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Fired-up about pottery


DONNA SEALY

Fired-up about pottery

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WHEN POTTER Hamilton Wiltshire sits at his wheel and moulds his specially-milled clay into a vase, mug, dinner plate, bowl, or coaster, he is doing so with nearly 40 years of knowledge.

It requires “lots of patience” and “training your hands”, said the owner of Hamilton’s Pottery in Sturges, St Thomas.

He told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY that he got involved after hearing an announcement on the Barbados Government Information Service-produced radio programme Opportunity Calls that pottery was a dying art and they needed to train young people.

He registered for the course and recalled that he “didn’t really like it at first but with persistence, here I am today, 38 years later”.

hamilton-wiltshire-clay-art-101915“I started to train and was told it was going to take about five years, which seemed like a long time. Being a young fellow, I figured I’ve got time on my hands but initially I wanted to be a civil engineer. I kept going to the [Samuel Jackman Prescod] Polytechnic in the evening doing City & Guilds while I was doing this training, but after about six months, I began to like it. I thought, not many are around. I can make a living from this,” he said.

“It was at that point I told myself when I become qualified I would have my own business. But about a year into training at the [Barbados] Industrial Development Corporation . . . I was asked to assist with training and that continued until I took over the running of the department.

Wiltshire said he had the opportunity to study in Italy. “It was fascinating, but a real eye-opener because when I got there I was on a course with 11 other students . . . I was the only English-speaking person . . . . You had to learn Italian.

“It was hard, but thoroughly enjoyable.”

After the course, he continued with his production and training and in 1992 decided to go on his own. He has not looked back. After operating Indigenous Potteries at Pelican, he moved to his present location seven years ago. Wiltshire also scaled down his operation from ten to three people and changed the name to Hamilton’s Pottery.

Production hours are not set in clay either; sometimes a fired kiln does not finish baking until 2 or 3 a.m. and they have to stay awake during the process.

“We do everything from scratch. We are the only one using clay which comes from St Andrew and that makes all the difference. There are many types of clay in Barbados, even in St Andrew.

“We have clay ranging in colour from white, yellow, cream, pink and different shades of red. These are the finished colours. Pottery must, in order for it to be durable, fired to its correct maturing temperature and this is something a lot of potters don’t understand. You can have a clay that looks good at one temperature but is not necessarily very durable,” Wiltshire explained.

He noted that all local clay had to be fired to high temperatures. However, he added, there were other ways of testing the raw material to determine its elasticity to work on the wheel; its ability to dry at a rate to prevent cracking; it must survive the fire and its shrinkage rate “must be in harmony with your glazes”.

“It’s not easy as people may think. You only see the finished product, but a lot of work goes into it,” Wiltshire said.

With the push to have more people buy local products, one would think that sale of items like monkeys, spoon rests and coasters would increase in November but Wiltshire disagrees.

“We do our biggest sales to locals in December by way of gift items. People tend to buy local products at Crop Over time. We tend to sell more monkeys to the Bajan Yankees and Brits then,” he said.

He added that while the winter tourist season was usually good for business, other sales came from people who want replicas from a by-gone era – like coal pots – to decorate their homes.

“This is what I do for a living. My children are all grown up and I still have to work. I have to make a living and I enjoy it. It’s not just work for me, it’s my hobby as well,” the potter said with a smile. (Green Bananas Media.)

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