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Learning local techniques from Kyauk Taing potter. Photo by Chris Riou

Why Myanmar (Burma) should be on every potter’s travel bucket-list

Myanmar is an eye feast for everyone, especially for artists.

As a ceramic artist, the majestic buildings and heritage sites alone provide artistic inspiration.  However, these buildings are also adorned with amazing artworks: the sculpture, carving, weaving, painting, pottery, puppets and gold leafing are outstanding. As Burma is rich in resources and creativity, these art forms are still practised today and are passed on through the generations. The silk, teak, precious gems, local clays, coloured slips, weave, pot, carve and paint all tell the stories of Burma’s history.

Pottery in Myanmar

Ceramics are an important industry in Myanmar. Water pots, cooking vessels, children’s toys, and planters are seen and used every day: in the houses, hotels, gardens and villages, from cities to the countryside. They are stacked high in rows and floated to market on barges along the Irrawaddy River, and by the roadside and in village markets pots are likewise stacked and ready for sale.

In the village of Nwe Nyein north of Mandalay in the Shwebo District, the streets are lined with one metre high Martaban pots. With the glazes shining under the blue of the sky, it’s a spectacular sight for any potter or photographer. These pots are used throughout Myanmar to store and collect water, for fermentation, storage of grains, oil and wine.

Pots for collecting palm oil sap Pots sued in fermentation processes Bagan traditional show at dinner in the temples Foraging for water snails on Inle Lake. Photo by Chris Riou

Little roofed water huts are visible in every village. They contain the smaller ceramic water pot with its offering of communal drinking water, free to everyone in or visiting the village; a thoughtful and ongoing Buddhist tradition. These traditions ensure that ceramic production continues in a major way and this is why you need to visit Myanmar soon. Technology will inevitably reach these villages, and conditions may change.

Water pot at Bagan market Nwe Nyein water pots. Photo Chris Riou Twante water pots

Visiting Myanmar’s Pottery Villages

Now is your chance to meet friendly, hardworking, skilled people. They will welcome you to their village and share the centuries-old methods of clay production. You’ll see and learn where the river clays and minerals are sourced and processed to make pottery and glazes. You’ll experience how the community mud brick kilns are loaded and fuelled with locally-grown hardwood and bamboo for firing.

The hospitality of the village people is warm and generous. They seem curious and flattered that we should travel so far to learn from them.  Not so many tourists visit where Clay and Culture Tours* will take you.  With the help of local licensed English-speaking guides all your questions about the potteries can be answered; they can even translate the most technical questions and act as bilingual facilitators of conversations.

You’ll visit the family homes in the village, interact with the grannies, babies and children, and see how the animals are cared for. Free range chickens pop in and out of the houses, cows, pigs, goats are tethered nearby.  Many make pottery from home, specially the women in smaller village potteries. You’ll be given home pottery wheel demonstrations by family members, and try your own hand on one of the wooden wheels. See the communal kilns being packed or unpacked.

Nwe Nyein pottery village. Photo Chris Riou Stoking the kiln at Kyauk Taing pottery village on Inle Lake. Photo by Chris Riou Village life at Kyauk Taing pottery village on Inle Lake. Photo by Chris Riou

Although these folks are poor by our standards, you can share stories, laugh, and drink tea with them. Your visit alone helps to sustain each village and if you desire you can further support them by purchasing their pottery.

Personally, as a potter who has visited many potteries around the globe, Myanmar opens my heart and inspires my creativity every visit. It teaches me to appreciate what I have. Burmese art, the tranquility of the people and land, the sounds, sights, food, and smells are unique.

After  visiting  Burma I am inspired to be a better teacher; to appreciate what I have; it brings new colour and life into my own ceramic practices in my Sydney based studio, Parraclay.

I trust Burma will bring you such gifts, too.

Blogpost written by Dianne Turner, Ceramic Artist

Photo credits:  Chris Riou, NewportTravel

Dianne Turner is a Ceramic Artist who runs a pottery workshop and studio in Sydney, Parraclay, and co-hosts pottery tours to Myanmar with *Clay and Culture Pottery Tours and Cruises.

Click here for information on the Clay and Culture deluxe hosted pottery tour to Myanmar 14-25 January 2020

The Clay and Culture itinerary in Myanmar takes in all aspects of what Myanmar (or Burma) has to offer. From stunning sunsets on Inle Lake to visiting 4 pottery villages, the tour includes visits to significant pagodas, temples, stupas and monasteries, plus a World Heritage Museum and archaeological site only discovered in 2014.

Travelling Myanmar on the tour you get to experience many forms of transport from:  the luxury of the tour’s air conditioned vans with private driver and guide, to local horse and cart, long boat, river ferry and luxury colonial-style river cruise. These experiences create good memories of the landscapes: the wildlife; floating farms; stilted houses; one legged fishermen; a huge mix or scenery from golden capped stupas in the plains to lush mountains and farm land.  We even saw some Eucalyptus trees growing in the Shwebo area!

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