Santander family continues to run 'Casa Chichi' pottery house in Cuba

In a town like Trinidad, ancient Spanish tradition survives

TRINIDAD, Cuba – The Spanish colonialists' unglazed bricks, and roof and floor tiles are still visible in Cuba, and the influence of the Muslim Spain's pottery techniques, which continued under Christian rule, live at the Santander family workshop in the Cuban town of Trinidad.

A Spanish family ran the Taller Santander, which their Cuban descendants later renamed El Taller del Alfarero. In 1962, the Cuban government took over the business. But the Santader family didn't leave.

The workshop remains at Calle Andres Berro, between Streets Abel Santa Maria and Ruben Batista, but it is now known as "Casa Chichi." It's named after Daniel "Chichi" Santander, whose great-grandfather Rogelio Santander founded the workshop.

Chichi Santander is a member of a national association of potters. Cuban officials respect his expertise. They have invited him to travel abroad, as a cultural representative. If the U.S. embargo is lifted, he said he hopes to be able to visit his granddaughter who lives in Miami.

"I think now we are going to go," he said. "I think they (Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Obama) are moving forward with the negotiations."

They are celebrities in Trinidad and their work is known nationwide. There are vases that his grandfather made that are still on display in Trinidad's Plaza Mayor. He said there are some at the Teatro Marti, a historic theater under renovation next to the Capitol in Havana.

Some members of the family have earned a national award that recognizes the talent of artisan masters. While tourists from all over the world buy their pottery pieces, some of their artistic tiles have also ended up framed at restaurants and hotels.

Santander said that although every generation has made improvements, they remain faithful to tradition. They still use clay that is taken from caves and their kiln is not electric. It still requires wood.

Although they have new items and new colors and textures, there are items that have sold for generations. Many members of the Santander family have made the workshop's most popular terracotta cups, which are used to serve the traditional "Canchanchara" -- a honey, lime and white rum cocktail that was invented in Trinidad.







- The raw clay is allowed to dry under the sun. 

- It's then broken down into a powder that when mixed with water is easier to clean. The mix is strained thorough a mesh to get rid of stones and roots.

- The clay is beat into submission and rolled into pellets that are easier to mold.

- The use of coils is rare due to the centrifugal force of the mechanical potter's wheel, which sped up the artisan production.

- After the piece is dried and polished, the pottery is enameled with metallic oxides.