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Global Gifts: Artisan stories from Peru 

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click to enlarge Zoila Davila
  • Zoila Davila

Zoila Davila and Ruth Palomino

Zoila and Ruth are two ceramicists in Villa El Salvador, a neighborhood on the far south side of Lima: a mother and daughter, each with her own workshop, living side by side.

Zoila learned how to form and fire ceramic figurines out of necessity when her husband abandoned her with no means of supporting their three children, ages 12, 6, and 2. She didn't have any skills for a trade and sold little treats on the beach to get by. One of her friends did ceramics and Zoila thought, if she needed to learn something to make a living, why not learn ceramics? But her friend was reluctant to teach her, so Zoila hung around and attempted to learn by quietly watching her friend. Then she went home and tried to replicate her work. It took her a full year of trial and error before she produced a piece she was satisfied with.

Her kids grew up in the workshop and each had their responsibilities. Ruth, the oldest, used her creative flair and vast imagination to design the pieces. Oscar, the middle child, painted the detail work. Clara, the youngest, helped Zoila form the clay and paint the background colors. And so they survived.

They moved around the southern districts of Lima frequently but finally secured their own land about 15 years ago, a small plot in Villa El Salvador. It's not far from the beach; the ocean is on the other side of a huge sand dune and across the Panamerican Highway. Now Villa El Salvador is a large district but it started as a land invasion in 1971.

As her children got older, they continued helping Zoila in the business but also began following their own pursuits. Ruth, now 36, opened her own ceramics workshop seven years ago, and loves any kind of artistic expression, from painting to designing carpets of flower petals for the local Good Friday processions.

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