Besides creating with clay, travel is a huge passion of mine and so this winter I closed down the studio and strapped a pack on my back. Travelling through parts of South East Asia I got the opportunity to visit several pottery villages and studios as well as a brick factory! Along with the help from my lovely travel companion and photographer Steve Leavens.....I am able to share with you ........ this incrediable journey.
I came across the Khmer Ceramics Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia. In my opinion, this is an amazing centre started 5 years ago by a man with a passion for clay and empowering people. With so much devistation of the Khmer people over the past centuries much of their art has been lost and this centre is helping to bring the skills back and cultivate individuals artistic expression. Check out the website...www.khmerceramics.com
I saw many brick factories while travelling about but it wasn't until Phu Quoc while riding upon a motorbike that I was able to stop and take a real look around. People were busy at work and the language barrier kept me from asking many questions but it was still an amazing exploration. I have no desire to work in a factory setting but to see how it all works and that they dig the clay right out behind the production gets me excited. I dream of the day when I can just dig up some clay from my backyard and make something with it.
A true delight it was to ride my bicycle through the sweet UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An and end up at this pottery village. It took a while for us to realize that everyone was just making pots in & around their homes. The only thing about this village that felt touristy was paying the 20,000 dong ($1.00) to enter....after that....we were on our own for a self guided tour of every nook & cranny of this incrediable operation. Everyone was so friendly, welcoming and sharing of their talents. A highlight was certainly being able to make my own pot on a ground level pottery wheel powered by an older ladies constant kick at my wheel.
This place was a bit more of a challenge to get to than the others. It took almost 2 hours in a windy rainstorm while asking literally more than 20 people how to find the bus station we needed to take us the 45 mins outside of Hanoi to the town of Bat Trang. Finally headed in the right direction we arrived at the pottery village a bit frazled and chilly but excited. This type of ceramic production is all done with various slips and plaster molds. We found ourselves in warehouses with huge gas kilns and groupings of people filling molds with slip & trimming the excess. Another self guided tour found us wondering into peoples homes and making the most of some improvised sign language to get the message across that in Canada...I make pots too! After spending a good part of the day wondering around it was time to choose some pieces to buy. I picked up a bowl that had circles all over it. I decided I loved it and wanted it and then I turned it over and saw the IKEA stamp on the bottom. I had travelled all this way to buy an IKEA bowl....but then again...I got to visit where this bowl was made and that made me happy.
All my snooping in studios was inspiring but nothing comes close to this pottery village. Renting a motorbike for the day to visit a few pottery villages turned into a whole day at this place. Almost immediatly after arriving, pulling the bike over to decide where to go we met a sweet guy named Mat. He asked us if we wanted him to show us around and I am SO happy that we did. I love exploring on my own and often am not fond of the idea of a 'tour guide' but this was amazing. Mat asked what I wanted to see and my response was 'everything.' So, everything is what we saw. Here they make pots of all sizes with nothing but their hands, a few simple tools and what can be best described as a lazy susan. The women do a majority of the pot making while the men harvest the clay from the land and fire the pots when they are dry. Im daydreaming about returning here to hang out and really learn their technique.
Tara is a Dorset, Ontario-based artist. She creates both functional and decorative stoneware pieces out of Chetolah Pottery Studio, which she opened in 2007.