I began teaching in 1975, at first through an apprenticeship program. Then, when the apprentices left to start workshops of their own, I started teaching local villagers who were looking for long-term employment and would be more likely to stay with us. Finally, in 1983, I opened the teaching program to greater India, taking four students a year for an intense seven-month course which begins with mixing clay and working on the wheel and ends with glazing and firing in a twenty cubic foot wood-fired kiln.
Looking at this now, I see that those three quite different teaching approaches have each had far-reaching and distinct consequences. The early apprentices are all still working in the Pondicherry area, training, employing and expanding the ceramic production base in workshops that they began twenty years ago. Pondicherry has become known as a center of pottery production. There has been a steady organic growth in the community of potteries as workers with entrepreneurial capacity split off from the parent workshops to establish their own small production potteries, often employing more workers and producing more than we ever have. And the students, drawn from the educated middle and upper middle classes, have generally set up small studios in their own hometowns across India to work for exhibition.
In our seven-month course I have always concentrated on clay—from slaking, mixing, and drying to wedging and throwing. An immersion. A kind of baptism in matter in a country where the well educated rarely work with their hands. Clay begs for intimacy. On the wheel one is virtually inside the material, simultaneously forming space, volume and mass. Students in India need to know that clay work can be more than a hobby. The course is aimed at those who at least think they want to be professional potters and/or artists. The emphasis is on technique—to develop confidence—so that students can build studios or train further abroad, often taking advantage of Charles Wallace grants to study in the UK or the Fulbright in India program for the US.
The Golden Bridge Pottery is a production pottery and I use the wheel and the pot as the focus for teaching. In 1997 we began a series of workshops with artists/educators to bring contemporary ceramic trends to Indian artists. Susan Peterson began the series with a three-week workshop on glaze formulation. With twenty-five participants from the four corners of the country it was a great success. Since then we have had a two-week workshop every January with artists including Jim Danisch, Mike Dodd, Jane Perryman, Sandy Brown, Betty Woodman, Jeff Shapiro, Jack Troy and Tim Rowan.
Often the students that come to Pondicherry are experiencing independence from family life for the first time, and learning to cook and ride a bicycle can be concomitant to learning to throw a pot. There is very little support in India for the studio potter. The heavy clay industry is well developed. Sanitary ware and vitrified floor tile are big business. Everything is available, but getting material in lots of less than ten tons can be difficult. We find ourselves designing studios, making wheels, building and firing kilns, testing clays and in general lending support to a fairly large and growing extended family. Teaching has been central to our life in India. It has broadened and deepened our experience here and brought us much closer to this extraordinary country in a very special way.