Wakenaam pottery makes eye-catching return to GuyExpo XV

Nandkishore Andrews is one of those exhibitors whom we were desperately hoping would put in an appearance at GuyExpo XV.

We had met him at the event last year and had found his quaint collection of earthen pottery to be one of the prettiest displays of craft. What had really made us linger at his booth, however, was the fact that he had brought to the exhibition site a huge contraption called a Potter’s Wheel; the primary piece of equipment

Family entrepreneurship at GuyExpo:  Nandkishore and Sara, proprietors of N&S Andrews, Potters of Wakenaam and their son Jan.
Family entrepreneurship at GuyExpo: Nandkishore and Sara, proprietors of N&S Andrews, Potters of Wakenaam and their son Jan.

in the manufacture of his pieces. The revolutions of the wheel were providing the momentum for his hands to caress and shape the clay with which he was working into finished pieces. He was manipulating the clay with a practiced ease that made the art seem ancient.

This year, he had again brought the Potter’s Wheel with him from Wakenaam except that this time around it lay in a corner, collapsed and out of use. Setting it up is a laborious exercise and it appeared that this time around Nandkishore had decided to bring it along as a kind of quaint attraction.

His is an inherited skill. His father before him was a potter, though, on the basis of the available evidence, he has realized considerably greater success in transforming the art form into a viable commercial pursuit. One of his two sons to whom he intends to pass on the skill of pottery came with him to GuyExpo this year, as did his wife, Sara, whom to thought the skill after they were married.

NS Andrews & Sons is the trading name for the family establishment. Their trading address is 60 San Souci, Wakenaam. The company manufactures both functional and decorative pieces: goblets, candle and napkin holders, pen holders, cups, fruit baskets, lamps and shades, vases, jars, bottles and other creations. The pieces are given an aesthetic lift through the application of decorative daubs of paint.

You could tell from the volume and variety of items on display that the company had been preparing for GuyExpo for some while. The Andrewses, like so many other vendors who journey long distances to get to what is loosely described as the country’s biggest trade fair, place a premium on the commercial significance of the event. There is simply no bigger local opportunity to showcase and sell their pottery.

Andrews grew up at Wakenaam. Pottery, he says, is in his blood. How to fashion the pursuit into a viable commercial venture continues to be a work in progress. Wakenaam is what it is and for the past six years he has been journeying to Georgetown to be a part of GuyExpo. Essequibo Night and Wakenaam Night are also key commercial opportunities for the enterprise.

He would say no more about his takings from GuyExpo than what he makes keeps him going. It is much the same with other small vendors who come to Sophia every year.

When we spoke with Andrews on Saturday evening he recollected that “business was good last year.” He was prepared to make no predictions regarding what was likely to happen this year. “Customers come, some look around, some make choices and some place orders,” he said. It was the kind of bland, neutral pronouncement from which you could draw no clear cut conclusions.

After GuyExpo the company receives new orders for its products. Those orders, he says, modest ones, might cumulatively make GuyExpo worth the while. He would like to expand his production but is wise enough to know that increased production cannot be divorced from the size of the market.

A financial picture was probably beginning to emerge by early Sunday evening. Overhead expenses had been recovered. That is usually the first target that is aimed at. The return journey to Wakenaam, stall rental, accommodation and meals for the travelling team amounted to around $100,000; an investment which, somehow, had to be recouped. Prices for the pieces brought to GuyExpo must be carefully worked out if the goods are to stay abreast of the considerable competition. If the prices seem prohibitive there is the risk of having to take back much of what was brought to Georgetown. That is bad for business and there is a cost to returning with unsold items. By the final evening of GuyExpo the prices on some pieces would be halved.

NS. Andrews & Sons benefits from other modest local markets. Once monthly, Andrews travels to Georgetown to deliver consignments to gift shops. Sometimes, unreliable ferry schedules compel him to resort to speedboats. Those eventualities cut into his profits.

There may be windfalls when visitors go to the island though he is concerned over what he believes may be a continual change in local consumer tastes. Cheap imported artifacts appear to be holding sway, though his products remain popular as gifts, particularly for overseas visitors.

Two years ago, Nandkishore and Sara attended a training programme in Barbados. They learnt the art of glazing there and Sara says that the skill has added another dimension to the enterprise.

The quality of the finished product is largely a function of the quality of the raw material. The company acquires its clay from various sources. Once the clay is acquired it has to be separated from bits of rock and sediment, soaked in water then pulped through a sieve. After that it is ready for the Potter’s Wheel.

Finished products are left to dry in a cool place the drying process takes approximately two weeks. In the sun it takes a few days. Andrews says he favours the longer process. The clay, he says, becomes “more mature.” Further drying is done in a kiln after which glazing is done. Glazed products are then placed in an electric kiln where they are baked to completion.

By Sunday evening, Andrews had already turned his attention to other things, like having to complete production to fill various orders. GuyExpo is a time-consuming exercise but Andrews says that for him it is both a useful earner and a facility through which he can aspire to an expanded market. God willing, he’ll be back at Sophia next year.

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