Padma Shree Lt. Sardar Gurcharan Singh

The late Sardar Gurcharan Singh became a potter by accident – he went o help his father’s friend, Ram Singh Kabuli in his brick-making business at Delhi Potteries in 1918, where he became fascinated by pottery, watching the Pathan potters who had migrated to India at work and actually learning the basics of the craft from Abdullah. He was sent to Tokyo in 1919 by Kabuli to study commercial ceramics. He spent two years at the Higher Technical School in Tokyo where he met Bernard Leach, Kenkichi Tomimoto, Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai. He held his first solo exhibition in Tokyo. He returned to India in 1922 to continue work at Delhi Potteries but his increased attraction to studio pottery made him switch to art ceramics from commercial work. With partition, he shifted to Ambala as Superintendent of the Pottery Training Centre there and remained here till his retirement in 1952. He then returned to Delhi where with Abdullah he started Delhi Blue Art Pottery  in 1952. His individual stamp was quintessentially a classical form influenced by Japanese and Korean traditions. He used a stoneware clay body and high temperature glazes, fired at 1300 degree centigrade in coal kilns. He supported himself by making glazed tiles and ceramic lattices which were bought by architects in Delhi. But simultaneously he also taught pottery to young students in an effort to popularize its practice in India. In 1983 he organized the first All-India Studio Pottery Show through AIFACS. He set up the Delhi Blue Pottery Trust in 1991 and this Trust continues to be a lively center for studio pottery striving to spread the ceramic word everywhere. He passed away in 1995. The Trust has published The Legacy of Sardar Gurcharan Singh documenting his work in detail.

Born in Bangalore in 1925, S. Krishnamurthy Mirmira joined the Quit India Movement in 1942 as a student of Ceramic Technology at the Bangalore Polytechnic. While an apprentice at the government-run porcelain insulator factory, he was inspired by Dr J.C. Kumarappa, the economist who worked with Gandhi after 1940, in the All India Village Industries Association (atvia) in Sevagram, Wardha, which he joined in 1948. He worked in the village industry section while Devi Prasad, who had recently completed his art training at Santiniketan under Nandalal Bose, joined Sevagram’s Basic Education  and began Kala Bhavan. Mirmira recalls building the first kiln with Devi Prasad for the firing of terracotta-ware. Kalindi Jena was also at this time a student at Sevagram’s Kala Bhavan and stayed there till the mid-1960s.

Mirmira saw the future in the development of glazed terracotta for traditional potters as a way of reviving the local market which was flooded with competitive new materials for vessels and household objects. He joined Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement in 1951 and while walking with him through central India, he gained an insight into the social conditions of artisans, especially potters. Mirmira volunteered as Gram Sevak in Bhadrawati due to its large potters’ community and rich clay deposits and he opened the Regional Pottery Training Centre called Gramodaya Sangh in 1955 with a programme for educating the adults and children of the village in a night school, spreading information on hygiene and attempting to break the social barriers of caste within the potters’ community. He began with the making of bricks as there was a good demand, but faced resistance as it was perceived as work only done by Dalits. With the sale of the first bricks and roofing tiles.

Nearly 25 students a year were trained by Gramodaya Sangh for over 40 years. The training included the technicalities of hand and wheel work with semi-industrial processes of making, glazing, decorating and firing. Most students were later employed in the cooperative production unit and were encouraged to be independent. By 1991, six producer cooperative societies had started employing 300 artisans. This cooperative structure provided a model to others and over 15 such production units were set up in Maharashtra and neighbouring states, tied into a strong social work component in village reconstruction including road-building, school construction, the production of smokeless chulhas and filter candles for potable drinking water, digging of latrines, etc. Among these was the Central Pottery Training Institute in Khanapur where the young B.R. Pandit was one of the trainees in 1970. Four years later, he would go on to train at Bhadrawati and subsequently move to Bombay to become one of the success stories in the transition of traditional to glazed studio pottery.

Mirmira wrote one of the first books on Indian clays and glaze recipes, Indian Pottery, in 1973 after his study trips to Japan, Tanzania and the uk and in 1991 was the recipient of the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development. He started the whiteware unit at Bhadrawati along with innovations like the design of a paddy-husk-fired kiln (with financial assistance from the Department of Science and Technology for whom he was technical adviser for a few years), along with glazed terracotta. The products, which included a range of tableware and household objects, were sold at Bombay Bhawan and through annual exhibitions in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay.

