WOW | Designs On You

the call of clay

Text: Ankita Jain
Photo: Gokul Shrees

Find time for a pottery class in Bhaktapur that offers more than just a turn at the potter’s wheel. “You need to try it to know it,” says Ceramist and Founder of Cera Nepal Udyog, Ratna Prasad Prajapati as he drags a low stool and places it in front of the clay wheel. There are two of those at his countryside art studio in Bhaktapur which was started in 1984; one imported from Japan and the other made in Nepal.

A blob of clay is pinched out from the pile and slapped onto the centre of the wheel which looks like a pan placed upside down. With minimal instructions, he switches on the machine. The clay slides smoothly on the inside of our palms, a cool ticklish sensation. “It’s soothing, almost relaxing. IT and business professionals, foreigners, housewives and engineering students come over during the weekends and spend hours just playing with the clay,” he laughs. There is indeed something magical about handmade pottery.

We all have ceramic tableware at home but nothing beats the exquisiteness of a handmade vessel. Creativity rides high on flights of imagination and shines through when executed with trained hands of a traditional potter.

Traffic snarls, a bad day at work, or an ugly fight — all of it, apparently can be swept away by getting a little messy. There is proof. Art seems to “reduce stress and anxiety; increase positive emotions; and improve flow and spontaneity, positive identity, and social networks”. “It is therapeutic. It helps you forget all other problems, and concentrate on the clay,” he says.

It’s time to learn the basics. We are asked to cup our palms around the clay, then make a hole in the centre with our fingers and simultaneously exert pressure from the inside. A miracle of physics — we have a fairly well-shaped pot in front of us. This goes to a massive electric kiln in the other room or is left out to dry in the open joining the array of clay pen stands, pots, tiny barrels and candle stands. Another shelf includes ones with a fancier finish, glazed pots with patterns on the outside.

Find time for a pottery class in Bhaktapur that offers more than just a turn at the potter’s wheel.

Ratna studied pottery in the capital and practised since he was very young. He says the art of pottery has been passed on over several generations. “I sold my television brought during 1984 to get Cera Nepal registered. I have travelled places to study the practices of clay,” he states. His daughter, Alina Prajapati realised that there were a number of drawing classes for children, art colleges with studios for professionals, but not many for adults to unwind, or learn a skill, unlike in the West. “When we decided to open to people for such classes, there was quite a response; it was almost like people were waiting for a place like this,” she says, slicing the pot off the wheel with a knife and handing it over to us. “There are no fixed rules or planned sessions. The aim is to let go and enjoy the moment,” adds Ratna quickly.

“You just need to love mud,” says Alina, as she talks about how anyone can be a potter. She herself worked in PR and Marketing before taking charge of Cera Nepal’s marketing full-time, first exploring the wheel, and then thinking of promoting it and building the factory into a chic traditional studio.

“I was always inquisitive about 3D craft and that drew me towards pottery,” she says adding that the first thing she ever crafted was a coil pot: The technique is her favourite style. Alina is supported by both her parents to learn pottery.

So is pottery the ‘in thing’ now? “Most certainly yes,” says Alina, who handles the marketing of the factory cum studio. The studio is complete with a wood kiln and gas kiln besides clay body, glaze and other resources required for pottery. The centre, sheltered by a thatched roof, also collaborates with galleries for workshops. Talking about sustainability, Ratna says, “We potters are really connected to the earth. We don’t waste anything. I believe in sustainability, that way my expenditure on the factory cum studio is minimal.”

While his studio has been open for more than three decades now, this year has seen an increase in interest in experiencing pottery making sessions. People now are more open and accepting of art as a career. More corporate establishments and colleges now organise art workshops; even weekend family get-togethers have a small session of clay making, Alina notes.

When we asked Ratna what has his passion for pottery taught him in life, he thinks a bit and replies with a smile, “Besides patience, I have learnt the art of detachment. Making a pot is like rearing a child. You spend a lot of time in preparing the clay, smoothening, designing and perfecting the details. Then you have to send your piece for bisque firing, where there is a good 10% chance that your pot will break. Initially, I used to get very upset over not receiving my art back in one piece. Eventually I learnt to enjoy the process and not be focused on the results.”