The women partners of the Las Mariposas (Butterflies) Ceramics have expanded their points of sales to new sites in the region. Both sites are important ecotourism destinations with a regular flow of tourists seeking souvenirs, so the ceramicists are customizing production to the Sótano de las Golondrinas (Cave of Swallows) and Casa de Artesanías (the Artisans Shop in the municipal seat, Jalpan de Serra). Visitors are delighted to take away handpainted cups with the local birds and the name of the place. Las Mariposas has wisely invested in developing new, site-specific designs for these locations. In the Cave of Swallows, for examples, Las Mariposas sells products decorated with images of green parakeets, white-collared swifts, and the Jalpan de Serra “Pueblo Mágico” logo (Pueblo Mágico is a federal program promoting “magical” Mexican towns. Jalpan de Serra joined in 2010).
These products are very popular with the tourists. Such personalized and complex designs, however, require more time spent on engraving and painting. Special molds, in turn, can reduce this increased time requirement. We took on the task of finding a new mold supplier for Las Mariposas, as the former supplier had moved to Oaxaca. The new supplier, from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, will develop four molds for Las Mariposas: one featuring an embossed “Pueblo Mágico” logo, two featuring embossed images of the Cave of Swallows, and one mold for salsa dishes. An embossed mold will simplify the decoration process of each piece and standardize quality during production. Las Mariposas workshop has also received many visitors who are interested in ceramic production and who get involved by decorating and polishing pieces. With the help of Sierra Gorda Ecotours, offering community tourism experiences in the Sierra Gorda, Las Mariposas is exploring this niche in the market.
Your support has helped Las Mariposas to purchase ceramic plaster to renew old molds and ensure product quality. As the final report for Las Mariposas project of the Employing Rural Women fundraiser and invite you to watch the two videos for this report on our Facebook Page @sierra.gorda . The first video is of members of the Las Mariposas working group. The second video is of visitors in the workshop.
We will be updating the Employing Rural Women project to support another vital microenterprise run by women in the highlands of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve.
We made various visits to the artisan workshop, Las Mariposas, to evaluate the running of the workshop. The clay mill had its defects and it represents the main part of the production process, which begins with the collection of compact clay in the community of El Lindero. The chunks are crushed and water is added, which is then strained to allow for the elaboration of a pliable clay mixture that is placed in the molds to form different pieces that are sold by the women of the workshop. Therefore, a defect in the mill can cause the production to stop. The equipment was serviced in addition to the band wheel together with some surface parts were replaced. Furthermore, preventive maintenance of the electrical installation took place.
Seeking to improve the business opportunities for the workshop, we helped refurbish the area to serve as a showroom for the products on sale as well as a kitchenette to offer hot refreshments and light meals. Repairs also had to be made on doors of the new eatery, grill, sink, and a gas pipeline were installed in the kitchen area, and tiles were laid in the service bar.
As a result, the workshop has a showroom for their products and a space to attend the groups that visit them at the entrance the ceramics workshop.
In addition to the usual activities of making molds and elaborating different products for domestic and ornamental use, important orders were delivered to various microenterprises in the region, including personalized coffee mugs to the Flavor Trail and tourist destination microenterprises known as Las Manzanitas, Comedor Sierra Bonita, and the Cave of Swallows.
During the follow-up visits to the workshop, we had the opportunity to learn about the “glazing” process, which consists of covering the piece entirely with a liquid layer, a lead-free solution that is used on all the pieces that are intended to contain food. Although the liquid is white, it becomes transparent with a shiny or matte finish once the pieces go through a firing process.
Dominga, the current representative of the women’s artisan group, told us that the piece is taken with tongs and is placed in the solution for a very short time. If the piece remains in the solution for a long time, the final product would have defects such as air bubbles or marks and the products with defects cannot be sold.
It is a pleasure to work with artisans, to collaborate in improving local conditions and building opportunities for a better future for the partners in the workshop and the community at large.
