One of the most interesting aspects of cruising is learning about the art forms of other cultures and how they relate to the sea. Maria Esther Galban is just such an artist; her relationship with the sea provides the focus and inspiration for many of her designs and sculptures in clay, as ceramics and pottery, or in glass and enamel as earrings and necklaces.
Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Maria attended private schools in Puerto la Cruz. On her mother’s side there were artist musicians; she received her love of the water from the family home located across from the sea in front of Isla de Plata, a village with three communal boats for children to use. At 17 she was sent to a private school in England to learn English. In the mid 70s Maria studied at the University of Zulia, in the western part of Venezuela, where there was a bilingual pre-school with children of the Wayuü Indian ethnic group. This is where she began her love affair with ceramics.
Maria then moved to Caracas where she continued her studies in ceramics with Carlos Runcie Tanaka, Maruja Herrera, Michael Mason and Randy Johnston, all internationally known in their fields. She studied Rakú with David Norton and utilitarian ceramics with David Leach (Father of Modern Pottery) and Warren McKenzie. She also studied Art and Ceramics in the Julio Arraga School of Maracaibo, the Cristobal Rojas School in Caracas, the School Fine Arts in Caracas and the Institute of Design. She became a member of the Venezuelan Association for Fire Arts. Exhibiting her ceramics in the early 80s, Maria developed quite a following and has had many exhibitions of her work both in Venezuela and internationally.
In 1988 she installed her studio and gallery, TAI Ceramics, in Los Altos, an artists’ community east of Puerto la Cruz, carrying each brick, recycling from the industrial kiln cement factory 9 km away, up the mountain to her home where she has continually added onto her land.
Maria has three wheels – a kick wheel, a David Leach wheel and an electric wheel – and the kick wheel is her favorite. She also has three kilns for ceramics – one electric kiln that fires earthenware to bisque at 900 Centigrade and two kilns using propane gas that fire up to 1,280 Centigrade. She normally fires over 50 items at a time that are of normal size.
Maria also specializes in glass and enamel jewelry, which is exquisite. For this she has two small electric kilns. Her jewelry requires as many firings as it takes until she is pleased with the piece. “Designing jewelry is fun for me. I get lost in the creative process – I like working, as well as cooking with my hands – everything I do is with my hands. I love for my jewelry to be seen on my friends and cruisers; fortunately they enjoy wearing my designs.”
“The sea is my mentor and plays a very important role in my designs and creations. Some of my most successful ceramics are of sea creatures and fish. I designed and created, in four castings, a 12-foot Iguana that still resides outside of my studio.” Her plates with crabs, fish, frogs and mermaids are very popular among cruisers as they are perfect for an informal life style – dips and pot-luck dinners.
Maria’s two children are among her greatest fans. “Juan Pablo, the father of my granddaughter, is 23 and lives in Barcelona, Spain, where he is an artist/actor. Maria Ines is 28 and is an interior designer in California; she has just presented me with my first grandson.” Getting to know Maria Esther has been one of the highlights of my cruising. Whenever I want a natural “up” I visit her studio as she always welcomes cruisers and is a natural diplomat for her country.
Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 22 years. She holds an MA Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.