Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
Norma Rodney Harrack takes a lump of clay, kneads it into a ball and throws it on top of a spinning wheel. With the flick of a
Pottery, Rodney Harrack said, is a very meticulous process requiring patience and hard work. Like cooking, the prepping of the ingredients is a time-consuming task.
It starts with choosing the right clay, which is soaked for around two weeks to get the sediments to settle down, then passed through a sieve. "The clay is in a consistency of thick ice cream, it is then kept to dry, when it becomes a leather hard stage ... it is kneaded to take out any air pockets," she explained.
"The clay has to be leather - or cheese - hard consistency, and is left overnight in the open before it is carved."
The prepping process takes around three to four weeks … or one can buy ready-made clay and start using it, "It is a personal choice, the traditional process gives gratification, but one has to wait to execute a creative idea," the potter, artist and lecturer said.
"It's the difference between making a cake from a cake mix or going through the process of mixing the ingredients from the scratch," said Ann Ventura, founder and creative director of Sanaa Studios in Kingston.
Pottery traces its history to ancient civilisations, as a work of art and in daily use, from the 'Yabba' pots of Africa to its aesthetic use in Mesopotamia (modern day Iran and Iraq) and the Indus Valley Civilization (India and Pakistan) more than 6,000 years ago.
Centuries later, the flywheel has become mechanised, but the fundamentals remain the same. "It is a labour of love where the head, hands and the heart work in harmony," said Rodney Harrack.
A foot pedal controls the speed of the wheel; the pace is set at fast after the clay is 'thrown'. " The process is called throwing because you have to throw the clay on the wheel and then centre it," she informed.
It is critical that the clay is centred and once that is done, the process of moulding commences. The moist hands' movements decide what shape the clay takes, coupled with the pressure applied and excessive moisture removed.
If something goes wrong, she said, you can get the clay back as a lump and start all over again.
"The clay is soft and obedient to be shaped," said Rodney Harrack, who is the pottery lecturer at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Kingston.
Once the desired form is achieved, it is removed by running a cutting metal wire, the pottery is then kept to dry and then fired in the kiln. Once baked, the finishing touches are applied, which are a variety of glazes or paints according to the artist's preferences and style.
"Traditionally, the pots were 'burnished', which is a process of smoothing the surface, after two days of the pot being made, by rubbing a smooth stone or back of a spoon to give the shine," she informed. "The process takes about three to four hours."
Pottery is a painstaking and, at times, back-breaking process, but at the end of it all, the sweat, toil and caking hands in clay, like planting a seed and seeing it germinate, gives a sense of elation and gratification to the creator.
The potter's wheel moves like a circle of life, creating forms and shapes from earth.
"It is a very meaningful experience, which still holds relevance and bonds us with nature," Rodney Harrack said.