Master ceramist Waithira takes on the eye

Thursday November 17 2016

At a recent exhibition called Expressions: Glaze, Colour and Gems that was held in the Village Market mall in Nairobi, Waithira presented some of her latest ceramics. PHOTO | KARI MUTU

At a recent exhibition called Expressions: Glaze, Colour and Gems that was held in the Village Market mall in Nairobi, Waithira presented some of her latest ceramics. PHOTO | KARI MUTU 

By Kari Mutu

Waithira Chege is a master ceramist who has been practising pottery for over 30 years. Her current collection is mixture of glazed and non-glazed pieces, many of them in brown, sandy and woody colours with deep blues and burgundy.

The theme of her pieces is The Eye, either of a person or an animal. Waithira creates dilated or pinpoint eye pupils by moulding her pots with wide or small openings. In some pieces, she has incorporated materials such as ash. Some of the pots have a shiny look because of the silica content in the clay.

Chege gets her glaze-making clay from Nanyuki, and allows it to age for two to three years. She is one of only a few people locally who use the reduction firing technique that gives a lustrous glaze to the exterior of the vessels. She prefers a gas-fired oven to an electric one because she can better monitor the kiln conditions, which can affect the firing process. But gas ovens are more demanding and cannot be left unattended.

At a recent exhibition called Expressions: Glaze, Colour and Gems that was held in the Village Market mall in Nairobi, Waithira presented some of her latest ceramics.

This time around she stayed away from her trademark teapots and teacups. Instead she exhibited the most popular items — salt shakers shaped like doorknobs with smooth, gleaming surfaces and abstract colours.

Waithira found her love for pottery while in high school in Kenya, and underwent a three-year ceramics apprenticeship in the UK. She says she derives equal pleasure from creating new earthenware as from training others in the art of ceramics.

Waithira holds pottery classes for children, adults and budding artisans at her Nairobi studio. Exhibiting alongside her at the Expressions event was her protégé Monika Rekhi, who featured a series of multi-coloured Sikh turbans in ceramics.

Also present at the exhibition was jewellery designer Francesca Stame of Oneaday. Francesca is another of Waithira’s students, specialising in embroidered earrings and necklaces.