By Shweta Bhandral
Digging your hands in clay, spinning the potter’s wheel, and finally dipping your pieces in colourful glaze to form creative designs – all this is not just a source of livelihood but also an activity that many people use to heal and grow.
Psychologists believe that pottery or working with clay is a useful tool to overcome depression and anxiety, and is meditative too. Potter and educator Neha Ramaiya would attest to this with her own life.
Pottery not only helped her come out of depression, it also opened doors of opportunity for this Mumbai-based 42-year-old. A graduate in ceramics, she healed herself with pottery before she started teaching ceramics. Her own therapist referred clients to her.
Enthused, Neha (lead image, left) went on to pursue higher studies in clay therapy abroad. She came back to India to start teaching ceramic-work at a few colleges in Mumbai. Alongside, she came up YellowSpiders Pottery, which, by 2012, made a name for itself as a school for pottery-making.
Neha shares that it had been a fascinating time for ceramic craft until the pandemic struck. Lots of pottery studios had come up, and with the government promoting local art and ‘Make in India’, the profession had been finally flourishing.
She points out that sourcing material had also become easier, and so artists could concentrate on design and be innovative unlike ever before.
Neha says, “Ceramic work helped me to take a step back and look at things objectively. If something breaks, I look at it with detachment. I see loss in this way: if I have made it once, I can make it again and probably better. The same rule applies to life.”
Pune-based artist and potter Priyanka Joshi also talks passionately about the human relationship with ceramic. The 33-year-old says, “It’s fascinating to look at how pottery subconsciously affects us in our daily lives. It absorbs our memories with every touch, and creates objects from stories to be told, desires to be fulfilled or memories to be relived. In the end, it becomes part of us.”
Priyanka was introduced to pottery in school, but it was only during her last year of graduation that she decided to turn her hobby into her profession and become a potter. Her parents were not very happy, though, and were wary of her idea, but she did not give up. While learning from several artists herself, she started teaching ceramics to autistic children, tailor-making sessions for them.
While the work with special kids was focused on hand-building the pieces, she set up her studio in 2016 to teach ceramics to teenagers and adults as well. Around this time, she began to design ceramic collections too, while teaching remained a good source of income. The lockdown in 2020 disrupted it all.
Earlier, when one spoke of pottery or ceramics in India, only four spots would get a mention: Jaipur blue pottery, Khurja pottery, Chinhat pottery and Auroville Pondicherry pottery. But new generations of artists are pursuing it as a profession and setting up their studios all over the country. From healing through pottery to creating designs that are their own, they draw inspiration from all around.
“I love trees, nature and the elements. The craft is so involved with the earth, fire and the other elements – water, air – that it grounds you completely,” says Neha. With her studio finally set to produce collections, Neha is using social media to help her reach out to potential customers. In fact, she began using Facebook to promote her work as far back as 2010, and she credits the platform for helping her make YellowSpiders Pottery famous.
Being an educator and artist who has been in the profession for 20 years, Neha opines that with the growth of studio pottery, artists should help local potters. “For the sake of growth, we should not only employ local craftspersons but also make sure that they get their due and that the craft doesn’t die.”
Priyanka agrees with Neha on this. As a youthful traveller, she even draws her inspirations from local artisans and their designs. She likes to be fluid and flexible with her creations.
“My current body of work reflects my love for the landscape I grew up in, the Middle Eastern sun, sand, mountains, and sea, along with awe-inspiring human-made creations. Woven into my pieces are elements inspired by art and architecture that I have encountered during my travels – from the ancient terracotta vessels depicting stories and love of life to the opulent baroque churches, mystical gold mosaics, graceful stucco work and delightful swirls of colours applied by skilful hands,” she tells us.
With no classes due to the pandemic, both potters are focusing on their online presence. Priyanka, who used to make limited sets just for showcasing to students, is now focusing on building her portfolio for e-sales. She is also experimenting with and learning new techniques.
With both her parents by her side – her mother as friend and critic and her father looking after the accounts department – Priyanka aspires to exhibit her collection at art galleries. On her part, Neha, being the introvert she is, has decided to focus on promoting her studio on social media and create collections on order.
First published in eShe’s October 2020 issue