We took a break before the year-end madness hit us. And what a time it was. Bright, crisp, days and windy, bone-chilling nights in the shadow of the mighty Dhauladhars. The endless gaze that never wavered from the snow-capped mountain peaks – greedily seeking to imprint their views in the mind’s eye forever. The blessed presence of Baijnath-ji and the all compassionate Shakyamuni Buddha. Interwoven with some fabulous experiences. One of which has left us truly inspired.
We fulfilled a long cherished dream – of visiting the hamlet of Andretta to check out what we city-slickers lust after – studio pottery. On a cold yet sunny winter morning – we were deposited outside an unassuming entrance gate – only to discover the magic a mere few steps ahead. It took a lot of self-control to hold one’s horses. Not rush on to the wheel. Not to drool over the work left out to dry. And not to tear into the store and wipe the shelves clean.
We bumped in to a young gentleman working at his wheel – crafting magic under his hands.
Badgering him with questions – he showed exemplary patience and multi-tasked away – gently telling us to first check out the Terracotta Museum – perhaps the only one of its kind in the world – which showcases the work of local potters and some samples of pottery from distant lands. There is also an extremely impressive bust of Sardar Gurcharan Singh – who set up Andretta Pottery in 1983.
Andretta was conceived of as an Artists Village by Irish writer and dramatist – Norah Richards, who moved here from Lahore. The place then drew artist and sculptor B.C. Sanyal, Professor Jai Dayal and well –known painter Sobha Singh. And Sardar Gurcharan Singh.
Today Andretta not only boasts of the Andretta Pottery Society but also the Norah Richards Centre for Arts and the Sobha Singh Art Gallery & Museum. Apart from visitors who have wandered off the beaten track – there are pottery enthusiasts who come to learn the craft, drama students who enact plays at Norah Richards’ home, discussions and exchanges on art and all things artistic that take place.
To come back to our experience. After wandering through the tiny museum with its incredible array of riches spread all around us – on tables, on the floor, on a staircase, in nooks and niches – it was time to step back in to the warm sunshine and marvel at the semi-finished work which had been crafted, fired and painted. The pastel colours of the work were delightfully unusual and one would have been happy to snitch the pieces away – but some more work in terms of painting, glazing and firing in the kiln still needed to be done.
The young and self-taught master potter who we spent time with – is Shubham Sankhyan – who took over the running of Andretta Pottery – from his father Jugal Kishore.
Jugal Kishore was originally working in Himachal Pradesh, promoting the use of solar energy on behalf of the state government – when he was requested by Sardar Gurcharan Singh – the original master and founder of Andretta Pottery to come and look after the day-to-day affairs of the place. The rest as they say – is history. Shubham was a student of Aeronautical Engineering but chose to give up his studies and come back to Andretta to support the Studio and his family and carry on his father’s legacy pretty much the way Mansimran ‘Mini’ Singh is today carrying on the legacy of his father Sardar Gurcharan Singh.
And so we tried our hands at the wheel and under Shubham’s watchful eye and gentle support produced reasonably acceptable pieces of pottery – which were too wet to carry back but the pictures are here for posterity. The shopping was the icing on the cake.
We came away humbled and inspired. And added a three month long pottery course at Andretta on to our bucket list.