‘Urban lifestyle, economics affects terracotta potters, not studio pottery’

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New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) Studio pottery, an individualistic craft that emerged in India only in the 1950s, is not a threat to the traditional terracotta potters, whose skill is displaced more by an urbanising society and its economics, pottery collector and Delhi Blue Pottery Trust trustee Anuradha Ravindranath said ahead of her exhibition here.

A prolific collector since her early teens, 65-year-old Ravindranath has seen the evolution of Indian studio pottery from close quarters, and will exhibit 115 select pieces from her collection — running into several hundreds — at the Triveni Kala Sangam here from Friday.

For a country like India, where traditional potters form the core of the genre, the evolution of studio pottery was slow, but has picked pace in the changing urban landscape, she said.

“Sardar Gurcharan Singh, often hailed as the father of India’s studio pottery, trained in Japan and started in 1952. He is one of the pioneer potters of India. Till 1970s, our studio potters, however less they were, stuck to classical forms like bowls, vases, dishes,” Ravindranath told IANS, tracing the history of the craft.

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“In the 1980s or even later, there was experimentation and a slow penetration of the sculptural form in studio pottery, which is freer,” the pottery enthusiast said.

What is the difference between studio and traditional pottery?

“The primary difference is that of the firing process. The additives used in the clay body of terracotta make it only eligible for a low temperature firing. However, in stoneware and porcelain (often used in studios), the firing is high, and the products are glazed, making them non-porous and ‘pukka’.”

Porcelain is also a very white clay, something rarely found in India, which is why it’s imported, she added.

Another important demarcation is that of the social mapping of potters.

While singular studio potters usually come from the city and have a certain social capital at their disposal, often for traditional potters, the craft is not their choosing and is often caste-based and collective.

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“Although things are changing, and now children resist taking up pottery, traditional potters are born into the profession. There isn’t, however, a caste angle to studio potters,” Ravindranath, who has co-authored “Pottery and the Legacy of Sardar Gurcharan Singh” (1998) explained.

A changing, urban demographic, which has “good jobs and good earning”, also makes for an easy market for studio potters.

Things, however, seem bleak for traditional potters, as their craft is increasingly falling out of use.

“Terracotta is not facing threats from the studio pottery, but from the social and economic atmosphere. It’s not being absorbed on a large scale. There’s no outlet.

“Villages are getting squashed; urbanisation is happening. The village potter automatically suffers. People are buying more of metal, glass, and plastic. The clay-based lifestyle is changing — you can’t store or cook in it that much. It’s not a necessity now. That’s what is killing terracotta.”

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Ravindranath, however, sees a silver lining as she talked of boundaries blurring.

“Many studio potters now work with terracotta. Gurcharan Singh’s son, Mansimran, runs a Pottery and Crafts Society in a Himachal Pradesh village, Andretta, where he works with glazed terracotta with local artisans. What would you call that?”

Starting Friday, her exhibition “Amaranthine” will run till November 10.

–IANS

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