Sat | Oct 20, 2018

History of ceramics

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Ceramic Shoes by Cecil Baugh

Jamaica has a long and rich history in the production of ceramics. This history can be traced all the way back to the Tainos, who used clay in the manufacture of day-to-day household utensils such as bowls, water jars, griddles on which bammies were baked, ornaments such as pendants, and ritual objects such as Zemis (deities).

This tradition was continued with the arrival of enslaved Africans, who brought with them their own styles and techniques of pottery making. The ceramic traditions of the West Africans endured, and these skills were passed on from generation to generation.

One of Jamaica's most prominent potters coming out of the West African tradition is Cecil Baugh (1908-2005). Baugh's contribution to the world of Jamaican ceramics was so great that he was named as Jamaica's seminal artist-potter of the 20th century. Baugh was born in Bangor Ridge, Portland, on November 22, 1908. He attended the Bangor Ridge Primary School before relocating to Kingston, where he was first exposed to the art of pottery.

To satisfy his yearning for knowledge, Baugh went to England to study and was the only black student to have studied with the world-famous ceramist Bernard Leach.

Baugh's contribution to the art world of Jamaica was immense. According to Nicole Symthe Johnson, Baugh was the first to systematically explore pottery as a fine art, researching and utilising local clays and forms extensively and developing a number of glazes such as Egyptian Blue.

Early in his career, Baugh produced utilitarian earthenware vessels, garden pots, sculpture, and the popular Afro-Jamaican 'yabba' pots for mixing and cooking.

He popularised the 'Walk-Around' method of free-form hand-building pots. He went on to develop the beautiful ultramarine 'Egyptian Blue' glaze, developed a glaze from clay slip extracted from the Harbour View River, and formulated a stoneware body from Castleton clay.

After returning to Jamaica from apprenticing with Bernard Leach, he helped to establish the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing (then the Jamaica School of Art) and its Ceramic Faculty, where he trained many students in the art of pottery. He is also credited with initiating the now flourishing studio pottery movement in Jamaica.

Beyond teaching, Baugh held many solo and group exhibitions throughout his life and was known as the 'Yabba Man'-turned-'Master Potter'.

- Information compiled by Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica.