Gatagra is located in the southern Nyanza district, which is considered the cradle of Rwanda’s heritage and one of the best places to go for masterfully crafted ceramics in Rwanda.
Continue reading for our interview with Jean Pierre, president of the 11-member workshop, to hear more about the craft behind our ceramics!
What about your location in Rwanda makes it a great environment for ceramics?
The location we are in is good because it has the best clay in our country. The clay is good, strong, and makes long-lasting ceramics!
What is your favorite part about working at Gatagara?
I am happy when we are pounding the clay for the ceramics because I know that finally we shall be filled with the joy of seeing the beauty of the products of our hands. I am very happy when we sell our ceramics because I know that every member is going to earn an income.
Pottery-making in Rwanda is deeply tied to the country’s natural resources and local materials. Can you describe the process of gathering and sourcing the natural materials used for your clay?
Basically, we start by sourcing the clay, sand, and chalk which is found in our surroundings. We mix all the materials together, and after that we dry that mixture for a few hours and we pound and clean it. By cleaning it, I mean that we separate the clay from the stones, pieces of small trees, and grass.
The process of creating ceramics is a true art form. What is the process of creating your ceramics from start to finish?
Normally, we or the client have in mind the shape of the product to be created - be it a cup, a vase, or a plate. We take our finished clay to the pottery wheel and start forming the shape we want using our hands. After that, we have to dry our finished products (smaller items dry for a week). Then we soak them in a prepared mixture of the paint and we take them immediately into the kiln furnace where they are baked at 1300°C (2372°F). The shiny coating of our ceramics is created by the fire, which means the more you heat them the shiner they become.
How long does it typically take to produce a piece of pottery?
Every product is different so it depends on what it is. A cup might dry in one week if Rwanda is in the dry season. So from sourcing the materials, creating the shape, applying the glaze, and firing, it might all take one month. A medium vase will take one month to dry so the timeframe will be longer than that of a cup.
We also have to wait to have at least 800 products to bake because our furnace holds around 1,500 ceramics; that impacts the time frame too.
The glaze on your pieces is very unique! What type of natural materials do you use to create your blue and cream glaze?
The natural ingredients used are ash, chalk, red small stones, and sand. For the blue color we use cobalt oxide blue and we add in the ash. For the cream color we use ash and sand.
What are Gatagara’s goals for the future?
After this global pandemic, we want to open different selling points in different parts of our country but mainly in Kigali. We also want to keep on learning new techniques because when we attend art exhibitions we learn from what we see there!