In the heart of the vibrant city of Chennai, amidst the bustling streets and the relentless march of modernity, lies a haven of tradition and craftsmanship — the DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum. Within this cultural sanctuary thrives a master potter whose hands have shaped clay and heritage for decades. Today we explore the story of Ramu Velar, a gifted artisan from a small village in Pudukottai and his journey to the pages of a captivating book — A Potter's Tale, which perfectly captures his life, legacy, and artistry.
A Potter's Tale had its beginnings in a serendipitous encounter. A few members of the renowned independent publishing house, Tara Books, while wandering through the museum, paused to watch Ramu Velar in his element. His deft hands transformed clay into an array of shapes, and it was in this mesmerizing moment that they found the inspiration for a book. Little did they know that this encounter would lead to the creation of a unique masterpiece; a testament to the enduring tradition of pottery and the soul behind it.
Ramu Velar's journey as a potter began at the tender age of 12. He hails from a family where the art of pottery was handed down from one generation to the next. His father learned the craft from his own father, and Ramu, in turn, absorbed the artistry by merely observing and absorbing what his father did. While the tradition of pottery remained confined to their village in earlier generations, Ramu was determined to transcend these boundaries.
In his quest to broaden his horizons, Ramu ventured beyond his village and explored various regions in Tamil Nadu, molding and baking objects for patrons in different towns. It was this journey that ultimately led him to DakshinaChitra, where he became the resident potter at the museum. Over the course of 23 years, he has not only shared his art with countless individuals but has also embraced modern techniques, designs, and technology to make pottery more utilitarian and customizable.
Ramu Velar, on his work
The book's pages come alive with rich photographs that showcase the master artisan at work; transforming lumps of clay into exquisite pieces of art. It is not just a documentation of his craftsmanship; it's a journey into the world of an "unusual and introspective artisan". The evocative illustrations and detailed narrative allow readers to immerse themselves in Ramu's world, where every creation is a reflection of his passion and skill.
The visual allure of A Potter's Tale is not limited to its subject alone; it extends to the book's design and collaborative effort. The creators faced the unique challenge of merging text and image seamlessly. Ragini Siruguri, the photographer, and V Geetha, the editorial director and translator, embarked on this journey with a shared vision. However, as they began crafting the book, they grappled with a fundamental question: should they be designers or photographers first?
To resolve this dilemma, they decided to divide their roles. The layout and design of the book were entrusted to the talented designer, Sanjana Vamadevan, who brought it to completion with an artistic touch. Additionally, the book features stunning black-and-white photographs contributed by Dr. Stephen Inglis, a distinguished professor of art and anthropology. These captivating images, some dating back even to the 1970s, transport readers to a bygone era, perfectly complementing Ramu Velar's narrative and offering a poignant glimpse into the historical context of his craft. Dr. Inglis's photographs serve not only as a visual reference but also as a bridge connecting the past to the present, enriching the book's storytelling.
In an era where many artisanal traditions are facing a decline, Ramu Velar stands as a beacon of hope. His mission is simple but profound — to share his knowledge and skills with the world. He believes that by doing so, the wheel of tradition will continue to spin, and the legacy of pottery will live on. The launch of A Potter's Tale marks a joyous moment, not only for Ramu Velar, but for all those who appreciate the beauty and significance of traditional craftsmanship. As he flipped through the pages of the book, a warm smile lit up his face, reflecting the pride and satisfaction of a life well-lived through the realm of clay and pottery.
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