A few weeks ago I visited the Antigua workshop of Jose, the man who makes many of the ceramic beads I sell. He is the 6th generation of ceramic artists on his mother's side! His mother made ceramics and his father was a carpenter. Jose has been in the ceramics business for 28 years and has four children, but none of them plan to continue in the family business; he says they have gone to college and begun different careers. He has two employees in his workshop, and there are several other people who have their own workshops upon whom he can call if a big order comes in. He also has an employee who works at the store where he sells his items.
Some of the ceramic items Jose makes are made using molds, others are completely hand-formed, and others are a combination. He showed me the process of making a little cherub: He started with the wet clay (purchased in the nearby city of Chimaltenango), pressed it into molds to make the wings and head, and hand-formed the body, arms, and legs. Small clay items dry in the sun for about an hour before being put in the kiln.
Jose has an electric kiln but usually uses the wood kiln because of high energy costs. After being fired, the pieces are painted with acrylics and most are then glazed.
Jose's workshop is at his home and was much larger 10 or 15 years ago, when he had 16 employees. Business, which is highly dependent on the tourist trade, has slowed in recent years. He does, however, have three customers in the US who purchase large quantities for their retail stores. He makes lovely, very detailed nativity scenes for export.
Jose says his most popular beads are miniature Guatemalan masks, devils, and monkeys. He does custom orders based off of photos or sketches, if a customer needs a large quantity of a particular design!