Accepted Paper:

Purposes and possibilities of the "Museum of Chorotega Ceramics" in San Vicente de Nicoya, Costa Rica  


Jim Weil

Paper Short Abstract:

A Costa Rican community museum has not yet fulfilled its potential in presenting the local ceramic tradition and has drawn few visitors. More attention to intangibles - skills embodied in the revival of ancient techniques and designs - may counter a shift to the production of simpler souvenirs.

Paper long abstract:

First proposed in the early 1990s and finally opened in 2007, the "Museo de la Ceramica Chorotega" in a village on Costa Rican´s Nicoya Peninsula has been slow in fulfillingº the vision of its creators. Attracting visitors to buy ceramics has been a primary motivation since the beginning. Local ceramic artisans, other residents of the community and surrounding area, representatives of governmental and non-governmental agencies (international as well as national), and a wide range of interested individuals have participated in the process. Earlier visitors in the late-1960s finding only housewares and a few simple decorative pieces such as piggy banks, urged the artisans to recreate the ancestral styles—complex forms with abstract polychrome iconography—that had disappeared four centuries earlier, soon after the Spanish conquest. By the end of the twentieth century, when numerous skilled artisans had rediscovered and perfected the necessary techniques, the rise of mass tourism shifted the market emphasis to relatively simple souvenirs at relatively low prices. Furthermore, the museum has drawn few visitors. The analysis offered by this paper considers how greater participation by archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers in the further development of the museum can help create exhibits and programs that more effectively convey the intangible culture of embodied skills and deeply experiential memories of the senior artisans. Otherwise, beyond the span of their lives, the potential of the museum—to educate and inspire future generations of the regional population as well as draw more appreciative visitors—may not be realized.

Panel P094
Re-imagining ethnological museums: new approaches to developing the museum as a place of multi-lateral contacts and knowledge (Commission on Museums and Cultural Heritage)