Molela and Nathdwara

Say hello to one of my new favorite places —-  Molela!


In early February, my husband Stan and I were invited by artist and professor Gagan Dadich to stay and to work in his beautiful studio in the tiny village of Molela.  Located in the state of Rajasthan, Molela is famous for a unique style of ceramics, particularly for its charming narrative plaques and murals.  A few examples of the work:

DSC_1087 DSC_1086

There are about 40 families in Molela producing terracotta sculpture.  Only a few families are producing pottery.   Each workshop has many works lined up outside to entice shoppers inside.  Tour buses stop here occasionally to shop and then continue on their journey. Just a few people like us stick around for a little while to get to know the place.






DSC_0931We spent a lot of time with one sculptor in particular, Shyam Lal.  This is his storefront, followed by several images of his works.  He had just finished a huge work segment and had many works ready for the beginning of what he called the buying season, meaning that over the next few weeks those tours buses that I mentioned before would be coming through en masse. Now he was enjoying his vacation time, which he generously shared with us.

DSC_0923 DSC_0926

Shyam Lal Kumhar of Mangalam Terracotta Art
Sculptures by Mangalam Terracotta Art


DSC_0908The forms are made using a combination of slabs and pinching. As many areas as possible are left open to encourage air circulation; examples in this piece are the crown and underneath the body of the horse.  The finer details are made by impressing with tools, or by adding small pieces of clay.  Cutting or carving into the clay would be difficult with the heavily fibrous consistency of the clay body.

A beautiful mural installed in front of Shyam’s Mangalam Terracotta Art workshop



Gagan’s studio is wonderful. New designs are painted once a year on the clay-dung walls, and the studio is brimming with works that he has made and collected.




Experimenting with Molela Clay

DSC_0026 We experimented with the Molela clay, which contains at least one third donkey dung in the clay body.  The donkey dung has an incredible amount of fiber in it, which gives the clay body not only the strength for making large plaques and tiles, but also for the extremely quick firings.  We were told that some firings are often finished in as little as three hours!


Shankaraba (Shankar Lal Kumhar) is one of the few potters in Molela making exclusively functional ware.  We happened upon him as he and his family were loading his kiln.  (I wish that Santa Cruz city ordinances would allow me to put a kiln like this in my front yard.)DSC_1117
Before we left Molela for Nathdwara, we met another family loading their kiln, this time with sculptures, tiles and plaques, Jamnalal and Bharathi Kumhar of Kalptaru Terracotta Art Center.   We joined in to help carry out the work for loading, and enjoyed the camaraderie that is universal when it comes to clay.




This is part of Jaminlal and Bharathi’s showroom.  Very hard to choose from all the great pieces there!






Nathdwara has a fantastic night market, nearby the Shrinathji Temple.  The lane leading up to the temple gate had shops with wonderful looking sweets.  We were shocked by the size of the ladoos — about the size of a softball and nearly ten times larger than the ones at the shops in Kolkata.  We bought one, and took two days to finish eating it!

The next morning I gave a lecture at  S.M.B. Government Post Graduate College in Nathdwara, where Gagan is a Professor of Art.  After my presentation I had the pleasure to spend time with his students and to learn about their interests and art processes.



Back in Kolkata, Stan and I agreed that of all of the great memories that we brought back from this trip to Rajasthan, visiting Molela and Nathdwara is at the top of our list.

Jamnalal’s work, freshly made



Residency at Maihol House

How wonderful! In January I was invited to be part of an international group of ceramic artists who would  be working together at Maihol House, an artists’ residency center in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh.  Countries represented are India, Australia, Latvia, France, and the USA.

Maihol House is also the family home of Ambica Beri, who owns Gallery Sanskriti in Kolkata.  Ambica, a generous and nurturing soul as well as an avid supporter of the arts, sponsored all of us to participate in this wonderful residency.  She is also in the midst of opening another amazing residency center not far from Maihol House, called Art Ichol.

Maihol House


A twenty-three hour train ride later, I was met at the Maihar station by Kolkata ceramic artist Aditi Saraogi.   At Maihol House, I met three of the other invited artists, Anjani Khanna from Mumbai, and Eugenia Logovia and Anatoli Borodkin of Latvia, as well as Ambica Beri and her brand new assistant, Tanya Dutt.  The next day Eugenia and Anatoli and I set out to spend some time at the famous Khajuraho temples, as well as to rendezvous with the remaining two invited artists, Isabelle Roux of France and Sandra Black of Australia. (Khajuraho is one of the closer airports to Maihar.)



Most of the temples of Khajuraho were first built around 1000 years ago!  They are covered with beautiful carvings of animals, dancers, musicians, and of course, lovers. Khajuraho is famous for erotic carvings, however, as our guide informed us, and we could see for ourselves, less than 15 percent of the carvings were explicitly sexual.




DSC_0004_01Most of the temples have had some sort of reconstruction of over the last few hundred years.  The platform for this little temple was created with what looks like portions from many different temples, giving the effect of sculptural collage.

The next day we began our work at Sanskriti Ceramics.

Aditi working outside near the ceramics studio
Sandra Black, potter extraordinaire!


My lovely roommate for the residency, Anjani Khanna, in the midst of creating one of her yalis.
The fabulous Anatoli Borodkin!
Isabel takes a break from work on her gorgeous vessel forms
Eugenia near the studio pond


My new friend who lives in that pond, and was the inspiration for the sculptural platter below


After some intense days, we set our works out to dry, and Ambica took us to the Maihar Devi temple, which is dedicated to Sharada Ma, an aspect of Saraswati (goddess of knowledge, music and creative arts).


one amazing shrine on the side of the main temple

On the way back to Maihol House we stopped near some brick makers and their kilns to learn about the process.




kiln for firing clay bricks


The next day we went to the Maihar Music School for a wonderful concert of Indian classical music given by the school’s instructor.  We learned that this school is famous as the place where Ravi Shankar studied.


Enjoying wonderful music at the Maihar Music School


If these great experiences weren’t enough — Aditi worked with Devilal Patidar of Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal to organize an international symposium at which we presented our works to a large and receptive audience.

bharat bhavan symp

Bhopal is a city that is very supportive of the arts, and we visited a number of beautiful museums, among them the astounding Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum.  Much thanks to Devilal for rolling out the red carpet for us all!

And then, too soon, it was time for me to say adios…..

A photo of our bisqued works laid out for an experimental woodfire. Eugenia’s lively elephants take front stage.

I had to leave the group a few days early, since my husband was flying to Kolkata for a long-awaited visit, and the return train ride would be at least twenty hours with the currently foggy weather conditions.  Nevertheless,  I left with many great memories!!  Much thanks to Ambica and Tanya, to Aditi for the invitation, Devilal, and to all of the other artists for the clayful camaraderie.  We shall meet again!