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:
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.
We 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.
The 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.
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.
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.)
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.