychrome art deco designs arranged on stark, black-lacquered vessels.

The connecting thread for the entire collection is meticulous detail and vivid use of color. Most of the exhibit consists of handcrafted pottery pieces ranging in price from $15 to $140. There are also a handful of unique clay dolls ($10 to $15) and a basket of ceramic chicken and donkey whistles ($3) for the frugal collector.

Many of these pots were carried on foot out of isolated communities to make the journey north to Manitou. Fortunately, the journey to see -- and take home -- these gems of indigenous culture is but a small trek into our own foothills.

capsule Nicaraguan Pottery, a benefit show for Potters For Peace.

Through Feb. 21

Commonwheel Artists Co-op Gallery, 102 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs

685-1008; www.commonwheel.com

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