Tallie Maughan, Founder of Turning Earth
There is something primitive and visceral about the art of pottery. One of the things that fascinate me most about it is how it is a blend of all four elements of nature and that the potter must mould these elements synergetically to create the desired outcome. One of the oldest human inventions, pottery is both utilitarian and artistic in nature. One can create tableware, utensils and vessels or decorated figurines, sculptures and more — the possibilities are endless.
It is a sad truth that in the fast-paced 21st century, pottery is a waning art form. Nontheless, there are still enthusiasts who practice it or are interested in learning this hands-on art form. If you’re one of them, there is no better place to visit than Andretta Pottery Studio in Palampur, the oldest pottery studio in India. Andretta, an artist village, is nestled in the heart of Himachal Pradesh in Kangra Valley.
The Andretta Studio has a fascinating ancient history. In the backdrop of the 1920s, a transformative era when the mighty British Empire began its gradual descent, a spirited young Irish woman by the name of Norah Richards embarked on a journey that led her to the quaint Andretta Village. A multifaceted force, she was not only a gifted dramatist but also a fervent champion of environmental causes. Little did she know that her sojourn in this village would span three fruitful decades, from the tumultuous times of partition all the way to her passing in 1970.
Norah's theatrical prowess transcended linguistic boundaries, as her plays found resonance even in the Punjabi language. Such was the impact of her work that the Punjab government, stirred by its essence, implored her to conduct transformative theatre workshops. Within the confines of her abode, a haven brimming with creativity, an enchanting amphitheater served as the birthplace of captivating performances and the nurturing ground for aspiring talents. It was in this hallowed space that Norah Richards, over time, earned the cherished moniker of the "grandmother of Punjabi theatre."
Amidst the vibrant tapestry of Norah's time in Andretta, one could witness the fervent discussions that revolved around the realms of art, drama, and the profound philosophy of embracing a pastoral existence. Her vision for harmonious country living resonated deeply, urging inhabitants to utilize local resources for constructing dwellings and fostering a symbiotic relationship with nature. Notably, she summoned the esteemed Sadar Gurucharan Singh, a master potter hailing from Delhi, to establish a pottery studio within the idyllic landscape of Andretta, allowing it to serve as a sanctuary for artistic expression during the summertime.
As the years progressed, the torch of innovation was passed down, illuminating the path for Gurucharan Singh's legacy. Enter Mansimran Singh, his enterprising son, who subsequently settled in Andretta after learning from and working with his father. Armed with a grant from the central Delhi Government, Mansimran embarked on a bold endeavor to establish a rural marketing center. In 1985, this visionary initiative sprang to life, encompassing the Andretta Pottery and Craft Society, a flourishing institution now overseen by Mansimran and his steadfast partner Mary Singh (fondly known as Mini and Mary). Together, they continue to nurture the artistic spirit that permeates Andretta's vibrant cultural landscape.
At present, Mini and Mary offer an enriching three-month-long introductory pottery course. This immersive experience provides hands-on learning, encompassing both practical skills and a deeper understanding of the pottery world. Participants explore their passion for ceramics and determine their path moving forward. Andretta Pottery's course is revered by pottery enthusiasts, with many continuing their journey far beyond the initial three months. For instance, when you visit the studio, you will meet Shubham, a dedicated member of Andretta Pottery, who after completing his course, has been passionately working there for over two years, with his love for the craft unwavering.
Even if you do not sign up for the three-month course, you can simply visit the studio and bask in its creative spirit. You can learn more about the art of pottery as Shubham will patiently take you through the entire process.
Neha, a visitor to the Andretta Studio, as told to the Revolving Compass.
Andretta Pottery Studio also extends a warm invitation to guests, offering them a hands-on pottery-making experience like no other. For a nominal fee of INR 150/- per person, one gains full control of the pottery wheel, guided by a gracious host who patiently nurtures the artistic process. You get the chance to create your own masterpiece, guided by the watchful eye of Shubham. The creative process, as you marvel at the harmonious fusion of your hands and the pliable clay, culminates in the creation of something beautiful and tangible with a personal touch, which can be a truly transformative experience.
Apart from the creative experience, you can also visually treat yourself at the Terracotta Museum, nestled within the expansive grounds of Andretta Pottery. It is a sanctuary brimming with an awe-inspiring collection of exquisite clay and terracotta artwork. If you want to explore the captivating interiors, make sure you do not visit on a Sunday. It's the only day of the week, it remains closed.
Within the sprawling campus, also lies a thriving pottery shop. This is the place where you will find aspiring artisans honing their craft and also a bustling manufacturing unit humming with activity. The fruits of their labor are unique and mesmerizing pottery pieces that travel the length and breadth of India, gracing the shelves of diverse retail chains. Adjacent to it is also the store room, where you will be treated to a myriad of unfinished creations patiently awaiting their final touches before venturing out to adorn the world, with each piece telling its own captivating tale.
The Andretta Studio is a must-visit on your next trip to Himachal Pradesh. If you’re looking to expand your creative forte and learn one of the oldest art forms in the world, there is hardly a better than this quaint studio in the heart of the mountains.
For more information about the Andretta Studio, click here.
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