16 November 2012

Namibia: Clay People, Stuck On 25 Years After

Swakopmund — "More than 25 years ago a group of potters met every first Saturday of the month and sold our pottery at the Windhoek Street Market. For the whole month prior to this, we would be making and throwing clay followed by firings and decorating and glazing. The night before, the pottery would be wrapped up carefully and stored in boxes and packed into our cars, together with tables and chairs, umbrellas, cash float, table cloths, cool box, wrapping materials and plastic bags ... so that we could be at the market early 6h30-7h00 am ... ready to take on the Windhoek public!"

These were the opening remarks of Genie Albrecht, well-known potter and former chairlady of the Potters Association of Namibia (PAN) recently at the opening of PAN's 25th anniversary exhibition. She remembered how they would set up stands and stalls at the National Art Gallery (NAG) in Windhoek later in the year for the annual 'Weihnachtsmarkt' as well as others in Swakopmund and around the country for their annual Xmas Markets.

This active group of potters, pioneered by the late Doreen Hildenhagen, decided at an informal meeting one evening on February 27,1987, to form an official association. They believed that the time had come to promote this ancient form of art in this country. "We had heard there were potters all over Namibia, each practising their craft ... but in a vacuum."

It was Hildehagen's vision to bring all the potters from north to south, east and west together to form an association of potters. At that meeting they had great fun deciding on names with acronyms: amongst others the Association of Potters of Namibia (APN), which they felt sounded too much like apes if said quickly, or Namibian Potters Association (NPA) which also sounded too much like Natal Provincial Administration at the time, and finally they decided on the Potters' Association of Namibia, with PAN as the acronym. Albrecht elaborated: "As we all know, in the north, there are lots of pans, 'oshanas', which is Oshiwambo for clay pans from where the rural potters get their clay. This was why we wanted to have the imagery to include the clay pans of traditional pottery in Namibia. From those very 'oshanas', the PAN logo of a pot was born. This was 25 years ago!"

At their first official meeting they started off with eight members who immediately got to work on a constitution, newsletter, name, logo and finances. By May that year, their membership had grown to 38 members. By the end of the first year they had 53 members.

Two of the very original members, are still active potters today. Other potters soon joined the committee and over the years they rose to over 90 members. Potters come and go: alas some have passed on - their visionary, Doreen Hildenhagen, their first chairperson, in 1988, amongst others. Many have left the country and some have even stopped pottery for various personal reasons. Newcomers have of course joined PAN and now the membership is more or less constant at just under 60.

The beauty of potters are that they stick like mud/clay to a vision. There were times when it was very hard to run the association. She remembered when there were only three of them on the committee doing it all! "But it was great fun and worth it. "As a new fledgling association, getting sponsorship wasn't that easy as people had never heard of PAN. But, we stuck it through thick and thin and always remembered that we are the clay people!"

However, in the beginning SWABANK (later Commercial Bank and now Nedbank) sponsored their annual exhibitions, inviting well-respected potters as judges to select the best pieces, some for awards and merits as well as to be guest exhibitors. Prizes were also sponsored. It was more of a learning curve than receiving money. The British Council also sponsored a couple of workshops given by famous potters from the UK. The potters grew from strength to strength, each taking away something from a workshop, which they could use, build on and make it their unique own signature and still continue to do so. Later it was Bank Windhoek that generously sponsored their exhibitions.

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