04 Apr Lombok Pottery Centre | Artisan Focus
This article was updated on April 11th, 2018 and first published on April 4th, 2018
“Down narrow side lanes you enter a maze of thatch-roofed houses and pavilions, groves of bamboo, banana, mango and jackfruit trees where villagers are involved in various stages of pottery production. At a glance you will see clay in all stages of preparation, women deftly building up the walls of an endless variety of vessels, daughters or husbands scraping and polishing the finished forms and, in the distance, a firing in progress” (McKinnon, J, 1996, p. 1).
The aim of this article is to highlight how investment in artisans can result in a sustainable business and a source of income and employment for disadvantaged communities.
My mother is Indonesian, and as a child I used to visit Indonesia to visit my grandparents. After my Indonesian grandparents emigrated to Australia, when I was 12 years old, my father took me backpacking in Indonesia for 6 weeks over the summer holidays.
We travelled across Bali, Java and Sulawesi – it was one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood. A couple of years later my father took my younger brother, Chris, on a similar trip, but through the islands of Lombok, Flores, Sumbawa, Komodo and Sumba.
When we set up Kartimarket, Chris and I knew we wanted to source products from Indonesia.
After checking the WFTO (then IFAT) suppliers directory we contacted the Lombok Pottery Centre in 2009 and made our first order shortly afterwards.
Lombok Island is the eastern neighbour of Bali and home to the Sasak people.
Sasak people use earthenware pottery to transport and store water. They use them as pots to cook and store rice, to cook meals, and to store fruit, among many other uses.
The island is abundant in earthenware clay mixed with volcanic temper sand, which makes it ideal for cooking as it is highly resistant to temperature changes, unlike other earthenware pottery.
Though there are different stories of its origin, it is likely that pottery making arrived in Lombok in the 15th-16th century with the Javanese Majapahit Empire.
Since then, pottery making has traditionally been a source of income for poor families to complement agricultural work. Potters have been at the bottom of the social and economic ladder, with most being non-landowning families.
The majority of potters are women. Pottery skills are passed down from mother to daughter for centuries. Men sometimes help out with decorating the finished product.
Lombok Crafts Project
Therefore governments and aid organisations invest in craft industries as a way of providing employment to the poor.
The New Zealand government initiated the project in 1986 as part of its development assistance program for Indonesia. The aim of the project was to provide sustainable economic and social development through expansion of the export market.
At first the project started with nine potters in three villages: Banyumulek, Masbagik Timur and Penujak.
The project considered that pottery in Lombok was inherently a product that fulfilled local needs. This is important to note as in foreign markets the pottery tends to be used more for decorative purposes, and the necessary price points are considerably higher once the cost of bringing the products to market in foreign countries is taken into account.
Therefore pottery for export requires a higher quality and level of consistency.
To achieve this the project used foreign consultants to train the potters in technical skills, as well as the business side of marketing, logistics and administration. The aim was to phase out the need for foreign assistance and set up a sustainable business, and to improve living and working conditions
Furthermore, the project emphasised the use of traditional forms and techniques. The project built on existing skills and equipment that the potters could understand and afford. For example, to increase the firing temperature to improve the strength of the pots, rather than introduce modern kilns that were expensive to run, staff taught potters using a demo kiln that used the same materials and principles of the traditional kilns, but designed to reach a higher temperature.
The Lombok Crafts Project continued until 1995 when the project was entirely staffed by local Indonesians.
Lombok Pottery Centre
Since then, the Lombok Crafts Project has continued as the Lombok Pottery Centre, which is the central marketing organisation for its member potters.
There are now over 200 potters working with the Lombok Pottery Centre, and a waiting list to join.
Each of three villages has formed a co-operative of potters, and each elects a representative that feeds back to the central marketing office. The central marketing office communicates with customers, organises logistics and promotes the products to overseas buyers. In turn, they feed back information from buyers to the potters.
The Lombok Pottery Centre offers the potters a number of services that include: product development, promotion and marketing, social programs such as literacy and schooling and, finally, financial services, such as loans. Potters also receive an annual bonus, which comes from the organisation’s profits.
Furthermore, as the Lombok Pottery Centre is a fair trade organisation, the buyers it works with agree to pay 50% of the order in advance. This allows the potters to buy materials and reduces their risk (of buyers cancelling orders leaving potters out-of-pocket for materials already purchased).
While the pieces that the potters make must meet certain quality standards for export, the potters can freely sell rejected pieces on local markets. They are also free to sell their work outside of the Lombok Pottery Centre, however the prices they receive for export quality products is higher than local market prices.
From working with Lombok Pottery Centre, several features stand out that are important for an artisan business to succeed.
- Like any business anywhere in the world, marketing is key. No matter how much technical and product development training the potters received, it wouldn’t have resulted in a sustainable business without a strong marketing capacity.
- When working with traditional artisans being practical is important. The project based technical training on existing skills and equipment that was affordable and that the potters could easily learn how to use.
- As with any other business, access to finance is critical, and the Lombok Pottery Centre provides this to its members in locations where finance is not readily available at affordable rates.
- Further to this, buyers working with products made by traditional artisans need to understand and collaborate closely with the artisans. That includes strong communication on expectations of quality and delivery times, basing product designs on the artisan’s technical skills and materials that they use, and preparedness to pay up front to shoulder some of the lending burden.
Where to buy pottery of Lombok:
Australia: Oxfam Australia
Italy: Altro Mercato
United Kingdom: Rinjani Pottery
A good coffee table-sized book with great photos and interesting explanation of Sasak Pottery. Written by Jean McKinnon, the first team leader of the Lombok Craft Project.
Interesting academic paper on Sasak pottery specifically, and balancing tradition and modernity for artisans generally. I got a lot of the above information from this paper.
My parents gave me this book a couple of years ago. It’s an excellent and easy-to-read overview of Indonesia’s fascinating and long history. It includes the story of the Majapahit empire, the introduction of Islam, Dutch colonisation and the Sukarno & Suharto years.
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