Overcast skies, fleet-footed sunrays and a chilly kiss in the air, with Bangalore being its beautiful self, the balmy morning is tailor-made for the pursuit of the fine arts. A tiny road leads away from the ruckus of blaring horns and turns at a Laurie Baker-styled house. A white plaque with the insignia of a child’s hand cradling a jar, announces the world within — Claystation.
Nestled in what is probably the greenest pockets of HSR Layout, Claystation, the terrace pottery studio, is every pottery aficionado’s dream spun and molded into reality. Earthen tiles line the terrace, half covered by a thatched roof and the rest shared between blue skies and a Gulmohar in bloom.
Brick-lined walls boast of masks, vases, jars, planters and statues in their myriad forms. Makeshift tables of hollow bricks and earthen tabletops with wooden benches dot the space. Lemon yellow rooms, painted with leaf motifs, house pottery wheels and objets d’art, carrying their masters’ names, adorn shelves.
While the ambiance floors all who step in, the studio goes about its four-year-old legacy of spinning possibilities, mentored by its founder, Ganesan Manickavasagam.
“My daughter claims to be its real founder as it all began when she was about seven years old,” Manickavasagam reminisces. “She wanted to set up a stall at our apartment carnival and I told her I would back her only if her idea was unique. She loved experimenting with Play Doh and we hosted a clay-modelling stall and we called it Claystation. When people asked me to replicate the experience on multiple occasions, I realised this avenue had potential and the name stuck,” he says.
The clay route
Manickavasagam belongs to the ilk of those who chose the road less travelled. An IT employee looking for a break from his job, he took to the clay route and is a self-taught clay artist.
“All thanks to Google, the goodwill of acquaintances, a dedicated team and my classmate, partner and business strategist Balakrishnan in Singapore,” he quips. An authority on the art and science of pottery, Manickavasagam reels off the process of crafting a piece of art, at the drop of a hat.
“Our electric wheels are imported. Though these wheels are available in the country, there is not much to choose from. We source clay locally and it is first thoroughly soaked in water and then sieved. It is compressed next and then allowed to mature for about 45 days. The older the clay, better its feel and texture, just like wine and cheese,” he explains. Once the piece is finished, Manickavasagam fires it in a furnace that he built from scratch.
They are particular about not adding artificial colours or additives to the clay and the gamut of colours, from the brown hue of terracotta to a reddish tan and its jet black variant, is achieved by controlling the airflow during the firing process to produce iron oxide. “Class ten chemistry lessons,” he laughs.
The studio endeavours to teach, facilitate, mentor, create and supply all things clay. The sun-drenched rooftop studio holds monthly programs that seek to unearth the potter in every individual.
It has organised sculpting workshops with a live model and is planning a beginners’ course in pottery and workshops on terracotta and stoneware jewellery, murals and glazing techniques in July.
Manickavasagam, however, feels the potential lies in the field of R&D and infrastructure development. “Everything, right from sourcing of clay, equipment to crafting and finishing , is an opportunity. We designed a pottery studio for Vivanta at Madikeri and are also setting up spaces for design schools and restaurants. We did try production but the costs are high in Bangalore and so now we design and then outsource projects.” Their clientele largely comprises of architects and interior designers and is patronised by weekend hobbyists and children too. A nearby community studio, stocked with clay and mineral resources and equipment, provides a space for experienced potters and clay enthusiasts. Ask Manickavasagam what the highlight is and true to his name, he picks the eco-friendly Ganeshas, a project appreciated by the Pollution Control Board. Since its inception, every Ganesh Chaturthi, the pottery studio invites people to make their own customised and natural clay idols. This year around, the event is slated to occur in 25 locations, including international venues and they plan to put together a kit for the purpose. While classes are taken by artists trained here and by seasoned artisans for the intermediate and advanced levels, the inclusion of traditional potters needs to be reconsidered, feels Manickavasagam. “We did try to work with a clan of potters in Chikka Tirupathi. They hold their customs dear and their approach to pottery is different from ours. Our aspiration is to take their skills to the next level and make pottery a viable economic proposition for them,” he adds.
As the wheel spins and the potters’ hands shape a vision, this studio moves towards rediscovering the infinite world of pottery, one circle at a time.