I met Deborah Smith in the Ceramics Department of the University of Southern California in 1969. She had just returned from two years in Japan after being graduated from Stanford in Japanese language. In Japan she had apprenticed for a year with Yamamoto Toshu in Bizen. She was on her way to Japan again, this time for three months to act as an interpreter for Susan Peterson who was researching her book on Shoji Hamada. I was on my way to Europe after a protracted university career that included 3 years studying art on a basketball scholarship at Pepperdine College, 4 years in architecture school at USC and finally a BFA in ceramics.
We had discovered in each other a vague interest in the philosophy of the East—not uncommon at the time—and would meet again in India. Pondicherry, the home of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, was in 1970 often characterized as a quiet village on the Coromandel Coast of Southeast India. What is now the Union Territory of Pondicherry had been a French colony. It was handed back to India in 1956, but at the turn of the 20th century it was a safe haven from the British Raj and attracted the Bengali revolutionary/mystic Sri Aurobindo Ghose. The ashram began as a closely-knit group of Sri Aurobindo and four or five disciples in 1910. Sri Aurobindo passed away in 1950, but the Ashram has become a Pondicherry institution, now with upwards of 1500 disciples.
Deborah and I founded the Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry in 1971. Deborah, who arrived three months before I did, was asked by one of the secretaries at the ashram if she would start a pottery workshop. “Yes,” she said, “if my friend comes to build a kiln.”
The Golden Bridge Pottery, still loosely connected to the ashram, was the first workshop to make glazed stoneware pottery by hand in South India. We now employ fourteen people and our work has become the standard for small-scale handmade production pottery in India. There are now more than fifteen potteries in the Pondicherry area, making everything from raku to porcelain, in one-person studios or small-scale units employing up to forty people, makers ranging from educated Indians and Westerners to unschooled villagers with absolutely no prior experience with clay. We have been teaching for twenty-seven years and there are studio potters all over India that have come to learn with us. Since 1997 we have been hosting workshops with artists/educators from abroad, including Susan Peterson, Jane Perryman, Jim Danisch, Mike Dodd, Sandy Brown and Betty Woodman.
Deborah has been in charge of the pottery production since 1985, when I began a 13-year project developing fire-stabilized mud building briefly discussed on the “Fired Houses” page of this web site. In 1996, with the fired housing period largely behind me, I returned to working with clay on a more modest scale for exhibition in India. The purpose of this web site is to broaden the reach of this new direction.