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September 21, 2017

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Niche pottery industry unites Taiwan, Honduras

Taiwan and Honduras may be nearly 15,000 kilometers apart, but people in the two countries have been pulled together by their passion for pottery and their interest in developing a niche industry around the craft.

The long-distance collaboration got its start when senior Honduran officials visiting Taiwan in 2010 came away highly impressed by Yingge, a town in New Taipei with a celebrated ceramics tradition that has made it a top tourist draw.

Located in northern Taiwan, Yingge houses numerous shops and factories offering a dazzling range of ceramics, from vases and teapots to tableware, decorative fountains and works of art.

Following the visit of the Honduran officials, Taiwan and Honduras launched a two-year "one town, one product" project in 2011 to help artists in Valle de Angeles, a pottery center in southern Honduras, improve the quality of their products and increase production.

The Taipei-based Corporate Synergy Development Center, which operates similar "one town, one product" programs in communities around Taiwan, was commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to carry out the program — Taiwan's first foreign aid project focusing on the development of a niche cultural and creative industry.

As part of the program, six artists from Valle de Angeles visited Taiwan in September 2013 to see firsthand Yingge's thriving ceramics sector and learn more about advanced production techniques.

Ciriaco Ramon Salgado Salgado, the head of the Potters Association of Valle de Angeles, told CNA at the time that he was most impressed by the innovation shown in the objects made by Taiwan's craftsmen.

He cited as an example a product he saw during a tour of Shin Tay Yuan Art Studio in Yingge that appeared to be bamboo trees but turned out to be made of clay.

During the tour, veteran pottery artist Lin Sung-pen explained to the group of Honduran artists how the products on display were made.

The Honduran artists later visited another ceramics tourism factory, Shu's Pottery, that gives visitors the chance to experience the fun of pottery-making.

The decades-old company is typical of the evolution seen among Yingge companies. Starting as a producer of ceramic bowls and tiles, it had to reinvent itself when faced with stiff price competition for low-cost commodities and has since become a ceramics brand showcasing modern, innovative designs.

Lin Ken-cheng, a master craftsman at Shu's Pottery who is in his 80s, explained to his Honduran counterparts the company's evolution and the importance of "preserving the pottery industry and then nurturing it."

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