BY E. R. FERN,
Superintendent of Pottery, Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay.
THE manufacture of Pottery in Bombay was started by Mr. Terry as a business between 1873-1875 in the long low building which is now used as a driving shed and godown for the pottery. Mr. Terry imported a man from Multan to do the burning, decorating, and glazing of the ware (as no glazing was done on the Bombay side), while local potters were employed to do the throwing. A number of boys were apprenticed under the supervision of a local painter to decorate the vases and subsequently this class was converted into the present House Decoration Class in the Workshops. The pottery continued as a private business concern under Mr. Terry for a few years when it was taken over by the Bombay Government as part of the School of Art under Mr. Lockwood Kipling’s direction. Later it was again taken over by Mr. Terry as a private concern; but after Mr. Terry left India the potteries were formed by Government into a section of the School of Art.
When the School of Art moved into its present premises in 1878-79 the pottery occupied the whole of the old school shed, and a temporary shed was built along-side to house the ovens and the potter’s workroorm. All the colours and glazes were prepared by the Head Potter behind closed doors and no one was allowed to see how the material was prepared nor how the glaze was applied.
The pottery section was worked in this manner up to a couple of years after Mr. Burns took charge as Principal. The Head Potter on his refusal to teach his pupils the secrets of pottery as defined by him was asked to resign which he promptly did. This occurred in 1902-03 and from then to the year 1908 nothing was done in the pottery line. The students were transferred to the House Decorating Class with the Pottery Painting Master in charge.
In the year 1908 the services of a man with a knowledge of the chemistry of pottery as produced in England were engaged. The new building which had been started about 1907 designed to house the pottery laboratory and machinery was incomplete, and the services of the pottery expert was employed to reorganise the working of the Reay Art Workshops, especially the methods of keeping and issuing stores.
It was not till 1910 that the Pottery building was completed and opened by Lord Sydenham, then Sir George Clarke. Teachers had to be trained and pottery material had to be investigated and assembled. The sources of the raw material used in the pottery manufacture were still to be surveyed and arrangements had to be made for the supply. It was not till 1913 that students began to be admitted and since then much useful work has been accomplished. It has been the object of the Pottery School to turn out expert potters with a thorough knowledge of the one branch of the pottery industry in which they are interested combined with a general knowledge of geology, chemistry, physics, etc., as applied to ceramics. Our motto has been “quality, not quantity” in regard to the students passed out. Pottery being an expensive subject to teach this department has in consequence to limit the number of students admitted in order to keep within the allotted grant.
There is no similar institute in England. The Pottery School in Stoke is purely a technical School, where students are taught the theory of pottery in a series of lectures during Autumn and Winter and a part of Spring. One hour per week is devoted to these discourses and about 25 of them complete the course. Students do not come in contact with the actual material which the potter must use; they only see the raw material as it comes from the refiners. Chemistry and physics are not taught at the Pottery School. They must attend separate lectures in the technical school conducted by a separate staff if they wish to make themselves acquainted with the subject. Students gain their practical experience in the factories to which they are apprenticed or in which they are working.
It is true that there exists a Pottery School in the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, but this is for instruction in the decoration of pottery; deals in fact merely with Art as applied to the beautifying of vases and tiles.
The courses of instruction in the Pottery School of the Bombay School of Art comprise the continuous practical work of refining and preparing raw materials for the use of the Department as well as helping in the various manufacturing activities of the commercial section of the potteries. In addition to these duties students are given regular lectures by the Superintendent on all subjects connected with the manufacture of pottery and porcelain. Advanced students are also given lectures in theoretical and practical chemistry.1
The proposal was put forward to erect a demonstration pottery factory working on commercial lines in the vicinity of Bombay where all classes of students would receive training in the various branches of the pottery industry on purely commercial lines. With this object in view the Government of India allotted Rs. 2 lakhs and the Bombay Government was to provide another Rs. 2 lakhs. This sum, however, the Government of Bombay finally decided could not be given on account of financial stringency. Subsequently it was proposed to make use of the existing Pottery School by the addition of necessary preliminary machinery, and of a small extra allowance in the way of funds to work the Department on a semi-commercial scale. This scheme it was hoped would demonstrate that pottery can be produced in Bombay with the materials at hand. Government of course do not expect to make a profit on this interesting educative experiment. The object is to put on the market a variety of goods that are at present being imported, and thus to stimulate private enterprise. The output of the pottery School on the commercial side will be so small that it will naturally not affect the market. The artistic side of production however will perforce be modified in as much as there will not be time to devote to art production since the staff and students will be largely employed in producing only such goods as can be sold in large quantities and at low rates. It will be seen therefore that the whole scheme is one which will be watched by lovers of Art with considerable anxiety.
The principal types of art pottery turned out by the Pottery School up to the advent of the semi-commercial scheme “described were decorative tile panels in majolica glazes and vases of interesting shapes and colours either Persian or Indian, which amounts to much the same thing.
There exists no pottery in the Bombay Presidency and such art pottery as is made in Northern India is purely ornamental and not in the least useful. The turquoise blue colours produced by the Sind and Multan potters are no doubt very beautiful and captivating to the eye but the vases will not hold water and the tiles will not stand any but a very dry climate without the glaze pealing off the ware.
- 1. For full information as to the curriculum see the School of Art Year Book, published by the Government Press, Bombay.