Who knew Central American ceramics could be so shocking?
Ilobasco is a tiny craft town 54 kilometres east of the El Salvador capital, San Salvador.
The town is famous for its sopresas (surprises), tiny ceramic scenes and characters hidden under egg-shaped shells.
The shells are about the size of a walnut and can be designed as apples, oranges – anything round. They are lifted off a base to reveal a ‘surprise’, usually a scene of village life.
Somewhere along the line, however, an entrepreneurial potter came up with the idea of replacing the typical village scene with a naked couple indulging in carnal delights.
They were called pícara sorpresas (sinful surprises) and they sold like hotcakes.
Naturally, the local priest was not amused and after marshalling the reactionary and prudish forces in the village succeeded in driving the pícara off the shelves and under the counter.
I visited Ilobasco when I travelled around Central America for my book, The Full Montezuma.
I was keen to if you could still buy these sinful sorpresas. After mortally offending the town’s more conservative ceramicists, I was introduced to Maria.
Maria, lived in a small, whitewashed house on the outskirts of town. Her workshop and furnace were out the back of the house and after showing me how she made her treasures, she lined up a dozen of them for me to pick one to buy.
I chose a chaste bride with a couple in what can be best described as a ‘honeymoon’ position underneath her skirt.
A little embarrassed, I asked Maria how many other people make pícaras in Ilobasco.
‘Me, Catarina, Angeline, Natalia and Juanita,’ she said, counting them off on her hand. ‘Cinco!‘
‘Five!’ I repeat. ‘And all señioritas!’
She laughed. ‘Si!’