I love to travel around The Philippines. A trip to a province is not complete without checking out the local market and finding a mud pit. My passion for clay adventure is the same as getting excited to see a beach destination or taste a local cuisine. I find joy in chatting with fellow potters and trying out their clay. I remember going to our town market in San Narciso, Zambales where I used to spend most of my summers growing up. My mom would always buy me those “luto-lutuan” made from terra cotta clay. Pretending that I’m a good cook as I put sand in them.
Until today, an out of town trip always includes a tour to a nearby spot where pots are made. This is the intensity of my passion for pottery. I would go all the way to isolated places just to find them and make sure that I share my joys and anxieties in making pots.
A few weeks ago, I went to Pampanga with some friends. This province has a large supply of terra cotta clay. They process their clay by removing stones and grinding them until they become fine. Making sure that there are no lumps left in the clay. They add sand to make it strong and workable. They use these electric potter’s wheels that can be controlled by your own foot! A huge piece of sponge is placed on the wheel (bottom) and you put pressure with your foot if you want to slow it down. I’m a lover for kick wheels and this one gave me a hard time, but it was fun feeling like doing it for the very first time! It is rare that I meet Filipinos who learned the skill of making pottery from their ancestors. I am thankful to have met this man with its blood line rich in history of potters!
SAGADA, Mountain Province in Luzon
Back in December 2008, I made a trip to Sagada. Among the pine trees, cool weather, and mountains, sits a pottery workshop that is worth seeing. It takes a twelve hour bus ride from Manila to see this pottery haven in the Mountain Province (Northern Luzon). Like my other pottery trips, I try their wet and cold clay that feels like butter when thrown on the wheel!
As soon as I finished kneading the very light colored clay of Sagada, I positioned myself right in front of the potter’s wheel. I have a good view of the mountains and pine trees.
The feel of the wet and cold clay didn’t bother me at all. As I was centering the clay, I thought my chin is going to shake because of the cool weather.
One of Sagada’s finest hosts, Siegrid, kept me company as I played with mud. Her presence and hospitality brought warmth to the piece that I was about to form on the wheel.
VIGAN ILOCOS SUR
In 2009, I took the bus and went to Vigan in Ilocos Sur (Northern Luzon), where pots are fired in high temperature. They use these wheels made from cement and dug a few feet under the ground. They spin the wheel by using a stick. It’s amazing how the speed of the wheel remains fast for a long time. No electricity needed. Working by human’s strength.
The color of clay changes depending on the region that I go to. From light brown, dark brown, light grey, dark grey, peach, orange, pink, black and white. Palawan has the most colorful variety of clay from road cuts on the way to El Nido from Puerto Princesa.
Before the end of 2009, my friend visited me from New York City. A fellow potter who wants to experience a rustic pottery making day in Tiwi, Albay. She enjoyed using processed clay which makes her experience even more native in my country. I should say that the clay in Bicol is one of the best that I’ve worked with so far. As the chicks were running around the place, she smiles as she centers her clay and forms it into a bowl.
These trips I will treasure for the rest of my life. The conversations that I have with fellow Filipinos and Potters bring simplicity and humility in what I do. Realizing that we have common concerns that we can share and solve. I will continue to travel, because I know that somewhere around The Philippines, is a busy place, where pots are being made and kilns are continuously firing to earn a living.
In tricycles, in jeepneys, in airplanes, in boats, in buses and cars, I will find them. I look for them to share some laughter. For I know the stress and happiness that comes in producing pottery. But a simple joke or an unexpected visitor always brings joy to us. An unfamiliar face who is eager to see what we’re up to is almost saying, “Keep on.” And that’s all we need to know, to keep doing what we choose to do: To live a life of fulfillment through clay and fire.
Note: A feature on Stoneware Potters in the Philippines will be posted soon!