Throwing at Mitraniketan’s Pottery Unit

We travel in pursuit of experiencing cultural influences and traditions on local pottery so that we can learn and develop through these impressions. Mitraniketan’s pottery unit is a traditional Indian pottery and one we were on the lookout to visit.

The pottery produces terra-cotta wares for daily Indian life such as drinking water tanks, food storage jars, oil lamps, serving dishes, religious ceremony items and little artistic pieces such as lamp shades and wind chimes. For over a year, they have had regular orders from the state government of Kerala, for an in-house compost system. The compost system comprises of three pots, two of which have holes in their bases, placed on top of each other and covered with a lid. Household bio waste is deposited in the upper most pot and sprinkled with a chemical mixture. Eventually the compost fertilizer will collect in the base pot, ready for use. It’s a brilliant initiative and we are impressed that the state government is providing eco-friendly, sustainable, solutions for people.

Anil, the master potter, can throw one of these large pots in under 2 minutes: yes, we timed him in awe. And so, despite the monumental task he takes it easy. Every morning he throws 30 such pots and then goes about his artistic work (mainly sculpting) with leisure, while the women do the trimming and finishing of yesterday’s pots. It’s a smooth system. We knew watching him work that we had much to learn from here.

We were fortunate to experience one entire cycle: from clay making, to pot making, then firing the big kiln and finally for a little fun, black firing. Most days we helped with the daily tasks around the studio and after lunch had personal wheel time for 1-2 hours. Anil took it on himself to teach us throwing, especially to teach Yannick the very basics of centring and pulling-up. Anil himself has been throwing for over 30 years and it comes with no surprise when you witness how the clay flows in his hands. However, being talented doesn’t automatically mean one is a good teacher but Anil is. Mostly Anil would allow us to practice without interfering but intuitively he was always present at the right moment, offering a tip or hand position. We marvelled at how in a mere 10 days Anil had managed to teach Yannick how to centre and pull-up. But Anil was equally impressed with Yannick’s ability to learn and there was much fawning over his prodigy student.

We had been wholly adopted by the pottery team and the larger rural technology family. They are a hilarious bunch of comic characters. Despite all language barriers, many conversations and laughs were shared and with the regular power cuts, we had plenty opportunity for snacking and joking. Our initial shy hesitation had been quickly dissolved.

On our last day at the pottery unit, Anil’s wife prepared us some delicious biryani and we feasted all together. We were touched. Before leaving Anil gave us the name of a famous potter he learnt from based in the Ernakulam district who could be of interest to us. We are going to visit the Biennale next and perhaps hunt for this potter named Jayan.

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