The Lombok Crafts Project
The Lombok Crafts Project has been working with the Sasak potters of Lombok since 1988. As Lombok is one of the poorest islands in Indonesia, the project provides the potters with technical and marketing support, as well as organising education, health and sanitation projects. The Lombok Pottery Centre (LPC) is the marketing arm of the project, which helps potters tailor their designs to current market needs, while preserving the traditional pottery techniques that make Sasak earthenware unique. The centre is currently working towards becoming self-sustainable, with the potters having direct control over decision-making and distribution of profits. Since the early 16th century, pottery has been skilfully crafted by village women as a means of income.
Pottery is the main source of income for the village women, therefore when their products sell well, the economy prospers. However, the artisan’s often have trouble calculating the cost of materials and labour needed to produce their pottery, therefore often lose money. Financially the LPC has helped these artisans, whilst also allowing community members to undertake pottery training with funding from Oxfam New Zealand. Staff in each village has been trained in exacting selection procedures so that each pot available in the Pottery Centres is of the highest standard possible.
The organisation first began with just 9 artisans, all widows, and now the Penujak community alone has 75 women potters. The LCP has provided each of the villages that it deals with, with work shelters and showrooms. The LCP also works with the potters to improve the quality, design and durability of their products.
As a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation, the LCP focuses on fair prices, high quality products and social well-being. Furthermore, the LPC offers product development, promotion and marketing, social programs (such as literacy and schooling), and financial services, such as loans and an annual bonus’ to a number of its ceramic manufacturers.
The technique used by the Sasak people of Lombok is one of the oldest ways of making pottery, and Lombok is one of the few places in the world where the technique has survived. Within the communities, pottery techniques are passed down from mother to daughter at an early age, a tradition known as ‘turun temurun’.
The clay used for the products is dug locally, never further than 3km from the women’s home, and is unique to each location. The artisan’s work the clay with simple tools such as their hands, stones and wooden paddles, just as ancient pottery was created. Coils of clay are stacked on top of each other, pinched into shape, and then smoothed with a curved coconut husk. To seal the surface before firing, the pot is strengthened through a process named burnishing.
Here the clay is rubbed with a paint-like mixture of finely sieved clay, water and oil, and then rubbed all over with a smooth stone. These stones, usually obsidian pebbles, are prized possessions handed down from mother to daughter. The pot is then fired using traditional firing methods of burying the pots in the ground, surrounded by coconut husk which are then burned to fire the pots.
Initially the clay is of a greyish brown shade, yet after firing, it becomes a rich ochre colour. Patterning on the bowl is etched by hand, and the designs are distinctive to the community in which the pottery was created. The clay used to produce Sasak pottery pots has been approved for food safety by the appropriate testing authorities in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and is considered food safe by the US FDA.
The ultimate goal of the LPC is to create a sustainable environment for the potters and their communities. The potters of Lombok come from communities in which living standards are low, and where illiteracy and infant mortality rates are high. The Lombok Crafts Project has worked with potters in three villages to improve the standard of living for them and for their families. Many potters are also farmers, working hard to produce food for their family in the dry climate whilst earning money from producing pottery.
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Lombok Pottery Centre
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