Deborah Smith

Much has changed for the ceramic artist in South India since 1971, when Ray Meeker and I set out on bicycles in the heat of May to look for clay. There was no such thing as a ceramic artist in Pondicherry in those days. Village potters, yes, hand-crafting traditional terracotta vessels and votive sculptures, large and small, but not high-temperature glazed ceramics. It took us a while to get started, since before making any product, we made our first little workroom and kiln, and these also by hand. By the mid-seventies, we were making cups and bowls and vases. The first time I approached a shop, thinking to put a few vases made by Ray alongside the bronze images on sale there, the proprietor took one look and told me, “You’ll never sell those!”
Today almost every boutique in Pondicherry offers ceramics, sourced from among more than twenty workshops in Pondicherry, Auroville and the villages beyond. Ceramic artists work alone or alongside local craftsmen, and village entrepreneurs churn out whatever the customer wants. Within our community of potters, bisqueware can be outsourced, designs copied, clay made to order and equipment too. Skilled workers are in demand.
Small art galleries feature ceramic shows and municipal craft fairs host displays of kiln-fired handmade tablewares. Potters’ markets have sprung up. This year Auroville has hosted its first, with three dozen vendors, at the peak of the tourist season.
From Golden Bridge Pottery’s hands-on course, students have spread out far and wide to exhibitions, workshops and residencies in India and abroad—in Nepal, Bhutan, Singapore, Bali, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, U.S.A., Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Australia. . . .
In turn, ceramists from abroad are coming here to participate in a wide roster of events, bringing us new knowledge of clays and kilns, glazing and firing, forming and finishing, and bringing us new fruitful, friendships. They return home with the wealth of experience that is any visit to India.
InKo Centre in Chennai is a leader in fostering this exchange.

Deborah Smith
Golden Bridge Pottery
January 2015

Catalog essay for INKO Connect, Chennai 2015.