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India - Steeped in Tradition

Article by Liz Berry


In March, a few of us were fortunate to participate in a ‘test run’ adventure to India, organised by CAAWA committee members Japneet Keith and Katrina Rogers. It was a tremendous success, and we were so grateful for Kat’s very organised itinerary and Japneet’s local knowledge, contacts and, most of all, language!!


NEW DELHI

The bustling capital of India, renowned for its historical monuments, vibrant markets and, of course, Delhi belly. On the outskirts of the city are hidden gems rich in the tradition of pottery, and we were lucky to spend the day at one.


Whilst walking the backstreets and admiring beautiful ornate doorways and buildings, we were invited into the traditional home of a local resident (well there were 12 westerners hanging around and admiring her front door), so she stuck her head out to see what was going on. After learning that we were potters, we were invited into her home and up onto the roof. From here, we could look out over the neighbourhood and observe the day-to-day life of these village potters and the processes that went on. Thrown pots were being moved to the sunny side of the street for drying, and women were stacking sticks and wood on roofs ready for the next pit firing; women were also pounding clumps of clay into small particles and dropping them in barrels to soak while others were using their feet to mix the clay ingredients ready for throwing. This is their job. The men get to throw and make the pots!


After soaking up the view, we walked back downstairs onto the street and around the corner to a throwing yard. The wheel was in the back corner and surrounded by the morning’s work, all stacked on the ground. There was just enough room for the potter to squat by his wheel and throw a mound of clay.


Most of the pots we observed being thrown were all done off the hump. The arrival of a group of foreigners and the village leader didn’t disturb him too much, and he was more than happy to show us how it was done. He even let us have a go, after which we were even more impressed with his skills!


By this stage, word had gotten around the village that we were here and had quite a few groupies follow us to the next stop – decorating. After the pots have dried, the women are given the job of decorating. Pots are stacked on top of each other in towers of three or four. The women then brush on the designs in lime slip and coloured slips while spinning the pots on a makeshift banding wheel – a shard from broken pottery.


Pots are then fired in pits that are situated on roofs or any vacant land. The green pots are stacked into a pile and covered with cow pats, sticks, and wood and enclosed with broken pieces of pots. The pile is then lit and left.


Next, we were off to visit various studios in Delhi of established potters, some in basements of apartment blocks, some on rooftops. There was so much diversity, but the one thing they all had in common was their amazing hospitality. There was food laid on for us at every studio we visited. Such warmth and generosity will always be remembered.


Another highlight was the Sanskriti Museum, set on 5 acres of beautiful garden, that consists of three museums namely Everyday Art of India, Indian Terracotta and Indian Textiles. The museum was set up to preserve and nurture the creative vitality of Indian art and culture. There is also a fully equipped ceramic centre which at one time had residency programmes for artists and writers.


AGRA

Our time in Agra was mainly to see the Taj Mahal, which has inspired many of us with its detailed patterns and architecture. However, while at our hotel, we were fortunate to experience a village potter who had come to the foyer to display his skill.


He had a fly-wheel which has to be one of the simplest and most functional inventions. It is two to three feet in diameter. The clay is heaped in the centre of the wheel, and the potter squats down on the ground before it. A few vigorous turns with a stick and away spins the wheel, round and round, like a ‘spinning’ top. The potter, throwing off the hump, made small bowls, money jars and water jars. Some of us were able to have a turn and realised it wasn’t as easy as it looked!


JAIPUR

Heading west to Jaipur, our pottery excursion took us to the Blue Pottery studio, which is widely recognised as a traditional craft of Jaipur and named for its eye-catching cobalt blue dye. The pottery is made using Egyptian paste and dough obtained by blending quartz stone powder, powdered glass Multani Mitti, boraz, gum and water, no clay! It is then fired at a very low temperature making the pots brittle and fragile, but beautiful.


Another day out at a remote pottery village in Panwaliye. We were shown a technique for making water pots by throwing small, thick-walled jars off the hump and then sitting and using a paddle, beating them out to create large rounded pots using local clay that is very rich in Mica so the finished pots have a lovely golden colour. They made it look so easy! But then, they have been doing it this way for centuries!


Our last visit of the tour was to a small village to visit production potter/sculptor Keshari Nandan at his studio, ‘DrishtiVaak’. Keshari was working on a series of sculptures made by throwing large pots on the wheel and then cutting them and joining different walls together. An interesting technique creating a whole new form.

We all learned and took away so many experiences and memories.

Can’t wait to return!!


This trip was, as mentioned, designed as a ‘test run’ with a view to organising similar pottery trips back to India and other places such as Japan and Indonesia. Overall the trip was a great success, so watch this space for further adventures.


If you would like further information on future trips, please feel free to contact Katrina by email at katemike@iinet.net.au


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