Juliet Coombe enjoys a half day artisan training in pottery making.
We made our way from Negombo old town where I did some sketches of the wonderful old balconies with Ranjan to the very rural village of Kirimatiyana, where I meet with Sakunphala, our lovely 33 year old pottery teacher – The boys and I are shown some examples made earlier that morning drying in the tropical sun – immediately afterwards she seats herself on a low stool next to a foot-operated pottery wheel and slaps on an enormous piece of wet clay like an artist with a no-nonsense air of supreme confidence after she had done this a million times before. I wonder at this point if she plans to make a witches’ cauldron there’s so much clay but realise she is simply saving time by putting about ten pots worth on the table so she can do several without stopping.
In about twenty seconds flat she fashioned a pot so perfect it could have been made by a Deep Blue operated machine. Wow! That is just so easy, I thought, as I took over the driving seat like James Bond girl getting into an Aston Martin. After some fumbling about getting the clay to even move with my dry hands, I dipped them on her advice into water and caressed it into something resembling a belly dancing pot dancing to Arabian music until finally, fed up with the amateur at the wheel, the quasi pot escaped, taking flight across the floor into a wet lifeless heap of mud on the floor of the shed, looking not unlike a giant slug. I looked up sheepishly, in total disbelief, at the assembled company from the surrounding village looked at first shocked and then started to laugh and so did I seeing the funny side of things. Not surprisingly they did not offer me a job to join their family business, although my youngest one made several very unusual pieces of pottery and my oldest created a fantastic looking vase.
I learn as I have another go that pot-making had been in the family for 75 years, 3 generations, and that she had been pumping out some 200 pots a day for 27 years since she was 6 years old. I was so impressed learning step by step how she fashioned those pots as if they were a part of her, coming out of her fingers like magic each one was so beautifully performed it almost looked machine made except for the occasional thumb print on the rim to remind this is the work of a master artisan.
Sakunphala’s dad showed us how the pots would be stacked up to five feet high and then covered first with broken pots then a layer of straw. The final layer was made of wet mud before the fuel, made of coconut fronds and husks, was inserted into the channels along with sawdust to slow the burn down for a day before putting in bigger husks for the second bigger fire on day two.
These special half day adventures can be organised by the Jetwing Blue and Beach naturalist who has many hands on tours that are great for families and couples that want to experience the real Sri Lanka and take home their own hand crafted momento.