Molding, meaning, making: How Tahanan Pottery is building a communal home for contemporary ceramic pottery

Seamlessly blending into our spaces in unassuming ways, ceramic pottery might be one of the humblest art forms to have consistently, ubiquitously graced our spaces — as useful household items, special-occasion tableware, seasonal decor, or aesthetic or commemorative items with a more sentimental than utilitarian value. 

Inside a rustic compound in Quezon City, Tahanan Pottery shows ceramic pottery as an art form in different ways. In the studio, ceramics are both a fixture and a feature, sentimental and functional, artisanal and accessible. Since its first, smaller location opened in Scout Tobias in 2018, the studio has positioned itself as an advocate of contemporary ceramic arts and making it more accessible to the public. Displaying works in various states of development, it gives a glimpse of what the studio offers: an open space that welcomes everyone into the intricate world of the entire ceramic pottery process much like an off-campus classroom.

Setting up a welcoming abode

Being no stranger to classrooms, Tahanan’s co-founder Rita Badilla-Gudiño has always been driven by a clear vision: to spread the love and accessibility for the humble arts, while creating a platform that helps elevates its visibility as the art form that it is. An associate professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s College of Fine Arts (FA), her claim to fame includes founding the college’s Ceramic Studio and propelling the ceramic pottery minor programs of the college.

“Being an educator, I’ve always wanted to make ceramic arts more accessible — not only to my students in FA, but also to other people like the community outside the university. Given the opportunity that my husband and I were able to set up a business in ceramic arts, it was really the gateway to achieve that vision accessible to everyone,” she says. “Not only where they can learn the skills and learn how to work with clay, but also a place where they can see and get inspired by the works of local and international ceramic pottery artists and also a place where they can grow in terms of that they’ll be able to get the materials, tools, and equipment that they need to pursue their craft.”

Offering workshops, demos, talks, and events for different audiences and skill levels, the husband-and-wife tandem operates the studio as both a business and an advocacy that develops everything — from the layout of its workstations down to its event partnerships — towards its core value of spreading the love for ceramic pottery and keeping the local industry alive and known. 

Ms. Rita Badilla-Gudiño. Image courtesy of Tahanan Pottery.

In October 2022, the studio celebrated its fourth anniversary with Sining Tahanan 2022: A Contemporary Ceramic Art Exhibition inside the Sulyap Gallery within the same compound. The first of what they hope to be an annual event, it featured contemporary works of sixty artists — a mix of up-and-coming artists that came from the roster of Tahanan’s own workshops, its mentors, and its mentors’ mentors. It was the highlight of the Tahanan Pottery October Fiesta 2022 presented by Laguna Clay and supported by Prologue PH and One Digital Place Corp — a two-month October Ceramics Festival that brought together local and international master potters and enthusiasts from different generations and skill levels. 

Year-round, the spirit of the festival lives on for Badilla-Gudiño and the ceramic pottery community she helped build. Aside from in-house workshops and demos, Tahanan Pottery brings its lineup of activities to other parts of the city that one might not expect — such as independently run cafes and hotels that collaborate for unique art staycations. As early as now, the studio already has a couple of things simmering in the pipeline for 2023, such as a special couple’s exhibit for Valentine’s Day, and a solo show coming up in Women’s Month. 

“It’s really about building a community and fostering camaraderie amongst our group — that we are here to continually inspire and challenge each other for the development and promotion of ceramic arts in the Philippines,” says Badilla-Gudiño.

Coming home to clay

The studio’s relationship with clay runs deep. One of Badilla-Gudiño’s main motivations for pursuing it was her search for a sustainable source of clay because of the lack of commercial clay available locally.

“If stone potters want clay, we have to formulate our own,” she explains, sharing that one of her ongoing research endeavors revolves around developing local stoneware clay from one region. Supported by a grant from the university, she chose Ilocos Norte after her research yielded the discovery that the province was endowed with the natural resources and raw materials needed to be able to develop stoneware clay. Temporarily suspended by the pandemic, she is currently continuing the creative aspects of the study, which will involve teaching the Damilian potters of Ilocos Norte to work with the homegrown formulation in order to create their own pieces. This will culminate in an exhibit in the future. 

Imbibing the same enthusiasm and passion she brings to the classroom, she shared that when the Philippines first got a hold of porcelain and stoneware from China, efforts to formulate our own clays dropped. Now that she is seeing a resurgence of interest, she wants more people to know about it. 

“Ancient Philippine creativity in pottery is innate — a good example is the Manunggul Jar,” she said. “For me, what we’re doing now is continuing that heritage — our sensibilities in working with clay, the formal elements we use to create something that is visually exciting and at the same time also functional. And also we have the natural resources. We are rich with that,” she said, sharing that her goal is really for us to become aware of our roots so we can have something to look back on and guide us forward: “We have to find ways to sustain our tradition, our industry, our art, with the materials that we can source in the Philippines.”

She also believes that the more people try out ceramic pottery, the better they’ll understand the labor and artistry that goes into each handmade work, and why it costs more than manufactured pieces that are readily found in store shelves. She goes into detail about the prenatal care that goes into each piece — from forming to drying, firing in the kiln for firing, to glazing and glossing. “The stages alone add value to the piece — all on top of the actual artistry involved,” she points out.

Tahanan studio. Image courtesy of Tahanan Pottery.

She also gave her insights on the unique and interactive nature of working with clay. “Clay is the only material that replies to your touch. When you poke it and pull it, that’s actually you, and the clay replies back. So, whatever you work with, the clay becomes you because it’s an exchange of your interaction towards it,” she said, often likening the phenomena to life and relationship lessons that her students would find relatable. 

Interestingly, she also noticed that these qualities are what draw people to enroll in workshops. The pliable, responsive nature of working clay is found to be therapeutic, being both a meditative and romantic sensual activity. Coming from the hard lockdowns and physical, mental, and emotional isolation of the ongoing pandemic, the warmth of community and physical touch is a much-needed reprieve for most.

Among the many enriching and rewarding parts of building a meaningful community such as this, one of the most treasured fruits of her labor is, perhaps, seeing the new generation of potters spring forth — former students becoming mentors themselves, or venturing out into their own pottery-related businesses.  

“I’m hoping that Tahanan remains relevant in terms of a place for people to come home to when they’re looking for pottery — your home for all things pottery, whether you need skills or new knowledge, a mug or bowl, clay, equipment, tools, Tahanan is a place for these things. So we have something to offer to everyone,” says Badilla-Gudiño.

In different ways and directions, the ceramic pottery movement set in motion by Badilla-Gudiño and the Tahanan community is indeed a homecoming of sorts — to our roots, our natural surroundings, our basic sensibilities, and our true nature.

Sining Tahanan 2022: A Contemporary Ceramic Art Exhibition ran from October 15 to November 20. Watch out for Tahanan Pottery's lineup of workshops, demos, and special events on their Facebook page or website, or visit the studio at 27 Scout Tobias, Cor, Sct Lozano, Quezon City.

Nikki Ignacio is a writer and communicator who works mainly in public relations, media, science, art, and the development sector.

Images courtesy of the writer unless stated otherwise.