Rohit Kulkarni and Bhairavi Naik, the two Kumhaars are from Pune and Bombay respectively. While Rohit has a degree of Masters in Communication, Bhairavi has a Masters degree in Bio Chemistry and an MBA. Rohit was a Creative Director at Disney-UTV Motion Pictures and Bhairavi was Vice President at Saatchi & Saatchi.
But they were probably just a bit nuts (as Rohit confesses)! Despite their established positions and well-paying jobs, they quit their fancy ass jobs to become full time potters! They loved their jobs; they just loved clay more! Rohit states that unfortunately there is no mic drop moment or life changing experience but their inclination and fascination towards hand pottery is what makes them aesthetically the best potters!
I engaged in a conversation with Rohit to know about their several clay ventures:
What is the story behind the setting up of Curators of Clay?
Bhairavi and I used to do pottery as a very indulgent hobby for years. We were sharing a studio in Bombay where we moonlighted as potters on weekends and evenings after work. We were both individually contemplating setting up something to do with pottery. Soon, we figured that our aesthetics were the same and we had a similar idea of what we wanted to do. We felt maybe it would be sensible to try and make a go of it with a partnership. That’s how Curators of Clay (CofC) came into being.
Where did you two study pottery?
Bhairavi had done a beginner course at the Raheja Institute in Bombay and is a self taught artist. I started learning with Vinod Dubey in Bombay, post which I went off to Andretta in Himachal to train under Sardar Mansimran Singh aka Mini. Honestly, we have no professional training as artists.
What are the pottery products that you offer?
We make functional glazed ceramics such as gorgeous plates and bowls, jugs for milk and water, bottles, teapots, platters, tumblers, jars with lid- and all of this is microwave and dishwasher friendly.
Do you also provide workshops to students?
Nope, we don’t teach. Mainly, because we don’t have the bandwidth and if we do, we would want to teach properly.
What is a memory of and around clay that you would like to share?
For both Bhairavi and me, working with clay is about a lifestyle – it lets us work with the seasons actually acknowledging each one with its pros & cons. Both of us realised in the first year of this that gosh, we never really noticed the seasons in our earlier jobs – except of course, stressing about getting traffucked in Bombay monsoons! Currently – we can’t get enough of our studio through the year. Even in the brutal summer months when we complain about the heat, we would still prefer being in the outdoorsy-ness of our studio rather than inside a cubicle.
How did you find your solace away from clay amidst the melancholic days of lockdown?
We were quite lucky. We don’t work in the city, so in the first few strict weeks of the lockdown we didn’t go to the studio apart from a few visits to check on the trees, plants, guppy fish etc. But we were able to resume work as our studio is in a rural area, plus at that time there was just literally one of us working at the studio at any given point in time. Bhairavi stays in an apartment complex in a suburb of Pune so she had to deal with no househelp. I was even luckier since my home in Pune is an independent one and so it was less affected by these community restrictions.
Bhairavi is a certified gardener so she spent her time doing a lot of gardening stuff on her terrace. I got back into a hobby I pursued in my youth – which is called Planted Aquariums. Additionally, both of us read a fair bit. I also dabbled with Linocut Printing. The lockdown was awful for our business but not so bad on our individual personal fronts.
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Do you employ sustainable practices at work? If yes, how do you contribute to your surroundings?
We’re brutally honest about this. Technically ceramics isn’t sustainable. Ceramics uses clay, water and, in most cases, fossil fuel (or wood), all of which are limited resources. Of course, there’s an argument to be made that it’s less harmful than other materials like plastic – but for us, the key objective here is to stay honest and not mislead, misinform or misrepresent what we do for a living and how we do it.
We remain focussed on on minimising our impact on the environment. For instance, we don’t spend unnecessarily on creating branded packaging – all our boxes and packing materials are recycled from other local businesses, and we will keep exploring ways to do better.
And what is in future for us as an audience at CofC?
Well, we hope that the audience ensures there’s a future for CofC by supporting us! We have plans to set up a beautiful space at the studio to retail our work from. It’ll reduce our dependence on courier services. And it can actually be a #VocalForLocal initiative! Also, we really like the idea of having a bricks and mortar space which will reflect our aesthetic and allow us to showcase the lifestyle we live in.
We are a small studio and we have no plans of becoming a factory of any sort. We just want to be known for making the beautiful-est, sexiest contemporary Indian ceramics. Bhairavi would like nothing better than to be known for the beautiful bottles she likes making. And she looks forward to being able to take her role as chief gardener to the next level at this retail / experiential space we are planning at the studio.
I would like nothing better than to make gorgeous teapots – which are my fave form and lead a selectively reclusive life known by the work we craft and by our beautiful signature aesthetic. Neither of us is arrogant enough to believe that we can save the world or change it. But we’ll do everything we can to selfishly keep our corner in the world beautiful, peaceful and very, very happy!
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What is a piece of advice that you would like to give to young potters who are embarking their journey of play with clay?
We hate to sound like uncles & aunties but we would really want to see young folks committed to whatever they want to do. It doesn’t matter if one is just exploring as long as one does it earnestly and honestly.
This random woke-ness is boring. If anyone wants to be a potter, we only ask that they give it time and effort. Firstly, chase the craft. Secondly, pursue excellence and happiness. Literally everything else will follow. And thirdly, question everything, including our advice!
Where can one buy COC products from? Is it available pan India?
Typically our bread and butter were the restaurant commissioned projects that we had done and then we would craft a completely different batch to put to our website for direct retail sale. And that’s why our retail collections were not as frequent.
Now, we are hoping to sell more to direct consumers, so we’re looking at crafting at least two new collections every month. We will update the same on our website soon! Since we do everything ourselves and everything is hand crafted from scratch, we can’t really be like a factory! And I really wanna stress this that we are the actual karigars ourselves. You can keep an eye on our website for the next upcoming batch.