The Gandhian-era philosophy and institutional language had, by the end of Mirmira’s life, largely disappeared into new policies that encompassed global capitalism, and Indian crafts became the marker for the globalized Indian to keep a romanticized connection to a rich heritage. Mirmira’s vision was ahead of his time; one which encompassed the training, production and marketing of glazed terracotta and low-temperature whiteware by artisans with the support of rural and urban markets. His life’s mission made a deep impact on the local village economy of Bhadrawati and was an exemplar in new modes of artisanship and entrepreneurship. The Gramodaya Sangh legacy continues even today under new leadership with pottery training courses for new generations.

Devi Prasad belongs to a generation of pioneering potters who have made an invaluable contribution to studio pottery in India. Many contemporary potters owe their skill to his teaching and guidance. He graduated in 1944 from Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, where he studied under Nandalal Bose, Binode Bihari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij. He worked with Mahatma Gandhi from 1942 to 1947, actively participating in the Quit India movement and Vinoba Bhave’s Gramdaan movement, amongst several others. In 1944, he joined Gandhiji’s Sevagram, where he worked on child art and education, and edited Nayee Taleem till 1962. At Sevagram he discovered a traditional potter working close to his cottage and coincidentally also Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book in Gandhiji’s library. In 1950-51, Devi Prasad put together a kiln and a couple of kick-wheels at Santiniketan, and with the help of Leach’s book built a pottery workshop there. With the experience he had thus gained, he organized the first Pottery Conference in Sevagram for the Khadi Commission in 1955.

Pottery has been the inspiration for more than one story of craft revival. What is now known widely as the Jaipur Blue Pottery had its first revival in the mid-19th century with the advent of the Jaipur School of Art in 1866 under the patronage of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh. The inspiration was the old blue-and-white quartz fritted tilework on Amber Fort, similar to that of Multan, Golconda, Rampur and Delhi. With an emphasis on preserving a Rajasthani design aesthetic, most of the forms were of an Indian type, like the surahi, lota and gulab pash, but with illustrative details based on miniature painting artistic devices. As the secrets of the technology lapsed with each generation and the School of Art in Kishanpol Bazaar was closed down, the craft deteriorated in quality.

It was again the intervention of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, who along with Maharani Gayatri Devi gave the much-needed patronage in post-independence India to the ailing School of Art, which inspired the young Kripal Singh Shekhawat, recently graduated from shantiniketan as a painter in the modernist miniature and fresco style, to set his hand to the revival of this distinctive style of pottery. (15) This infused the Jaipur style with new elements from Bengal. Besides being the ceramics and painting instructor from 1963 at the Sawai Ram Singh Shilp Kala Kendra financed by the All India Handicrafts Board, Kripal Singh also had a workshop for both painting and pottery at his home where he trained young School of Art graduates, kashigars (tile workers) and kumbhars in the basics of production.

Kripal Singh, born in Mau in 1922, is also known for his contribution as a painting student of Nandalal Bose at shantiniketan. Following this, Kripal Singh did a two-year diploma in Oriental Arts from the Tokyo University, Japan. He combined the Rajasthani miniature painting idiom with the Ajanta delicacy of line in nature and, besides reviving and training many younger pottery students and painters, began a new modernisation of the techniques and glaze palette in an individual stylistic development. For this he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1974 and Shilp Guru in 2002. He was also chairman of the Rajasthan Lalit Kala Akademy between 1997 and 1999, while he continued with his painting and pottery till his death in 2008. His pathbreaking revival inspired others like entrepreneur Leela Bordia, under whose artistic direction in collaboration with craftsman Giriraj Singh there was a flowering and expansion of the traditional line of products to encompass new markets through her ceramics initiative Neerja International that revitalised this craft.

Ira Chaudhuri studied fine arts at Santiniketan, (1949), and intermittently practiced pottery at Baroda’s Faculty of Fine Arts (1951-70). She taught for a year (1963-64) at the Pottery section at the Faculty in Baroda. In 1976, at the Garhi Studios she switched from earthenware to stoneware pottery. She was a guest potter at the Rural Reconstruction Department at Santiniketan in 1978, and taught pottery at University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1980-81. In the highly distinctive decoration on her pots, she has been influenced by Indian tribal, pre-Colombian and Oceanic art. She incises or scratches the designs on the pots often through slip colour, giving the pots a rich and attractive textural appearance. Ira became a potter by accident rather than design and she continues practicing it because of what she calls a ‘helpless addiction’ to the craft! She has exhibited her pots and ceramics all over the world.

Ira Chaudhuri lives and works in New Delhi.

