It is these communities that were responsible for the earliest dated earthenware in Sri Lanka. A potter, kumbala in Sinhalese, caste formed over time. They worked in open sheds set up beside their homes, sorting out their materials on large reed mats, shaping their wares on manually operated stone wheels and firing them in crude brick kilns.
The utility value of their products made them important to society at large and earned them a place in the country’s crafts guilds.
Members of the potter clan undertook raaja kariya (royal duties) in the royal palace of the Kandyan Kingdom (1469-1739). Groups of potters were administered by high-ranking officials to work at the maha gabadawa (royal storehouse) in Kandy.
Today, pottery has come of age in the country, with approximately 60 percent of the local artisans being potters. The continuing and increasing demand for clay products and the availability of modern methods and technology have led to the development of a sophisticated industry.
In some rural areas t,raditional methods of casting and firing are still employed. Everywhere, traditional and contemporary designs thrive alongside each other.
Pottery painting was usually the work of artists
At the time, pottery painting was usually the work of artists. They painted decorative motifs on completed pots using oil-based pigments. Nevertheless, the potters independently developed the art of their trade, carving beautiful but minimalist patterns into their work and adorning them with the now characteristic pleasing red, white and black lines.
Sometimes, they combined aesthetics with functionality: for instance, making the fine grooves in the nambili, and serrated bowls used to wash and separate stones from rice, in lovely flower patterns.
Probably the most exponential development has been the porcelain industry which took off in the 1960s. The country is now a leading producer of fine porcelain wares for international companies.
Sri Lanka’s own porcelain brands have won global acclaim and have even graced Oscar Award dinners. The range of products is broad today including children’s toys, glazed jewellery, home decor, tiling and more.
Studio pottery is on the rise in the country generating new waves of creativity. Over the millennium, function and art have fused to shape a bright future for the Island’s potters.
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