By Elaine Hou, CNA staff reporter 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." The Honduran artists came away from the visit with a clearer idea of how to develop a creative and cultural-oriented pottery industry that brings added value to basic ceramic techniques. Jorge Arturo Herrera Navarrez, a member of the association, said his group of artists realized that to achieve their vision of a niche industry, they needed to bring greater creativity and something unique to their works, and they saw Yingge as a good model to emulate. The Corporate Synergy Development Center helped with the process. The center, and the center's consultant who was responsible for the project until the end of 2013, Laurencio Chen, encouraged the artists to infuse their products with more Honduran cultural characteristics while improving their firing techniques. According to Chen, one approach has been to add images and characteristics associated with Mayan culture because Honduras is one of the areas where Mayan civilization originated. Another wrinkle, he said, has been to make products with an angel theme to reflect the name of the town, which means "valley of angels." In addition, to help improve the quality of the pottery produced by the Honduran artisans, Taiwan sent automatic machinery and equipment to the town, including electric potters' wheels and an electric kiln. "The machinery and equipment have significantly increased the volume of items they can produce per day," Chen said. After two years of effort that also focused on marketing strategies, Chen said he was happy to see that the program had brought clear benefits to the community, to the point that Honduras has asked the program to be extended for a third year to the end of 2014. The focus of the program this year, which will be managed by Taiwan's International Cooperation and Development Fund, will be to establish a flagship complex showcasing the pottery sector in Valle de Angeles. The complex, Chen said, will include a ceramics factory and an area to display the creations of local artists. Supported by the new facility, the Honduran artists will continue to focus on developing signature products that they believe will help attract more tourists to the town. "We hope to create pottery of a quality as good as that made in Taiwan," Salgado said.