Exploring Africa

Learning from the Master: Ceramics Lessons in Uganda

My first encounter with indigenous pottery proved to be educational and fun.  Despite the terribly long drive to Kitungesa, almost 40 kilometers from Jinja, Alice, Lisel, and myself all had a great day learning about the process of a professional potter named James.  Alice knew his sister from the Dembe group who made the arrangements for us to visit the village, dig local clay, watch and make pottery, and talk about the methods to make, fire, and sell wares.  Part of the expedition was research for the new UAPO Vocational Center being built this year and the other half was selfishly for my education.

Upon arrival, we dug 15 pounds of clay from a swampy area in the middle of their crop fields. Next, we had to wedge the clay with burnt soil from an ant hill until the grog was not visible.  James made a typical 40 liter water container on a mold pinching coils straight up then ribbing the inside out to stretch the clay and form the belly.  An entire container from start to finish took 10-12 minutes.

In the afternoon, James and I spoke about how our crafts and processes compared to each other.  He then asked me to make a small piece with him to which I obliged secretly hoping not to embarrass myself.  After a few minutes, I had a lopsided, dumpy pot that we all laughed about.  James helped out a bit with the form then I put the traditional patterning on the outside.  The bottom still needs to be trimmed up, but we all agreed that it was a nice piece after James got a hold of it.  I will visit the village again to continue learning and to claim my pot and cook a meal in it at home.