An enduring legacy shaped on the potter’s wheel

Preeti Mehra | Updated on January 24, 2018

Art in progress The Andretta Pottery and Craft Society in Andretta village, Palampur district.

Master potter Mansimran Singh with students. Preeti Mehra

A pottery studio draws the best of creative minds to serene Andretta in Himachal Pradesh

Utter the word ‘pottery’ in this area and a hundred fingers will direct you to a quaint lane, where lies the gate to one of the best-kept secrets of the Kangra valley.

Here, in a tiny enclosed space, is the Andretta Pottery and Craft Society, where Mansimran Singh (Mini, as he is called by all) watches hawk-eyed as one of his students stands up on the potter’s wheel to shape an elongated vessel. “You should continue to stand till it reaches the height you desire,” he tells her.

Yes, a class is on at the over three-decade-old studio pottery production unit, which has the Dhauladhar mountain ranges as its backdrop in the sleepy village of Andretta, Palampur district, Himachal Pradesh.

Mini is continuing the legacy of his famous father, Gurcharan Singh, the founder of Delhi Blue Art Pottery. Every summer, from April to June, along with his wife Mary the octogenarian conducts a three-month course for students from far and wide. Since the Eighties he and a local potter, the late Jugal Kishore, have worked with students and other local kumhars (potters) to produce delightful pieces of usable art. Now Kishore’s son Shubham is involved with the operations here. As are a host of other villagers.

Ask Manish Arora, who came here with his wife Yashika to learn pottery and got hooked. Today he has left the corporate world to run his own pottery studio in Palampur and swears by the peace and tranquillity of life in the hinterland.

A history of artistry

Though pottery is not the only history attached to Andretta, it is this that is keeping alive the tradition of the area. Mini recollects how Irish writer and dramatist Norah Richards started it all in the mid-Thirties. After her husband, a professor in Lahore, passed away she made Andretta her home, building a British-style cottage of mud, slate and bamboo — material used by the local people. She would regularly train students in drama and, before long, got attached to Punjab University, Patiala. She subsequently bequeathed her home and land to the University, which Vice-Chancellor SS Boparai later restored and converted into a memorial.

“The pottery unit and Norahji have been part of the hustle, bustle of our village ever since I can remember. My father did a lot of woodwork for her and other artistes who came to live here. We would visit each other and became part of each other’s families,” recalls local resident Piku, who has taken after his father and works in construction and designing.

It was Richards who gathered independent minds and artistes around her and invited them to settle in these pastoral surroundings. Artists BC Sanyal and Sobha Singh, Prof Jaidayal, actor Prithviraj Kapoor and pottery artist Gurcharan Singh were among them. Sobha Singh, known for his paintings of the Sikh gurus, lived here till his death in the mid-Eighties. The Sobha Singh Art Gallery is now run by his family and draws many visitors.

Local values

Over the years, an effort has been made to revitalise the local art and culture scene.

The Norah Centre for the Arts now attracts artists who camp in this indigenous building — designed by architect KT Ravindran, son-in-law of BC Sanyal — for workshops and retreats. The Mirage, a homestay, has also come up in the area.

However, what keeps Richards’ cultural heritage ticking in Andretta village is undoubtedly the pottery centre. Not only does it involve and respect the local villagers, but it also takes students back to the basics — village life and mother earth.

Published on July 03, 2015

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