Luis Reyes is the founder of the small ceramic workshop El Gres del Pato y la Cruz, based in Santander, Colombia. This past December, we met Luis while he was exhibiting at Expoartesanías, Colombia, and we were drawn to the simple sophistication of his work and the minerals used to make each piece. Luis has dedicated a large part of his life to perfecting his craft, so we reconnected with him as a way to learn more about his work and sourcing process and to get a glimpse into his everyday life.
I admire the time you take to create each piece. Can you tell us about the sourcing and craft process?
I buy all supplies from local families in Santander, Colombia. My favorite clays and feldspars have to be hauled down the mountain to a main road by donkey because of their remote location. Here in the Andes mountain range, most materials used for ceramic production sprout from the ground; therefore, industrial mining is not necessary. Picks, shovels, and manpower do all the work. At the studio, clays are humidified and aged in dark damp rooms for about 6 months. Feldspars and dense rocks are hammered to sand-particle size, and then milled to a talc.
There is no waste in our ceramic production. Shavings and trimmings are collected in tanks, where water hydrates the material and makes it workable again. The building process of products is done by hand, using hardwood tools we craft from furniture makers’ trimmings. We do burn fossil fuels, to some extent; all potters do. The kiln exhausts CO2 and nitrogen gases, but the amount is less than the exhaust of a small chicken barn. We respond to the situation by promoting trees and plants to all of our clients via sales or gifts. We advocate for bonsai culture so that people connect and learn to respect trees.
Why minerals as a medium?
Personally, it could just be the beauty found in rocks. Since no rock is identical the results vary, sometimes with great surprise. The minerals in their raw state, at the temperatures we handle, are safe for human use in the household. They don’t require heavy machinery to process. Petrol-based products are not necessary. The range of minerals, which can be used at 2300°F, create strong stoneware that won’t leach or off-gas pollutants into our home or environment.
What does an average day in the life of Luis look like?
I get to the studio as the sun rises. First I water my plants. Our main work floor is completely open, with a view to the city on the west, and a mountain forest on the right. We have no windows or doors. Birds can fly in at any time, and squirrels often visit in order to eat from the closest mango tree, which gives us a nice shade during the morning. Here in Bucaramanga, temps range from 79 to 82°F with lots of breeze. We start by wedging clay and doing wheelwork. We usually take short breaks and play with the dogs. In the afternoon, I like trimming and preparing work at its last stage: work that has been drying for about two weeks. Around 17:30 I take a short break and enjoy sundown. At night, I get home and do all online tasks just before supper. I spend the day’s last hours with my wife and baby.
For more info please visit: elgresdelpatoylacruz.com or email Luis at email@example.com.