Dubai: After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the carousel of life spins back into a broken rhythm, following a discordant symphony, with frayed health and jarred emotions, our routines and relationships thrown out of sorts, most of us are looking for a meaning, a conclusion, an explanation that makes sense of it all.
It was in such a state of mind that I had first learnt about Mud House, a pottery studio in Al Quoz, Dubai, which opened in July. I drove there in search of finding some meaning on the potter’s wheel, to move to the bigger spinning wheel of life.
‘Sharing decompression with others’
Preeti Pawani, Indian expat and art enthusiast who is the entrepreneur behind Mud House, started the little studio at the peak of the pandemic. “I trained in the art of clay moulding and loved creating pieces, firing them into exquisite ceramic art at the kiln. It is a truly unparalleled feeling of joy. Therefore, I decided to share this tremendous decompression I felt with others,” Pawani told Gulf News.
Nurturing a potters’ community
Many years ago, Pawani had introduced another studio for amateur painters, called Jam Jar. Pawani felt the time was ripe to start a potters’ community in Dubai. “I felt Dubai lacked an actual potters’ community, and pottery is definitely part of the UAE heritage. In order to create such a community, there is need for more pottery studios providing good facilities, adequate and good equipment and being accommodative and less intimidating. For me that was paramount.”
She added: “The pandemic had grounded most or all of us. Initially, I took this on as a hobby and got totally drawn to it. So it was the perfect business opportunity for me also, as I had been looking these last few years for something solid.”
However, venturing into a business that was purely people-driven was a risky and challenging step to take in a pandemic. Pawani’s family - husband Harish, a Dubai businessman, and son Vishaal - pitched in. Pawani acquired a warehouse, found the right pottery instructor, installed a kiln, several potter’s wheels, imported clay and then poured her heart and soul into creating a retreat for people.
Bonding over ceramic pots
Going by my own experience, Mud House is a studio for all Dubai residents to shed their angst, indulge in getting their hands muddy without guilt, and bring out the child in their inner selves. It helps families to bond over the shape of a ceramic pot and share the pleasure of watching the piece glazed at the kiln standing gracefully like a spruced up toddler on the shelf - all bright in vibrant ceramic paint. This was my biggest takeaway from the first-hand experience I had.
“The joy of creation is unparalleled,” said Anisha Rai, a live-wire pottery instructor at Mud House who has learnt the art of pottery at Auroville, India, and several US studios. Families, friends and colleagues come here in groups for pottery sessions. Once at the wheel, they learn the process quickly and can experience the years of stress and fatigue collapse in a heap of clay besides them. “The feeling that I as the potter have the power to mould into the shape I want, is very special and deeply satisfying,” said Rai.
Slipping into the potter persona
You cannot help but notice the glaring metaphor of life that the act of spinning the potter’s wheel has to offer. At the studio, you make an effort to slip into the potter persona. You don the apron, smear your palms with moist clay, learn the process of ‘throwing’ the clay on to the wheel and stepping on the pedal to help the wheel spin furiously into a steady rhythm, with a very light and gentle touch, as analogy for life. In any situation you face, you need to be hands-on, get into the thick of the crisis, gets your hands dirty, apply just the right amount of pressure, get into a steady rhythm, and viola - the circle of life has its way of spinning and creating beautiful memories, situations and objects.
Stages of moulding
Taking us through the phases of clay moulding and firing, Rai said: “A student attending one of our classes can look forward to creating a piece of ceramic ware at the end of one hour. This piece, which is still damp from the wheel, is left on the shelf to air-dry, then bisque-fired to 997C. Then the student comes back to glaze the piece, which is then re-fired in a second firing phase up to 1280C. Once it is re-fired, the piece can be cooled and taken home. The entire cycle takes one month approximately.”
Rai added: “I personally believe that pottery is very therapeutic as it makes a person slow down, zone out all the noise and hustle-bustle of the world around us, into just the creative world of the feeling of cool clay in and out of our hands. It allows one to still a busy mind.”
The art of mud spinning has several phases. In a duration of one hour, people are taught the art of wheel throwing, which involves manoeuvring the mound of clay with suitable pressure at an angle that it gets attached to the centrifugal force of the wheel, moving in a smooth manner. Next comes hand building where the hands have to be held at a particular angle, cupped around the mound of clay, providing just the right pressure to create the shape. The studio also provides workshops teaching different techniques in glazing.
A kiln is the heart of any pottery studio. At Mud Studio, the kiln has a name - Agneya - named after the daughter of the fire god. With temperatures shooting above thousands of degrees centigrade, the compact steel kiln manages to give shape to the efforts of those who make the mud creations.
“We also offer production for restaurants, cafes and hotels for their ceramic serve-ware and tableware requirements and are working on providing interior decorators and architects, ceramic artefacts for home and hotel décor. We make ceramic tiles as well. Everything is customised as per requirement, colours, and styles, using our in-house skilled artisan and custom glazes,” Pawani said.
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The studio has also started taking up corporate team building events at its spacious lounge and pantry space. Pawani expressed her delight to see the Dubai art community take to her studio. “I have a feeling of fulfilment knowing that I have shared my passion and opened out my heart and space to people who have always wanted to learn this beautiful art form.”