At almost 77 years of age, Azariel Santander enjoys art far more than many younger people. His hands, bestowed with a vast and well-known pottery tradition, have given life to hundreds of lumps of clay to the delight of the most discerning and varied tastes.
The Santander family has bequeathed to the city of Trinidad part of its history dating back to 1892, when a Spanish immigrant taught all he knew about pottery to the young Modesto Santander. But it was his son Rogelio who made a success of the business with vases, jars, water filters, pots, and pitchers, products that were in great demand among the city residents.
“They say the first pottery wheel the workshop had was built with the wood from a wine barrel, and the first real pieces were not bought until two years later. In 1963, the El Alfarero workshop was handed to the Cuban government by the Santander family, and although many family members continued to work there, today they have their own workshops” where they continue to work this family trade.
The secrets behind the work passed down from one generation to another, to children and youngsters in the city who wanted to make their own creations. What started as a rustic workshop went on the become a Pottery School, a gift that the family brought to the city of Trinidad.
This is an intriguing trade. As I watched Azariel show his skills, I couldn’t help wanting to join him. The clay looked like water in his hands. What were once amorphous masses came to life as a peasant hat, a pitcher and even a cup for the famous canchánchara cocktail
Does anyone want to try? - asked Azariel without looking up from his work. After a few doubts, I accepted the challenge.
He got up from his seat, gave me his apron, stained by age and dedication, and basic instructions so I could take home with me an original work, made with daring, with an imagination influenced by nerves and with firm hands wrapped around the Trinidad clay.
Needles, clay, threads and a huge piece of metal. Azariel doesn't need anything else to turn his ideas into functional, beautiful and elegant designs. Beyond the commercial art promoted by the family, they have found a way to express themselves and create a hallmark.
"In ceramics you can achieve everything that you are capable of imagining with your hands and mind."
In 2007, the Santander family from Trinidad received the UNESCO Special Prize for Crafts, an acknowledgement of the family legacy that now belongs to a city recently declared Craft City of the World.