Black Pottery

Dêgê, Sichuan
Producer: Dawa Drolma
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11252; © 2017 Smithsonian Institution]

Archaeological findings on the Tibetan Plateau in western China indicate that the art of Tibetan pottery is more than five thousand years old. Today, it comes in a variety of forms, including glazed pottery, coarse sandy wares, red pottery, and black pottery. However, black pottery holds a special place in the culture of the Tibetan region, where it is used as daily utensils (such as plates, bowls, alcohol and water containers, teapots, and urns) and for storing food. Many contemporary potters use the traditional local resource of clay and traditional tools (made of stone, wood, and leather) to create their products. Centers of black pottery today include monasteries, villages, and mobile pottery-training workshops scattered across the Tibetan Plateau. In this video, Jamyang Gelek from the valley of Dzongsar in Dêgê County, Sichuan Province, describes aspects of how black pottery is produced and flourishes in Tibetan culture. The survival and flourishing of Tibetan pottery-making knowledge and tradition inspires hope in many Tibetans who strive to revive and adapt many traditional practices to the contours of modern life.

Questions for Discussion

  • Have you ever made a pot from clay using a pinching or coiling technique? Was it difficult? What techniques do the artisans in the video use to create their pots by hand?
  • Black pottery is a craft tradition that uses all local and natural materials. Why is that unique or important? What craft traditions in your state or region use local and natural materials?
  • The artisans in the video have been apprentices since childhood, learning their craft from master artisans. Interview someone in your family or community who has spent a long time learning an art, craft, or musical skill. Who taught them? How did they learn? What was it like?