Before the end of the year, general cleaning of the workshop was carried out. Constant renewal of the molds (which is necessary to have a better finish and produce better quality products) leaves behind plaster blocks. Even though the blocks cannot be used to elaborate pieces, they can be used as fillings when repairing streets and trails, benefitting various local families. Therefore, the blocks were incorporated into the streets and the path that leads to the workshop. Afterwards, new molds were made, allowing women to continue with the production.
Since the percentage of shrinkage is greater during cold and humid months, women cast and polish pieces in December and January and they are now preparing to fire them.
As part of the continuous improvement, the members of the workshop participated in the training course on Color Theory that was given on January 15th, 2018 in Jalpan de Serra and targeted artisans in the region. The course reinforced their knowledge about the importance of color, the combination of tones, and, in the case of Las Mariposas workshop, the importance of respecting the original colors of the decoration portrayed on their pieces; their decoration primarily depicts the most representative birds of the region and therefore the women must consider real colors in their impressions.
As a result of the workshop, the women have begun to use new decoration designs on their ornate pieces, integrating combinations of bright colors that are different from the colors on the rest of the pieces.
They are currently working on special orders and are looking to integrate new members to help them with polishing pieces. This is one of the main activities, since it determines the quality of a product.
During the past quarter, the members of the artisan ceramic workshop “Las Mariposas” have improved their production and quality; they re-distributed mold and product manufacturing activities amongst themselves, increasing the level of production. They also introduced new painting designs that were well received by their market clients and sold their decoration products to primary schools in the region for handcraft classes. The workshop has two new members who have already received training in mold making, casting, and decoration, and was recently visited by a few groups.
On October 27th the women visited Centro Tierra Sierra Gorda and participated in the training workshop entitled “Basic Management for Microenterprises”. They were provided with tools that enable them to adequately manage their income and expenses, and keep a good record of their sales and purchases. During the training workshop they met other members of the Sierra Gorda Service Network and as a result of this exchange two small restaurants that form part of the Flavor Trail made an order of personalized ceramic plates and cups. Furthermore, they made an agreement with Restaurant Las Manzanitas located in Pinal de Amoles, where they will now establish an additional point of sale.
In October, the women also exhibited and sold their products at the Festival de las Huastecas that took place in Jalpan de Serra. They also agreed to sale their products on a regular basis in tourist areas in Escanelilla, Pinal de Amoles, and Union of Guadalupe in Aquismón, San Luis Potosí.
Currently they are fixing-up a warehouse, where they will install a rustic style exhibition room with a space for food preparation and will offer this additional service to visitors who want to participate in the ceramic production workshops.
Located in Soledad de Guadalupe, Querétaro, the artisan ceramic workshop “Las Mariposas” faces high production costs; the women are required to change working molds every two months, given that with one mold they can only produce 100 pieces. Even though the working molds can be used afterwards, the quality of products is reduced and women sometimes lose up to 40% of products that are made using an expired working mold.
Each working mold is made using artisan primary molds in the state of Guanajuato. To reduce production costs, the members of the workshop recently received training and learned how to make their own working molds. They acquired six primary molds, which helped them to significantly improve the quality of their products, reduce losses during the production process, and, most importantly, decrease operation costs. The members of the group have also updated the prices, which have already been applied at various points of sale in the Sierra Gorda. Furthermore, women are actively looking for new market opportunities outside of the region.
It is hoped that in the future they will be able to acquire all the necessary primary molds to guarantee the elaboration of more than 50 products that they currently offer, as well as to cover special orders of the products with higher demand.
The members of the group also participated in a workshop that took place in the facilities of the Centro Tierra Sierra Gorda in Jalpan de Serra and focused on the analysis of their micro-business using a SWOT analysis framework. Besides reinforcing their sense of belonging to the group and identifying opportunities, members of the group were able to generate alliances with other projects that form part of the microenterprise network in the Sierra Gorda.
Currently, the artisans are renovating the space where they showcase their products and host visitors who wish to experience their craft. For example, they improved lighting, which enables them to carry out their activity with greater ease. Every two months they also replace their molds, donating old ones to their neighbors in a form of gypsum blocks. These blocks are crushed and used to fill the streets or improve public spaces.
Their products have been showcased at various promotional events both in the Sierra Gorda and in Santiago de Querétaro where they have been well accepted by the public.
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