Friday, May 31st.—To-day I indulged myself with a walk which I had been wishing to take for some days, to an obscure portion of the Almendral, called the Rincona, or nook, I suppose because it is in a little corner formed by two projecting hills. My object in going thither was to see the manufactory of coarse pottery, which I supposed to be established there, because I was told that the ollas, or jars, for cooking and carrying water, the earthen lamps, and the earthen brassiers, were all made there. On quitting the straight street of the Almendral, a little beyond the rivulet that divides it from my hill, I turned into a lane, the middle of which is channelled by a little stream which falls from the hills behind the Rincona, and after being subdivided and led through many a garden and field, finds its way much diminished to the sand of the Almendral where it is lost. Following the direction, though not adhering to the course of the rill, I found the Rincona beyond some ruined but thick walls […] I looked round in vain for any thing large enough either to be a manufactory, or even to contain the necessary furnaces for baking the pottery; nevertheless I passed many huts, at the doors of which I saw jars and dishes set out for sale, and concluded that these were the huts of the inferior workmen. However on advancing a little farther I found that I must look for no regular manufactory, no division of labour, no machinery, not even the potter’s wheel, none of the aids to industry which I had conceived almost indispensable to a trade so artificial as that of making earthenware. At the door of one of the poorest huts, formed merely of branches and covered with long grass, having a hide for a door, sat a family of manufacturers. They were seated on sheep-skins spread under the shade of a little penthouse formed of green boughs, at their work. A mass of clay ready tempered* lay before them, and each person according to age and ability was forming jars, plates, or dishes. The work-people were all women, and I believe that no man condescends to employ himself in this way, that is, in making the small ware: the large wine jars, &c. of Melipilla are made by men. As the shortest way of learning is to mix at once with those we wish to learn from, I seated myself on the sheep-skin and began to work too, imitating as I could a little girl who was making a simple saucer. The old woman who seemed the chief directress, looked at me very gravely, and then took my work and showed me how to begin it anew, and work its shape aright. All this, to be sure, I might have guessed at; but the secret I wanted to learn, was the art of polishing the clay, for it is not rendered shining by any of the glazing processes I have seen; therefore I waited patiently and worked at my dish till it was ready. Then the old woman put her hand into a leathern pocket which she wore in front, and drew out a smooth shell, with which she first formed the edges and borders anew; and then rubbed it, first gently, and, as the clay hardened, with greater force, dipping the shell occasionally in water, all over the surface, until a perfect polish was produced, and the vessel was set to dry in the shade.
Sometimes the earthenware so prepared is baked in large ovens constructed on purpose; but as often, the holes in the side of the hill, whence the clay has been dug, or rather scraped with the hands, serve for this purpose. The wood chiefly used for these simple furnaces is the espinella or small thorn, not at all the same as the espina or common firewood of the country, which is the mimosa, whose flowers are highly aromatic. The espinella has more the appearance of a thorny coronilla. It is said to make the most ardent fire of any of the native woods. The pottery here is only for the most ordinary utensils; but I have seen some jars from Melipilla and Penco which in shape and workmanship might pass for Etruscan. These are sometimes sold for as high prices as fifty dollars, and are used for holding water. They are ornamented with streaks, and various patterns, in white and red clay, where the ground is black; and where it is red or brown, with black and white. Some of the red jars have these ornaments of a shining substance that looks like gold dust, which is, I believe, clay having pyrites of iron; and many have grotesque heads, with imitations of human arms for handles, and ornaments indented on them; but, excepting in the forming of the heads and arms, I do not recollect any Chileno vase with raised decorations. **
* The clay is very fine and smooth, and found about nine inches or a foot from the surface; it requires little tempering, and is free from extraneous matter; the women knead it with their hands.
** On the Peruvian vases procured from the tombs, there are many and various patterns in relief; but I have not seen any modern Peruvian pottery.
Valparaiso, Chile, 1822
Source: Maria Graham (Lady Calcott), A Journal of a Residence in Chile, A. And R. Spottiswoode, London, 1824