At the Claywright studio at Dhauligiri, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, the potter’s wheel runs and churns a revolution of material, form and style. A group of young potters attempts to revive the lost heritage of traditional pottery, albeit in contemporary designs. Helping them in the process is Prithviraj Singhdeo, a ceramic sculptor from Kalahandi district of Odisha and owner of the studio. Singhdeo demonstrates the art of making a clay urli and explains the firing, glazing techniques and the colour combination that could make the piece stand out from an ordinary work. He uses muted colours to bring out the beauty of clay.
Singhdeo has researched extensively in the medium. He says that Odisha holds a special place in the country for its rich tradition of pottery, remnants of which have been found in the recent excavations at Sisupalgarh, Golbai and Banga within Khurda district. “Pottery objects of even the Mauryan period have been excavated in Khurda. The age-old tradition is slowly fading out to modern (studio) pottery that is commercially viable and also lends a touch of grandeur to home decor,” says Singhdeo.
At the studio, he has not only been training the new generation of potters in the traditional pottery and firing techniques, but has also been providing them inputs on modern design development. The sculptor believes that the Amalgamation of contemporary designs and traditional pottery products is the need of the hour in the district where there are just a handful of traditional potters left.
Consider this. Nuagaon village on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, which was once famous as the terracotta village of the district, was home to hundreds of potters a decade back. Now, only five families are carrying on with their ancestors’ vocation. The rest have migrated to Bhubaneswar to work either as daily labourers or as auto-drivers. At Kumbharsahi in Old Town area of Bhubaneswar, there is just one traditional potter practising the craft as a seasonal job.
Not only has the number of craftsmen drastically come down, the beauty of the earthen craft stands eclipsed by enamel paints and ornamentation. “Natural dyes have been replaced by enamel paints and unnecessary ornamentation added to beautify them,” Singhdeo adds.
He recently collaborated with the Rashtriya Lalit Kala Akademi to train potters from Bhubaneswar and five villages nearby on design development and retaining the artistic value of traditional pottery. The potters were given lessons in ancient styles of pot -making and other utility items using traditional firing, glazing and colouring techniques.
“A simple clay pot they (local potters) create for storing water can be glazed at a higher temperature, and given a contemporary look. Same for clay plates and vessels that are sold as utility products at throwaway prices. If they are designed in a proper manner, these products can fetch good money,” he adds. Singhdeo’s repertoire includes abstract sculptures, terracotta murals and modern art forms in clay. One of his popular series of studio pottery work ‘Bandariya & Katriya’ (bracelet and anklet), inspired by his grandmother’s jewellery, finds place in the prestigious Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal.
Little do the artists realise that the beauty of pottery lies in its originality,” says Singhdeo, who has previously worked on reviving pottery trends of Indus valley civilisation with traditional potters of Kutch, Gujarat, as a consultant for Khamir, an NGO working in the field.
A Lalit Kala Akademi awardee, Singhdeo’s relationship with clay began at an early age. Successor of the royal family that ruled the Madanpur-Rampur estate (now in Kalahandi district), he created clay toys as a child. Against the will of his parents, he pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pottery ceramics from the Banaras Hindu University and also worked with ceramic potters of Japan for two years at the Kyoto City University of Arts for a research programme. After returning, Singhdeo set up Claywright. He is currently working on a project on developing the traditional women potters in Hinjilicut town of Ganjam, Odisha. Hinjilicut and its nearby villages of Kharida, Kumbharpalli, Shradhapura and Jamuni are places in the state where women are allowed to work on the potter’s wheel. Every where else in the state, the men do the job while women are limited to providing clay and drying the finished objects. “The project aims at providing training at their doorsteps, design development and marketing platform to them,” says Singhdeo.
Shaping a change
Singhdeo feels that the amalgamation of traditional and modern schools is the need of the hour
He rues the fact that natural dyes have been replaced by enamel paints and unnecessary ornamentation
The sculptor trains potters in styles of pot -making and other utility items
He uses the traditional firing, glazing and colouring techniques