Bird Song
Woodfiring at the Golden Bridge Pottery
by Aarti Vir

First published in The Log Book issue 40, November 2009, pages 25 – 31.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. Chinese proverb.Ray Meeker and Deborah Smith have been living, working and teaching in Pondicherry, a small coastal town in southern India, for almost 40 years. They have, over the years, responded to circumstances and needs, theirs as well as those of people around them. With adventurous, open minds, they have always been willing to embrace opportunities and people coming their way, unstintingly sharing their passion and knowledge, nurturing in apprentices and students a love for clay, training local workers to throw, glaze and fire, and in the process, they have given impetus to a veritable pottery movement, not only in Pondicherry, but throughout the country.

I never tire of hearing the story of how they first met in the ceramics department of the University of Southern California in 1969 and of their subsequent adventures and rites of passage.

Ray had spent several years studying art on a basketball scholarship, then architecture and finally ceramics. Deb had studied Japanese language at Stanford University, then spent two years in Japan, mostly interested in – as she puts it ‘not being me’, but also in learning a craft. She returned to California after apprenticing for a year with Yamamoto Toshu in Bizen. In 1970, Deb was back in Japan, helping Susan Peterson research her book on Shoji Hamada, and in December that year arrived in Pondicherry to visit the Aurobindo Ashram. There she was asked if she would set up a pottery. ‘I’ll try’, she said, ‘if my friend will build the kiln’. The friend, Ray, was travelling in Europe at the time and happily agreed to come for two months to build the kiln. They are both still in Pondicherry, making pots and sculpture in clay, and for those of us whose lives have been forever changed by the encounter with both Ray and Deb, clay and woodfiring, the universe had conspired to make it happen!