Back in Australia

I have now been back in Australia for nearly 2 weeks. Finally, it seems my consciousness has reconected with my body and I am enjoying being back, working in the tin shed at Tallarook.

The last week in Delhi was hectic but fruitful, the major achivement being to deliver Stacks in Balance to it’s permanent home at the Crafts Museum.

Peter and I had a short stay in Agra ( with a view of the Taj Mahal from room window) where I wrote the following

       

 

 

 

 

   A room with a view.

 

 

 

 

The full throwing story

The  journey of reprogramming  my potters practice from ‘single piece throwing’ to ‘throwing off the hump’ by the traditional Indian potters techniques in the  family workshop  of Manohar Lal ( Manori) and Karlo Devi;  oldest son Pappy and wife Anju , children Nisha 4 and  Yogesh 1; middle son Jugdish and wife Pooja, children, Lokesh 3 and Lilum , and youngest son Kushi Ram in Kumhaargram, Vikas Nagar New Delhi. February, March, April 2012

 To begin, find the right height ‘stool’ to face the 2 speed, low electric wheel. One of the Rajasthani  low cane stool is just right, and comfortable.

  Have someone wedge the prepared clay to ensure, the clay pounded from clods, slaked overnight and then gathered and mixed by foot is consistent.  I recycle most of the small pieces I throw therefore I make little impact on the large amount of clay the family had prepared for me.  The clay was soft and easy to throw but the many small stones presented challenges.  Although I try to participate in this wedging process, as the clay is a large amount I am happy to have them do it and figure ‘at home’ I will have to do it. They also think it is inappropriate for me to do this work as it is for cleaning my work area or washing the towel I use at the end of a day.

 

Manori usually wedged the clay and then centred this approx 4kg amount, in one movement, with the wheel on fastest speed, it was only on the last days throwing I successfully achieved this initial centring, someone was always there to do it for me, once again I am thinking, at home I would probably start with about 2 kg that I could manage to roughly centre.

 

First challenge; to master the open ended cutting thread, a short length, approx 15cm of thick cotton thread  with a small piece of cane/matchstick on one end. It is difficult to verbalize this process, but an awareness of the right spot to place the thread, held between thumb and pointer Jugdish insisted, and let the rotation of the wheel pull the thread through the clay to make a flat bottom came after a time as practice of the various throwing movements came together.

 Second challenge; was to lift the piece from the hump after cutting and place it for drying, if the piece was too fine it could collapse, I was aiming for the thickness to successfully lift and place the piece but minimise turning.

 First throwing and cutting attempts prompted Manori to render some assistance.  For a short while he threw the small lamp, made in the lakhs (100,000) in the village and I cut and placed the piece as I had seen throughout the village over the years, to be actually doing this team throwing was very satisfying. However the very crude cup forms I then went on to make was less than satisfying. After years of making refined forms in my previous throwing, it seems regressive to be only able to make something very rudimentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Team Throwing with Manori

 on my first day on the wheel

I aimed to sit and throw daily, to develop some rhythms that would  become second nature as I had observed in the work of potters in the village, how optimistic in the space of 3 months where they have has a lifetime to develop these skills. My intention was to be able achieve consistently 2 sizes of  beakers and bowls.

Practice; After getting an idea of some, new to me, basic throwing techniques, opening out the clay, working from the far side with two hands engaged, in the bringing up/out I established a routine for my throwing. In each throwing session, one hump of clay, I would concentrate on one shape, trying to find the pattern in minimal movements that would result in consistent  shapes. It was a luxury to have clay at hand to make and recycle endlessly and not to have to have an outcome. However there were frustrations,  e.g consistently doing that which ended with the clay tearing near the base, subtle changes  in pressure and movements ended in being able to make small dishes and beakers I was happy with. However the shapes were still relatively ‘uninteresting’. At the end of most days work I would photograph the collection, choose a few to keep for firing, impress my thumbprint as a signature and with a piece of cane  write the date and later draw /describe the newly discovered movements.

 

 

 

Jugdish offering some advise

 

 

 The Location On my way to and from Manori’s and other meanerings around Kumhaargram I was able to watch many potters making what I had come to know as ‘use and throw’ items, ranging from the tiny diya (lamps), beakers for chai, lassi and icecreams to larger cooking pots with lids made for 5 star hotels and upmarket restaurants. I was told 500 rupee bryani dishes (labourers’ daily wage about 200 rupees).  

 

 

 

 

 Bharat Singh

 

 

 

 

 Kajor Ram making bryani

  cooking pots

 

 Beside me, working throwing large flowers pots was Jugdish and Manori, Pooja preparing clay for them as they threw up to 100 pieces that filled the available space for one days work while the pots from the day before had been stacked to dry waiting for the about once weekly firing. Although there was always visitors to the space and the children close by I was able to focus on the throwing. The unpredictability of the power source added an element of uncertainty, and sometimes a welcome break. I found the low sitting position great for shoulders and arms and being able to brace your arms with knees for centering was powerful but the knees suffered from the squatting position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My throwing program was then interrupted for a month by the sculpture project that resulted in Stacks in Balance.

On returning to the wheel I made slow progress in making larger and more defined forms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mumbai A trip to  work with the Galwani family of Kumbarwala, Dharavi for a week challenged the techniques I was becoming familiar with in Kumhaargram. This family has two workshops, the production workshop where they use traditional techniques of 7 generations and a workshop where they have students that come to learn pottery techniques that have been influenced from contemporary studio throwing from the west with Hanif. I worked beside Abas and Usef in the workers workshop for several days and developed a style that combined their suggestions, Rajasthani techniques and some of my own. The clay was very plastic and once again I took the same approach to a throwing session, i.e. concentrating on one form. I was again using an ‘upright’ wheel like my own but it had variable but fixed speeds. I was able to centre the kilos of clay given to me already wedged. On the second last day, Hanif decided I could benefit from other instructions so I went to the students workshop and was reintroduced to my old throwing ways the difference being that I was still throwing of the hump. Within a short while I was making  forms I was happy with. On return to the worker workshop the following day using some of this new knowledge the pieces took a step forward.

 Mumbai efforts

 Return to Kumhaargram; I had a final week to achieve what I had set out to do.  On the first day back there was no power, the weather was hot and I was feeling rather despondent, however I decided the electricity fairies where looking out for me and the village as we needed a little holiday, it meant instead of throwing I visited many of the potters I knew in the village and this restored my energy. I was ready to go the next day. By some mystery but undoubtable the influence my time in Mumbai contributing, my throwing did a leap forward. When I retuned to my Rajasthani throwing techniques there was a new ease. I also began to turn pieces, managing to center, turn and then  lift the pieces  off without stopping the wheel. I had a satisfying day of throwing and turning on my final day, arriving at forms I can see transformed by Australian clays and stoneware firing into new forms I will be happy with.

 

 

 

 

 Pieces drying

 

 

 

 

  Some of the final pieces out    of the  kiln

 

 

 Working in Kumhaargram was a vague idea I have had for some time,  it has now happened, and on returning to Australia, to my other life will appear as a wonderful dream. The generosity of the people of Kumhaargram knew no bounds. This experience has been financially supported through Asialink by Arts Victoria and Australia-India Council  and my host in India, South Asia Foundation. I thank them all for bringing this dream to a reality.

Agra April 2012