Moulding earthy beauty

Exquisitively carved earthen works of art are in great demand.  

IT IS termed as the creative side of pottery. There was a time when earthenwares were used only as cooking vessels, but over the years, the business of creating beauty out of clay has assumed the profile of an art, thanks to the craze for terracotta among city folk.

With the radical image makeover, the humble earthenware has emerged out of the kitchen to occupy pride of place as decorative articles in drawing rooms, hotel lobbies, airport lounges and showrooms. Exquisitely carved earthen pots, vases, gargoyles, statuettes and curios, miniatures of traditional vessels like the `uruli', ornament boxes, bells, candle-stands, lamp shades and wall hangings have all acquired upmarket status.

Hanging earthen lanterns that are suspended from the ceiling by a metal chain are the latest rage. Most of the travelling fairs, which put up shop in the city, showcase these intricately- moulded lanterns. A candle or wick lamp is placed inside the covered base of the lamp. Once lighted, it gives out a kaleidoscopic effect from the play of light on the designs.

The new-found demand for terracotta has spawned a number of small-scale units in the city and the suburbs. Most of these units depend on the once- impoverished potters who were forced to give up their dying traditional trade. Unlike pottery, terracotta demands creative talent.

It takes much skill and practice to churn out terracotta articles. The clay is `weathered' before it is mixed with sand and water and passed through a pug mill, to acquire a smooth consistency. A lump of clay is then placed at the centre of the motorised swivel and moulded into the desired shape. For pieces with intricate designs, moulds of plaster of Paris are used.

The clay model is then dried in room temperature, designs carved on it and buffed to a glaze, before the final coating of red clay, which gives the figure its distinct red-earth hue. It is then loaded in the kiln and heated at high temperature.

Huge sculptures of horses and elephants are sought after by hotels and showrooms of big companies. A big terracotta piece may cost upwards of Rs. 5,000. But the articles contributing to volume sales are small decorative items for the home or garden.

Ornamental pots with tiny figurines and designs are used to enhance the appearance of gardens. Regular customers who have a fancy for collecting curios turn to the small pieces. Those who can afford it use large terracotta pieces to adorn landscaped gardens. There are enthusiastic collectors of terracotta curios who regularly visit exhibitions and fairs to add to their collection.

By Nandakumar T.

Photo: K.G. Santhosh