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Trip to India: Ceramics and The Pandits

In February, to coincide with my 60th birthday celebrations, I planned a trip to India to visit the Taj Mahal and Gateway to India. Whilst organising my trip I was fortunate to receive an invite to spend the day with the prestigious pottery family ‘The Pandit’s of Mumbai’ and jumped at the opportunity to visit an Indian pottery.


The Pandit family are well-known Indian potters headed by Brahmadeo Ram Pandit or Panditji, as he is fondly called, and come from a long line of Kumbhars, artisans who traditionally earned their living by creating earthenware. Panditji has spent the last 40 years becoming a true master potter earning immense respect and recognition from the State Government, Art Schools, students and patrons alike. Alongside Panditji in his Pottery Studio are his elder son Abhay, daughter-in-law Khushboo, wife Devki, and son Shailesh. Each member of the family has vast pottery experience having won several awards to prove it.  Their core business is the supply of bonsai pots, which are extremely popular in India, and they also produce decorative pots from raku fired to salt glazed techniques that are sold in galleries.

Our trip began with a warm greeting from Abhay at our hotel where we were taken to the pottery studio and welcomed by the whole family. Following the warm greeting and delicious lunch Panditji took us on the grand tour of the studio where we learnt that with the family an additional three potters lived and worked at the pottery too. This was necessary as the studio operated on a seven day week with long working days beginning in the early hours of the morning until late into the evening, making our working day seem very short indeed. Due to their dedication this busy pottery studio turns out over 300 Bonsai and Ikebana pots every day.

The tour itself was fascinating and we saw three main techniques that the pottery family used - throwing, casting and press moulding. Their pots come in many guises, from very simple forms, with plain glazes and surfaces, to complex ones, with intricate textures, patterns and colours revealing a striking unit between the elements.  

The tour began in the slip house where the clay, raw materials and moulds were stored. It did remind us of our own slip house but on a smaller scale. We then observed the process of creating a Bonsai pot. Firstly the bags of clay consisting of dried pieces of press cake, which were similar to English stoneware and quite cheap to source, were emptied onto the concrete floor in a circular shape. Water was then added and feet were used to mix the clay and water together. This was an enthralling process to watch and a great alternative to a pug mill, something that I will bear in mind if we ever have problems with our own machinery.

Following this process the clay was lifted onto a bench to be wedged (hand version of pugging) using a series of wooden slats that were placed either side of the clay. The potter then using a cheese wire cut the clay into slices (approx. 12mm thick) moving the wire from one slat to the other. One of the slices is then placed into the mould which is on the floor. Using a circular implement the clay is then shaped into the mould and left to dry. After a period of time the clay is then removed from the mould and you are left with a Bonsai pot ready to be fired, this method is used for the larger Bonsai pots.


To create the smaller Bonsai pots a slip casting method is used. To do this they would first make the slip by pouring the dry clay into a trough and adding water and a deflocculant. The slip is then mixed roughly using the feet, and then transferred into the mixer. Once it is mixed it is pumped into the moulds which are sitting on the floor. Casting benches were supplied but the potters preferred to work on the floor instead.  

We then were fortunate to watch the master potter himself throw, Panditji’s work spans an amazing variety of pots, vases, kettles, teacups, tiles, cookware each linked to art and utility. He was one of the first artists to introduce glazed cooking ware, now popular in leading hotels.  All glaze and colours are also prepared by Panditji resulting in the interplay of colours and shades from blues, greens, coppers and golds. He is very dedicated to his craft and insists “out of ten pieces that I make, usually two turn out to my satisfaction.”

Along with preparing his own glazes Panditji has also built his own truck kilns, which are front loaded and use 12.5kgs gas butane bottles. We observed a room full of gas bottles waiting to be used, each time the Pandit’s fire their pots they would connect three of the gas bottles to the kiln at any one time. Due to the volume of gas entering the kiln the bottles would have to sit in a trough of hot water to prevent them from freezing.

It was a pleasure to meet such a hardworking, uniquely talented, happy Hindu family and for them to share their interesting world of ceramics. In the words of one of India’s leading contemporary ceramic artists Abhay Pandit, who has also studied under Peter Beard:      

“Clay is the only material, so plastic in nature, that almost anything can be formed out of your hand. Clay is so sensitive to touch that it responds immediately to your action. Anything is possible to make, given that you know the medium clay well”

It’s lovely to see that regardless of the culture, country or continent that the same view is held by potters the world over with fascinating results. 

 

 

To view photos from our trip visit our facebook page

For further information on the Pandit Family visit http://panditartceramic.com/


Alan Ault
Director