A pioneer potter, Nirmala Patwardhan became interested in pottery and glazes while a student at Santiniketan in the 1940s. In 1957, she went to the State Academy of Arts, Stuttgart, Germany, to study ceramics, where Prof. Ulrich Gunther, an expert in glazes fuelled her interest even further. She trained with Bernard Leach and Ray Finch in England in throwing techniques. She has compiled a book, Handbook on Glazes, from her own experiments and formulae of glazes that are based on locally available materials. This was reprinted in 2007 as New Handbook for Potters.  She re-created a glaze, now popularly known as Nirmala Chun Glaze, an opalescent stoneware glaze first developed by the Chinese around the 11th century. It is one of the most sought-after glazes. In 1994, she was awarded Senior Fellowship by Government of India to pursue work on old Chinese glazes using Indian clays and minerals. She was teaching pottery, glazing and Raku techniques in workshops that she use to organise over the last four decades, at her studio in Pune.

Nirmala Patwardhan lived in Pune.

Kumud Patel completed MA (Fine) in Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University (1956) and later took Certificate in Pottery and Ceramics (1962). Her interest in pottery was triggered when she was working on a project for Parliament House, New Delhi in 1959, and saw a few potters working nearby. Her teachers in pottery when she did the Certificate Course were traditional potter, Puna Khima, Ira Chaudhuri and B K Barua. Since she studied Miniature style Painting for her under-graduation, she made some outstanding pottery work that she called ‘miniature pottery’ Though these works resembled ‘functional’ pottery, they were actually too small for any practical, functional use, barely three or four inches in height. Kumud Patel was highly skilled in decorating her miniature pots, figural pottery as well as designing ceramic jewellery. She taught pottery and ceramics at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University, Baroda, until her retirement in 1989.

Kumud Patel lived in Baroda.

K V Jena specialized in ceramics at the Faculty of Arts & Crafts at the Gandhian Institute at Sevagram. He taught there between 1956 and 1959. He went to Kolkata for three years as a designer in ceramics to the Regional Design Centre, All-India Handicrafts Board and in 1961 moved to Central Design Centre, Lucknow as crafts designer in ceramics and pottery. In 1967, he moved to the Faculty of Fine Arts, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi to teach under-graduate and post-graduate courses from where he retired  in 1995. In his career, K V Jena has been instrumental in setting up a number of pottery centers in Uttar Pradesh, combining traditional Indian values with modern ideas and utilitarian needs. A true Gandhian, he himself worked on the simple village wheel using basic tools only. He has tried to impress this idealism on his students whenever he taught at Varanasi, Baroda, Jaipur and Santiniketan. His work has received many awards and his ceramics are in several collections in India and abroad. After his retirement he worked in his own studio at Phoolpur, a small town in UP.

A pioneer potter, Primula Pandit studied Painting at the J J School of Art, Mumbai. Her interest in pottery led her to Gurcharan Singh with whom she worked in the 1950s and made her own kiln with the help of Abdullah from Delhi Blue. She also worked with Bernard Leach in UK (1958), learnt from Maja Grotteli at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, USA (1960s), and in Keschkemet and Siklos, Hungary which is a trend-setter in studio pottery, The Ceramic Millennium in Amsterdam also influenced her work greatly. Her work won Silver Medal at the Mumbai Arts Show in the 1980s and she also won the Silver Medal at Vallories Biennale, France, in the 1970s. As the founder-member of ISPA (Indian Studio Potters Association), she helped organize national and international workshops and in 1994 ISPA held its first international symposium on the theme of Peace and Harmony. In her last years she worked with potters like David Frith, Sandy Brown, Dauphine Scalbert and at the Bruckner Foundation Studios, Carouge, France. She also worked on murals and her work is featured in the film Earth I Am by Bhagwan D. Garga. Sheevolved a method of working with clay called Yoga of Clay as she considered clay a therapeutic medium and conducted workshops on this all over the world.

Gauri Khosla who was first Introduced to ceramics in the uk in 1971-73 at the putney school of Art, Hammersmith College of Art and with Harry Horlock Stinger at Taggs Yard.During her stay in Bhutan in mid -70s, she worked with traditional potters as well as starting a trining workshop for young potters,Jongshree, that grew into the established Royal Bhutan Art Potteries.

From 1978, Gauri worked at Garhi Lalitkala Academy Studios and held many national- level exhibitions of her domestic ware with breathtaking glazes and fired textured tactile effects.

Her Sculptural work was inspired by erosion by wind and water and natural contouring showing the miracle of life in nature.

In 1981 in a show with Himmat Shah and P.R.Daroz, She exhibited ceramic stone- inspired spherical forms. Gauri was the first representative from India at the International Academy of Ceramics, Geneva and she had a strong International presence.

She lived and worked in Delhi.