Visiting The Masters Of Philippine Pottery: “Clay Ave’s Third Pottery Field Trip” (Part 1 of 8)

Handmade. A term commonly used by artists and crafters who make artistic and functional things without using a machine. Until today, I couldn’t think of anything that is more handmade than making pottery. The process of forming pots starts as soon as the Potter finds his clay. He kneads the earthy material between his hands until it becomes ready to be formed. Wetting the hands every now and then to keep the clay moist, caressing it, beating it up, poking holes to it, trimming it, making it dry, firing the bone dry pots in the kiln, glazing them and firing them again, etc.

I believe that Ceramics is handmade from beginning to end. It starts from how it was found, going through all the process of transformation, sending the pots to their owners, and passing the pots around in the home, depending on how they will be used. Functional pottery, is meant to be touched, carried, held, and kept for another day’s use. Its usefulness goes on.

In Pansol Laguna, a couple who is passionate with clay and fire, continues to create handmade pottery to be collected as works of Art. Some are pots that are also used as utilitarian pieces for the home. It is such a great privilege, to spend the last weekend, with the Masters in Philippine Pottery, Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn.

Just like some of my students today, I also got addicted to the whole process of producing pottery, when I was going to the Pettyjohn’s pottery school at the old Garden Square building in Greenbelt, Makati City in 2002. I would spend hours, staying in the studio, making different kinds of pots. There was even a time when there were no teachers anymore and I was just coming and throwing pots non-stop. I really got hooked since the first I’ve felt the spinning clay between my hands. I was in my early twenty’s then. Finding myself and my place in the world, carefree, trying to look for something I can pour my attention to and be creative at the same time. A decade after, I am still 100% connected to the process of playing with clay and fire.

Clay Ave Pottery Studio is located in Quezon City. A lot of students have gotten their hands dirty with clay. Just like myself and other Potters, we come to a pottery studio for a reason. “What brings you here?” This is a question I mostly ask my new and old students. It’s a good way to start a conversation. I notice that they start to feel comfortable after answering this question. As a teacher, I want the studio to be a place of openness for everyone. Clay cooperates more when there is no tension around it, unless the Potter takes control and forms it with grace.

Clay Ave has started its first pottery field trip in 2010. Since I got hooked to pottery making, I would visit the home of Potters by myself or with friends. This time, I am bringing my students around The Philippines, to meet the people behind our country’s most valuable and collected Ceramics. Why? Simply because there is a story behind a plate, mug, tea set, bowls, etc. A trip to the Potter’s home will expand the knowledge of students on what they can create with clay.

Forming pots is a skill. The value of a piece is not just the beauty of what the eyes could see or how it can be used in someone’s home. The process tells the tale of a relationship between the Potter and his clay.

How is it possible that a traditional craft continues to thrive today? It’s all about having the passion for working with fire and clay. Hardworking Potters prioritize a good amount of time to provide us with good plates for eating, create the right size of bowls for salads, soup, or rice, etc. Some people say that Pottery is a dying craft. How is it possible, when lumps of clay are still being kneaded, new slip cast molds are still created, kilns are still being fired, and handmade pots are still being sold and collected?

 A few weeks ago, nine gung-ho pottery students at Clay Ave, said yes to coming with me to the home of the Masters in Philippine Pottery. As soon as they hear the names, “Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn”, they all got excited!

 I would like to thank you, my students (who are now friends of mine), for joining me in this trip. This tour will not be possible if not for your presence, excitement, and eagerness in learning more about Ceramics. I know you have started to love a new passion we now have in common.

 Stay tuned for more articles to be posted  in the coming days about our recent trip to Pansol, Laguna. A place in The Philippines, where a couple, who have the same passion for making pottery, bring life to a lump of clay until today.

Where are we going next? Read the very last article (in the next few days) about the field trip and see the schedule for the next pottery tour in January 2013!

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