Chennai-based Sumita, an artist, and author, profiles Deborah Smith and Ray Meeker. She tells us how they came to Pondicherry and founded the Golden Bridge Pottery, exclusively in Different Truths.
Deborah Smith and Ray Meeker came to Pondicherry within three months of each other in early 1971 and in the process of making it their home brought about a revolution in ceramics and pottery in India.
Deborah Smith graduated in the Japanese language from Stanford, California, in 1966. She subsequently lived in Japan studying pottery with Araki Takako in Nishinomiya for two years, followed by a year’s apprenticeship under master potter Yamamoto Toshu of Bizen. She returned to Los Angeles in 1969, for a year of graduate studies at USC and met Ray Meeker during their common classes in Ceramics. In 1970, she travelled to Mashiko, Japan, as translator and companion to Susan Peterson, then researching and writing on Hamada Shoji. When she arrived in Pondicherry, India, in December 1970, one of the secretaries of the Aurobindo Ashram requested her to start a pottery workshop. This led to the establishment of Golden Bridge Pottery in 1971 when Ray Meeker joined her.
Ray Meeker studied Art for three years at Pepperdine College on a basketball scholarship, followed by four years perusing architecture and finally a BFA in Ceramics at the University of Southern California. He left for India in May 1970, travelling through Europe and the Middle East on foot and various other means of transport. His ‘Road to India’ is a diary filled with evocative sketches from those months.
The two immensely talented artists came together in Pondicherry to create Golden Bridge Pottery. It was the first workshop to make glazed stoneware pottery by hand in South India and gave birth to a number of small-scale potteries in the area. Students and educators from all over India and abroad, came to their workshops to learn and share knowledge, returning to enrich their own communities.
Deborah Smith’s distinctive delicate ceramics
Debbie’s work focusses on pottery, displaying her Japanese influences and a uniquely feminine style of glazed and painted pottery. She has been in charge of the tableware and pottery production from 1985 when Ray’s pottery expanded to include his other sculptural and architectural interests. His mammoth sculptural ceramics, like “The Passage”, a landmark standing tall on the grounds of Hyatt Regency, Chennai, experimented with marrying architecture and ceramics. His thirteen years of experimentation with fired clay houses produced among a number of sublime living spaces, the stunning dance temple for the dance doyenne Protima’s Nrityagram, near Bengaluru. The dance temple is embellished with two excellent relief sculptures of Protima and Kelucharan Mohapatra, rare examples of human anatomy sculpture by Ray Meeker.
‘The Passage’, at Hyatt Regency, Chennai
Relief Sculpture of Kelucharan Mohapatra on the fired clay dance temple in Nrityagram.
The massive presence of Ray’s ceramics
Deborah Smith and Ray Meeker continue to forge ahead with their experiments with baked clay endowing the conversation in ceramics with new vocabulary. With gratitude for their marvellous contribution to the world of ceramics.
Photos by the author
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A lifelong bookworm and a graduate of Fine Arts from Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore, Sumita Dutta enjoys most art-forms avidly. She has worn a number of hats – parent coordinator handling admissions, teaching O and AS level English, editor, publisher, photographer, manipulating digital images, designer, team leader for an IT start-up, PRO, sales rep and more. Her poetry, prose, photography, and art can be found on a number of sites on the web.