In the Sacred Valley, nestled between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, Pablo Seminario is surrounded by mountains dotted with alpacas, larger-than-life waterfalls, and, most importantly for the artist, plenty of red clay. This clay, and the land that provides it, are at the heart of all of the Peruvian pottery Pablo makes. His studio in Urubamba is an ode to the earth, with ceramic creations that range from towering arrowhead sculptures to teacups and saucers.
“My way of life is very attached to the earth. When I was a child, I didn’t like to wear shoes. I grew up walking with my bare feet on the ground,” says Pablo. “Working with clay allows me to bring the earth, and the ground, back to life.”
His passion for Peruvian pottery began more than 40 years ago, when he first dug into the history and traditions of the ancient Peruvians, who primarily used clay to create their art. And if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for Pablo Seminario. By fusing different techniques together from many of these ancient cultures, he carved out his own ceramic style, now known as the eponymous Seminario style.
Even though the inspiration for this art form began many thousands of years ago, it’s definitely not ancient history. Pablo and his wife, painter Marilú Behar, are dedicated to sharing this uniquely Peruvian tradition with visitors from around the world, including EF travelers. They believe that the best way to truly experience a culture is with a paintbrush in hand—preferably in hands that are also covered in clay.
Students who visit their workshop during an EF tour learn that world-renowned art isn’t just something found inside the confines of the Louvre or the Accademia. It can also be found here, in this quiet valley. They get to see Peru in a larger context: not just as the home of Machu Picchu and other Incan landmarks, but as a major art hub in its own right. And students become part of this artistic community during a tile-making workshop, where they carve, paint, and glaze Peruvian pottery alongside local artisans who work with the Seminario family.
When we asked Pablo why he felt it was important to share his craft with travelers, he gave us an answer we didn’t expect—that these workshops make just as much of an impact on the artisans who lead them as they do on their student participants. At first, says Pablo, “the locals were surprised to see that America is a mix of cultures and nations. But they began to understand the world in different ways.”
Pablo has always used his art to support his community. When the Seminario family first came to the Sacred Valley town of Urubamba, the locals mostly made their living selling potatoes. The concept of health insurance or steady work was just as foreign as American visitors. But thanks to revenue earned from travelers visiting the workshop, Pablo and Marilú now have more than 50 locals-turned-artists who work with them. They’ve seen their employees buy homes for their families. They’ve seen those artisans’ kids grow up—quite literally, as the workshop often doubled as a daycare—and go to college. And they’ve seen their community make this art their own.
“My last name is Seminario, and right now, people know this work as the Seminario style. But the name of this town is Urubamba, and in the future, I hope it will be known as the Urubamba style,” says Pablo.
Because for Pablo, his life’s work always comes back to the people, the town, and the land. The land that still gives them everything they need: food and water to survive, and clay to create. Even as our conversation winds to a close, Pablo is reminded of a time, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when Peru hit hard times but the land sustained his family with crops like potatoes and corn, milk from the local cows, and water from the nearby stream. “We lived for more than 10 years without tap water, electricity, TV, or phones,” says Pablo. “But we were happy. At night, we looked at the sky, we looked at the stars, and we dreamt.”