In a society that is so habituated in using machine-driven and mass-produced goods, there is little scope for pure craftsmanship to subsist. Besides, the advent of newer, cheaper materials, have catalysed several Indian crafts to be on the verge of phasing out.
One such exquisite craft is handcrafted pottery which, in Jaipur has been given a new lease of life by Studio Asao. Rujutaa Joshi and Ronak Dandia, the young and enthusiastic founders of Studio Asao, had their first brush with local craftsmen while pursuing their studies. Both being graduates of the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design at Jaipur and ceramic designers simultaneously, gave them an edge with pottery and its design.
Shares Rujutaa, “The beginnings of Studio Asao were deeply rooted in the various experiences we had with the local craftsmen while studying in Jaipur and interning with product design firms. Working alongside the artists inspired us to start reviving the art of pottery and establish a production unit in the form of our own studio.”
Studio Asao isn’t just a business model selling beautiful ceramic products; it has a larger purpose in the overall scheme of things.
They believe in preserving the indigenous craft techniques and skills of the pottery community in Jaipur, while enhancing the way people connect with ceramic products today by offering quirky, handcrafted utilitarian items.
This Ronak says has “given us the scope to make use of our entrepreneurial skills and create a progressive environment for local potters.” They also felt that in the long run, ceramics had lost their importance in the Indian dining experience. Thus, they are here to rekindle the culture of clay in the country.
Studio Asao works with ceramics on a whole; their product ranges from table ware/serve ware and home decor products such as tea light holders, lamps, vases, incense burners to large, murals and sculptures. The origins of their name ‘Asao’ is rooted in Sanskrit, which means ‘essence’ and since their products capture the essence of clay, this was deemed an apt title. Each handcrafted product is created with extreme caution and care after undergoing numerous processes, starting with the preparation of clay itself.
Rujutaa further explains the process, “Once the clay is ready, the piece (depending on its function), is either hand thrown on the potter’s wheel or assembled by hand. It is allowed to dry to a ‘leather hard’ stage, where it undergoes its first trimming or finishing or addition of any surface texture. Then it is dried completely and ‘biscuit fired’, which permanently hardens the clay and gives it strength. After an application of glaze, the piece is fired once again. This complete process usually takes minimum three weeks.”
It is a combination of the firing process and the glaze that usually gives ceramics their colour, smoothness and shine. The studio offers a fresh approach to hand thrown pottery, experimenting with slips, glazes, refined clay bodies and different firing techniques. Since all their products are handmade, even those from the same batch have a distinctive quality.
The products from the stable of Studio Asao are designed to be durable and resist trends; the range is available from Rs. 300 onwards. Being a small scale pottery unit, requests for customisation and manufacturing small quantities are more than welcome.
Ronak adds, “Most of the products that we manufacture are for customised orders based on the requirements that clients provide. Products are also made to order based on the collections that the studio has developed. We always consider quality over quantity and believe in creating beautiful goods that stand the test of time.”
Rujutaa and Ronak who design the products, are inspired by Indian cultures and traditions, ranging from architectural elements to age old crafts. All products at their workshop are developed with collective inputs from both the artisans and designers to create a better piece.
The studio has given impetus to the potter community who has been in this business for centuries. But the scope of their products has reduced on a regular basis; for instance the use of terracotta utensils has narrowed down to the common matka, gamla, kullad or diya. This waning tendency of using clay products has caused the potters to look elsewhere for a sustainable source of income, thus triggering a drop in the local artisans who practised this craft.
Their involvement with craftsmen has also been “rewarding as their approach is very different from ours” in their own words. Initially, they didn’t have faith in pottery ever being a source of sustained livelihood. However, with joint efforts, they’ve grown to a team of eight, some of whom are trained potters while others are being trained.
Studio Asao retails its wares from various stores in Jaipur, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Goa as well as various websites, and has recently launched its own website. If beautiful handcrafted ceramics are your thing, you know where to go.
Text By Rehana Hussain