By Luis “Kacián” Calderón
In my personal journey toward reaffirmation of my Taíno heritage, I have often wondered what our ancestors would have been doing if they lived right now and in today’s Boriken (Puerto Rico) in the 21st century. The answer doesn’t need a lot of speculation because they would be doing the same thing our native brothers and sisters in the southwest of the United States have been doing. That is that if you are an indigenous artisan, you would be doing artisan work just as your ancestors or family had been doing, most likely that’s what you also would be doing, especially if it would be a means of attaining economic independence. We as Taíno’s of today need to reclaim our arts, music, language, mythology, spirituality and philosophy as a continuing people. For me, I have decided to restore my people's heritage in the art of ceramics and working with clay. Our ancestors were Neolithic people. This means that they developed their culture through agriculture. People, who reach this level of development, also develop the use of clay and form functional clay pottery.
Living here in Boriken has allowed me the privilege of studying under a great teacher and artisan. Her name is Alice Chéverez. Alice is the youngest daughter of Don Pablo y Doña Varin. In the mountains of Morovis, Alice practices the ceramic arts of our Taíno ancestors, from acquiring clay here in Boriken to preparation and forming the piece fundamentally using the coil system. The drying and final firing of the pot is done in an open fire. Alice uses the same exact traditional method that our ancestors used to create pottery 500 years ago. She specializes in functional and ceremonial Taíno pottery and museums reproductions and uses traditional tools as higüera scrappers and wooden sticks to form the Taíno designs in the pottery. Alice doesn’t work with industrialized clay that can be bought in conventional ceramic stores, where is prepared and processed. She also does not work with the pottery wheel, which origins are from the Middle East and Europe. When firing the piece, she does not use an electric kiln oven, gas or wood kilns. Alice fires her pieces in an open fire using wood.
Alice learned the Taíno form of pottery from her mother while helping her create Taíno pottery. She has more than twenty years of learning this craft. Her mother learned from the Taíno artisan Daniel Silva, who today lives in the island of Vieques and continues the tradition, but using a new medium, higüera instead of clay.
Alice has sold her Taíno pieces in all the artisan fairs on the island, and in the past has traveled to the United States to exhibit her work. Due to the birth of her son, she hasn’t had the chance to travel around the island. Also due to her mother’s health, Alice has been given the responsibility of continuing the Taíno tradition of pottery making. Though her mother is in good health and spirit, she has decided to retire from pottery and giving the privilege to Alice as master potter.
As an educator, I would like to take the time to inform the Taíno community through the forum of the internet that Alice Chéverez of Taller Cabachuela is taking on new students. She would like to have serious students who can make a commitment to the serious study of learning our Taíno ancestors’ traditional way of creating pottery. The price is economical and all you need is your time and dedication. Alice is very serious about her work. Though her studio is very humble, what counts is the knowledge she will pass on. In today’s modern world, we have all suffered economically the recession that has been going on for the past few years. Many feel forced to go back to the university to study a profession that will give them the means economically to better themselves. Why not become an artisan promoting your ancestors’ tradition? At the same time, you will be helping yourself toward economic independence. I can attest that there is no satisfaction like creating a Taíno piece with your own hands and seeing it finally fired in an open fire. Alice Chévere as a teacher is excellent; she never makes fun of the student or his piece and is more than willing to help. She is open minded to all questions about the craft. If you live on the island or are visiting the island and would like to take a few classes, you can contact Alice at:
Torrecillas, Buzón 5986
Morovis, PR 00687
You can also write an e-mail to email@example.com, call me at (787)260-7248 or (787)813-9379 for any questions regarding to Alice Chévere and Taíno pottery.
Author's note: I would like to thank the photographer and fellow student Roger “Guayakan” Hernández (see photo above) and Roberto “Múkaro” Borrero for the space offered in the UCTP website for this article.About the author: Luis “Kacián” Calderón has been an active member within the taíno community since the late 80’s., in New York City and has been living in Boriken from 1996 to the present. He received a B.A. in secondary education in history and a minor in music from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in San Germán. Kacián has studied taíno pottery with Alice Chéverre for the past two years an also studied contemporary ceramics at Centro Sor Isolina Ferrer. He also studied the pottery wheel with his teacher Eduardo Martínez. The author lives with his wife Ana and boxer dog Chaco in Juana Díaz, Boriken (Puerto Rico).