Meet the maker: Roopal Banthia – Aurea Blue Pottery
Running a business while trying to preserve the heritage of a traditional craft seldom isn’t a monumental task — but the devotion and passion with which Roopal Banthia runs Aurea Blue Pottery is inspiring. We sat down with her to delve deeper into the wonderful work she does, and to learn more about her remarkable social enterprise.
Running a business while trying to preserve the heritage of a traditional craft seldom isn’t a monumental task — but the devotion and passion with which Roopal Banthia runs Aurea Blue Pottery is inspiring, to say the least. For those of you who don’t know, Jaipur’s Blue Pottery is one of the most unique forms of pottery in the world — for the sole reason that it is made without the use of natural clay or mud. From striving hard to revive the art they were so close to losing, to collaborating with skilled artisans to give them a better life in the process — Banthia and Aurea Blue Pottery’s journey over the past three years has been nothing short of extraordinary. We sat down with her to delve deeper into the wonderful work she does, and to learn more about her remarkable social enterprise.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am the chief designer and founder of Aurea Blue Pottery. Being an avid pursuer of colourful pottery, I took a detour from my career as a corporate lawyer to follow my interests in art and the wonderful blue pottery of Jaipur. I was born and brought up in Jaipur, which makes me passionate about the rich heritage and crafts of the Pink City that I so fondly call home.
2. Tell us a little about Aurea Blue Pottery. Is there a story behind the origin of the name? What does the brand aim to do and stand for?
The name ‘Aurea’ stands for resplendent beauty. It is a representation of the result of our first trial batch, which gave radiant hues and a shining surface. We’ve made a conscious effort to remain true to this art which binds us to the rich heritage and culture of Jaipur, and we’re extremely glad that we’ve worked hard to consistently live up to that standard.
3. What propelled you to bring the social enterprise into existence?
It pained me that Jaipur’s blue pottery, which was once in popular demand both domestically and abroad, had been losing its popularity. Aurea Blue Pottery was established in late 2013 with the help of a couple of artisans to revive the craft we were so close to losing. Our objective was simple — to spread awareness about the marvels of the craft and work on designs though would automatically appeal to the contemporary connoisseurs. The goal itself was to make each specially designed product with the care and skill that this craft deserves, so that the superior quality fetches the right value. By opting to shun mass production, we nurtured each piece with time and skill that truly makes it a masterpiece — an object that will become priceless with time.
Our artisans, who reside in villages just outside the city of Jaipur, are highly skilled in their craft. There was period when these artisans found it challenging to sustain their livelihood despite the support programs from the government. There was a serious dearth of resources that hindered them from designing and innovating, acquiring market information, and most importantly, access to potential high-end markets. We teamed up with these artisans primarily to give them an edge in the designs and marketability of blue pottery. Collaborating with us has provided them with financial security, a great working environment, better tools and also access to the best materials. This has helped them express themselves more freely to create magnificent products, the result of which is evident in our product quality.
4. What’s the creative process like? What materials do you use, and how do you go from an idea to a finished, high-quality product?
The technique of making Jaipur Blue Pottery is rather traditional, and we take it upon ourselves to preserve the uniqueness of this art which has been recognised as a geographical indication (GI). Jaipur Blue Pottery is the only form of pottery in the world which is made without the use of natural clay or mud. Instead, a special combination of powdered quartz, glass pieces and other minerals is used to make the clay-like mixture for making blue pottery. The raw materials (chiefly quartz powder, ceramic colours and glazes) are locally sourced from trusted suppliers and a certified frits and glazes manufacturer based in Jaipur.
Our skilled craftsmen then go on to make molds out of POP, and press and hold this clay like mixture in the moulds to get the basic shape of an item. This basic form is usually made in two or three parts depending on the complexity of the shape of the product. Once the parts are dried, they are fused together with the clay and then rigorously rubbed with sandpaper to get a uniform smooth surface. However, before the surface can be painted upon, it has to be further treated with a quartz based coating to get paper-like finish. This then allows the craftsmen to draw and paint on the surface with free-hand patterns.
The item is then coated with a transparent glaze and dried to make it ready for firing in a hand-built furnace. Interestingly, Jaipur’s blue pottery is also the only form of low-temperature glazed pottery which is made with a single firing process. What is also marvellous is that there is negligible amount of mechanisation involved in the production. It takes about one month to prepare a whole batch of articles (big and small pieces) which are subsequently fired together in the furnace.
5. What themes do you aim to explore and promote with your pottery? What inspires you, and how to do transplant those inspirations into your creations?
