From Hatton we traveled north to Kandy with the old British locomotive route once more. It is a pleasant little hilly city but our agenda was to travel outside of the city to its local pottery community living in Molagoda.
As we journeyed west on a local bus headed to Colombo we began to see, with increasing frequency, terracotta wares displayed in shops lining either side of the road. We were approaching Molagoda. Feeling impatient we jumped off the bus and proceeded to speak to the shop owners about the terracotta products. They directed us to continue walking a kilometer further down the road. There we found the Budamawatta Waththegammedda Ornamental Pottery Production Village, a National Crafts Council initiative. All the multitude of terracotta shops along the road sell wares produced here: it’s impressive.
We entered the first studio space we spotted and the potter jumped to greet us. When he realised our interest in the making process he kindly began by demonstrating his skills on the standing kick wheel. This was yet another new form of manual wheel we encountered on our journey. Needless to say, we tried our hand at the standing kick wheel and found it is not as simple as it looks. At first attempt it is hard to coordinate the two separate movements of your hands and foot: there’s a rhythm to this wheel that needs learning.
At this facility they primarily make large decorative items such as vases. The vase we saw in the making was thrown in three parts on the standing kick wheel. After it becomes leather hard, a layer of fine slip made from finer clay than the clay body itself is applied on top. Perhaps this is to avoid having to use finer quality clay and still have pieces with a smooth finish. The slip is allowed to dry before polishing: when the slip loses its wet shine it is considered dry enough for polishing.
The potter centered the vase on the wheel head and then with a simple self-made hard plastic tool began rubbing the surface. Simultaneously in his left hand he held a regular thin plastic bag. With both the plastic bag and the hard plastic tool rubbing the surface of the vase it soon began to transform into a smooth shiny finish. This satin finish is an important part of the finishing aesthetic of the piece. None of the work is glazed at this facility and thus the polishing is a critical step in the end result of the products.
The completed vases were decorated with beautiful intricate carvings typical to traditional Sri Lankan art.
We then inquired about their firing process and a moment later we were being ushered outside to an individual shed where we came across a surprising beauty of a kiln. Totally unexpected, standing before us was a hill-climbing kiln, a multi-chamber, Noborigama style wood kiln, with a frontal firebox and side stoking holes. We marveled in delight at our first sighting of such a kiln.
This kiln is efficient to fire: the lowest chamber is stoked first. The hot air from the first chamber passes through to the upper chambers and heats them, allowing the potter to utilize all of the excess heat that would dissipate from a regular kiln. It was a sweet surprise to find a kiln such as this and we wished we had the chance to see her in action: future goals!