On the Potter’s Wheel at Highland Pottery

October 11, 2016

I had been twisting and turning through narrow, rocky countryside roads flanked by encroaching sugarcane field bush for over an hour. The only thing burning me more than the sun’s scorching heat beating through my car window was the question of when I would arrive. Thirty minutes later, I turned into peaceful Chalky Mount, St. Andrew on Barbados’ rugged northeast coast and started up the hill to my destination for the day: Highland Pottery. A modest, single- storey wood structure atop a small incline served as shop and factory. I walked inside and Prim, the potter’s wife and assistant, called to me from their residence next door that she’d be right with me.

She showed me the various steps and equipment involved in fashioning locally harvested clay into beautiful household and decorative objects. My eyes voraciously beheld row upon row of dishes, mugs, kettles, light shades, vases, and wall ornaments. Some boasted shiny blue and green hues while others retained the natural rust colour of the clay. To my delight, Highland’s owner and potter Winston JN Paul treated me to a live demonstration of his handiwork. It was amazing to see his hands so deftly bring to life the lump of clay with a few spins on the wheel.

How it works:

1. Local clay is harvested from a nearby location.

Pile of clay in front of Highland Pottery


2. The clay is mixed with water in a solution of 1 part clay to 2 parts water to soften it. It becomes ice-cream-like in texture.

Clay mixed with water

3. The clay is strained to remove impurities. Large amounts of clay are stored in drums.

Excess clay is stored in these drums

4. The clay is then placed on trays where it is left to dry out in the sun for 3-4 weeks (depending on the weather). This removes excess moisture and renders it plasticine-like in texture.

Trays (background) for drying the clay

5. The clay is placed in plastic bags to retain the remaining moisture.

Bags of clay

6. The clay is put through a pug machine to remove bubbles, air, and lumps.

“Pug” machine

7. The clay is put on the potter’s wheel and molded into the desired object.

8. The object is left to dry for 2-3 weeks. At this stage, it is fragile, or “bone dry”. Any remaining moisture is lost.

9. The clay object is now baked, or “fired” (called bis or biscuit frying”), in a kiln at 950 degrees F to harden.

Kiln for baking or “firing” the clay

10. If a specific colour is desired for the object, a glaze is applied and the object is fired again at a higher temperature, typically around 1200 degrees F. At this temperature the glaze chemicals react to the extreme heat and melt, leaving the familiar glass-like coating.

The finished product


How Cool Is That?? After my visit to Highland Pottery, I found out that Earth Mother Botanicals, a local all-natural line of skin care products, uses Chalky Mount clay in its facial masks!

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