Shaping Dreams: Inside Kohima's Highland Pottery Studio - Eastern Mirror
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Shaping dreams: Inside Kohima’s Highland Pottery Studio

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By Thejoto Nienu Updated: Jul 09, 2024 11:22 pm
Shaping dreams
Vizonuo Soliezuo at her Highland Pottery Studio in Kohima. (EM Images)

KOHIMA — Inspired by an article on ceramics, Vizonuo Soliezuo began an artistic journey that took her from Kohima to Kolkata and back. Now, her Highland Pottery Studio in Lerie, Kohima, creates stunning pottery and nurtures a new generation of pottery enthusiasts.

Soliezuo said her fascination with pottery began unexpectedly. “To be honest, I didn’t know what pottery was all about,” she said.

But intrigued by the artistry of transforming clay into beautiful forms, she decided to learn the craft and embarked on fulfilling it by training under established potter Manjari Kanoi in Kolkata for over a year.

Expensive hobby

On her return to Kohima, she faced the daunting task of setting up her own studio. Pottery, especially ceramics, is an expensive pursuit, requiring significant investment in machinery and equipment. “You need to be committed,” she said, adding that mastering the craft requires dedication alongside financial investment.

Soliezuo recalled starting her studio in the living area of her home before securing a dedicated space for Highland Pottery Studio, navigating challenges such as funding, machinery procurement, and finding a suitable location for firing.

Running the studio, she said, is a labour of love.

On a typical day with classes, she is occupied from 10 am to 4 pm, teaching back-to-back two-hour sessions. On non-teaching days, her work starts in the morning and extends late into the evening on most days.

Juggling the demands of running the studio single-handedly, along with personal and family commitments, is a constant challenge, yet she finds it a fulfilling experience, taking satisfaction in sharing her passion and nurturing new talents.

When asked if she has any favourite pieces, Soliezuo said she consciously avoids forming attachments to her creations. She believes her role is to craft pieces and send them out into the world, whether for sale or other purposes.

It’s a common ethos within the pottery community, she explained, to avoid becoming emotionally invested in their work, recognising that attachment can hinder both the artistic process and the joy of sharing one’s creations.

Exploring local

Soliezuo embraces a flexible approach to pottery, drawing inspiration from various sources and exploring a wide range of forms and designs. Rather than specialising in a specific type of product, she allows her creativity to guide her. While she hasn’t incorporated Naga motifs or designs into her work yet, she hinted at the possibility of doing so in the future.

She works with various clays, including stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and locally sourced clay. Currently, she primarily uses local clay for flower pots and similar items but is eager to experiment further.

“There is so much potential (in local clay),” she said, adding that she wants to move towards more local sourcing, particularly given the high cost of imported materials. For now, her focus remains on teaching, but exploring the possibilities of local clay remains a key ambition.

Shift to classroom

While initially focused solely on creating her pottery, Soliezuo said she realised the need for pottery instruction in Nagaland. “When I started, what was in my mind was that I wanted to make pottery, make products, and sell products. So teaching wasn’t there.”

But as her journey progressed, she felt a growing responsibility to share her knowledge with others. Realising that many in Nagaland share her passion but lack accessible learning opportunities, she felt compelled to start teaching.

Currently, her primary focus has shifted to teaching, which has led her to scale back on creating her own pottery.

“Every day is a learning process,” she said, adding that the effort has been ‘rewarding’ because she also learns along the way.

Soliezuo said she has taught pottery to about 20 individuals and there are more people still learning under her.

The studio offers one and two-month introductory courses, but that does not mean they become masters of pottery, she clarified.

Pointing out that mastering pottery is a long process of continuous learning, she said her classes focus on various basic techniques, including wheel throwing, hand-building, mould-making, and slab-making.

The potter said she finds inspiration in her students’ dedication, recalling one student who diligently commuted from Tseminyu twice a week to attend her two-month course.

She relies primarily on social media platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook, along with word-of-mouth, to market her products. Most of her orders come from friends and family who understand the time-intensive nature of pottery.

While she values inquiries through social media, Soliezuo said she’s cautious about accepting orders from those unfamiliar with the process. Creating a finished pottery piece can take several months, from making and drying to firing and achieving the final product, so she makes an effort to educate potential customers about the timeline involved before accepting orders.

In terms of environmental impact, she acknowledged that since ceramics involves colouring and firing, it is difficult to incorporate eco-friendly practices. Ceramics are also non-biodegradable in nature and though broken items can be repurposed, most of them end up in landfills.

She sees greater potential for sustainability with terracotta, which degrades over time and returns to clay. “If you are only working with terracotta, sustainability…comes under that,” she said while pointing to the growing popularity of earthenware products, like reusable terracotta teacups, as a positive trend.

Promising future

Soliezuo observed that while pottery has gained popularity in recent years, ceramics are still relatively new to Nagaland. However, with art schools and colleges now incorporating pottery courses, she sees a promising future for the craft.

“Pottery and ceramic things, I believe, have a bright future. I see many people taking an interest in this artwork. Of course, I believe in a bright future, not immediately but eventually,” she opined.

She also noted that pottery videos on social media often lead to unrealistic expectations among beginners because, while the craft may appear deceptively simple online, the reality, as many of her students discover, is that creating a well-crafted pot requires significant time, effort, and skill.

“If you are really committed, then, of course, get into pottery,” Soliezuo encouraged. However, it’s a craft that demands both physical and mental fortitude, she cautioned.

But for those with passion and dedication, she believes the rewards are plentiful, and the future for ceramic pottery in Nagaland and the north-east is bright.

READ MORE: https://www.instagram.com/highlandpotterystudio/

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By Thejoto Nienu Updated: Jul 09, 2024 11:22:43 pm
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