At Aurea, we love to focus on new designs, variety, durability, and utility. We’ve combined wrought iron, wooden elements, and other materials that has given us opportunity to add features to blue pottery which were not traditionally possible. For example, our coasters come in a variety of bright fresh designs also have a matching rubber casing around. This unique feature keeps your table-top absolutely scratch-free and also provides the coaster resistance from chipping, a problem which is otherwise too common with the fragile blue-pottery coasters. We are continuously developing innovative products, which we hope reflects the philosophy of our brand and sustains our presence as a popular shop for unique gifts and beautiful home decor.
Our products are inspired by all things beautiful and we endorse the fact that beautiful pottery is ageless and timeless. We take inspiration from the colours of India’s many seasons, the lights and spirit of festivals, and something as simple as the joy of giving. We are continuously working towards evolving Jaipur’s Blue Pottery — but of course, there’s a long way to go!
6. Working with local artisans must be quite a unique and fulfilling experience. Tell us a little about that?
Local artisans are not very familiar with the idea of working in an organisation. To work our way around that, we have developed a culture of teamwork which allows moderated flexibility to our unit. There is standardisation as well as design and quality control in terms of the end product, but how the work is done, when it’ll be done, and who’s responsible for it, is all flexible. As opposed to the mundane factory work style, our artisans are comfortable working in this manner, and we’ve noticed this fuels their creativity and boosts productivity. The artisans, too, are more than willing to try out new ideas and their aspiration to grow individually as craftsmen and as a team — which is something that strikes me as very remarkable.
7. What variety of products do you sell? What’s your bestselling or most popular product, in your opinion?
Our elegantly styled product range comprises of unique souvenirs that include home decor accessories, office and desk accessories, as well as premium gifts. We also design wall tiles and concepts for interior decor. Our designs are upbeat, stylish, and occasionally, quirky. Our most popular product is the Blue Pottery Planter. It is available in multitude patterns and thus, blends well with modern homes. It’s a small sized planter that’s useful for growing little house plants like English Ivy, Pothos, China Rose, Office Time Flowers, Periwinkles, Pansies, Jade, and Coleus. Other popular products include coaster sets, decorative table clocks, and decorative wall plates. And of course, how could I forget our decorative jar, which is a collector’s delight!
8. What do the words ‘handmade’ and ‘creativity’ mean to you?
The words ‘handmade’ and ‘creativity’ have a very strong association with Blue Pottery — as they should with any form of handicraft. I firmly believe that the creative process begins with our imagination. As the design, shape, and form develop, our intangible and infinite ‘creativity’ gets a tangible and definite identity. The process of converting a creative idea into the final product may be mechanised or ‘handmade’. In mechanised products, the creative process usually ends once the design is completed. In ‘handmade’ products, the creative process continues right until the form is achieved. While making Blue Pottery, the design and product idea is communicated to artisans in form of drawings, after which the creative understanding of artisans comes into play. We interact to figure out how the design can be executed: sometimes the artisans suggest an innovative way to go about the design, but at other times they concede to the limitations of the design. Even at the execution stage, enhancements are made to the design. The ‘creative’ and ‘handmade’ processes blend to form the very foundation of the art of our Blue Pottery.
9. What do you think is the hardest bit about running a business like the one you do?
The most difficult aspect of Blue Pottery is its fragility. We have developed a comprehensive packaging solution to ensure that the cherished piece of blue pottery is delivered to the customers without any damage.
10. What immediate goals do you have for Aurea Blue Pottery? And also, where do you see yourself in ten years?
With our belief and work, we are not only shaping the brand identity of Aurea, we are also trying to shape a future for blue pottery and our artisans. Thus far, we have been successful in carving out a niche in the area of home decor and gifting. Our clients largely consist of people who appreciate the craftsmanship that shapes our products and who adore our blend of contemporary style and traditional handicraft. Aurea has already become a recognised brand for its exquisite and high-quality blue pottery in the domestic market. Our immediate goal is to reach out to art lovers, and develop unique products that meet their expectations in quality and craft. In future years we wish to have a global reach and identity — which, of course, would involve joining hands with more artisans and bringing them on board. We do not wish to grow with volumes of hurriedly made pottery and compete with factory made cheap ceramics — simply because doesn’t allow our highly skilled artisans to thrive. As we grow, we wish to include and train more people who can add value to our enterprise by the beauty of their products and mastery of their skill.
Visit the Aurea Blue Pottery Shop on Engrave.
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