Sat, 28 Jun 2003

Pagerjurang craftsmen put their mark

Joko Sadewo, Contributor, Klaten, Central Java

An abundance of clay pottery, distinct techniques as well as the presence of hundreds of ceramic craftsmen gives Pagerjurang hamlet in Melikan village, Klaten the image of a bustling ceramic center.

Ceramic has become the heart of the hamlet's activity with over 170 out of 215 families relying on the business to earn a living.

"Ceramic making is like an inheritance for us, something that has been passed on from generation to generation," said craftsman Sukonto, who also chairs the Anugrah Keramik, an association of Pagerjurang ceramic craftsmen.

In production, the craftsmen use a unique device. Unlike other ceramic craftsmen which use a flat potter's wheel, the hamlet's craftsmen use a slanted one, especially to produce crafts with maximum height of 30 centimeters. The wheel also rotates five times faster than ordinary pottery wheels.

"The wheel we use here can produce a ceramic piece as thin as 0.3 centimeters while the ordinary ones can produce a centimeter thick, at the thinnest," said Sukonto.

The downside is, the unique wheel cannot be used to create large objects, he said.

The technique, according to another craftsman, Sihono, arrived in the area with the influence of Muslim cleric Sunan Pandanaran, who once spread Islamic teachings in the area during the early 16th century. According to local belief, it was Sunan who requested local craftsmen to develop a device which enabled craftswomen to sit in a modest way while creating ceramics, without having to sit with their legs spread apart.

"But I don't know for sure whether it was Sunan Pandanaran who created the device or the local craftsmen," Sihono said.

The hamlet is known for producing two kinds of ceramics, traditional ones like water jugs and other household appliances -- mostly to meet daily needs of traditional earthenware house appliances in the hamlet and to serve local markets; and the so- called terracotta ceramics. The terracotta pieces are mostly decorative items like teapots, bowls, plates, vases and other interior decorations.

The move towards modern, decorative ceramics took place in 1985 to meet customer demand and to compete in wider markets in big cities and even abroad. Since then, buyers are no longer solely from the hamlet or nearby towns like Surakarta and Yogyakarta, but also from as far as Jakarta and Surabaya.

"It's true our products are less popular than Klampok (Central Java) or Kasongan (Yogyakarta) ceramics, but we have already entered Australia, Japan and the United States' markets," Sukonto said.

The problem is, he said, Pagerjurang ceramics have to be exported by second or even third parties, who take most of the profit at the expense of local craftsmen.

"We have limited access to foreign markets," he said, citing a lack of infrastructure, like proper roads, as one of the main problems.

Another problem, he said, was no fixed telephone lines, which could help immensely in further developing business.

"We've tried over and over to have fixed telephone lines laid but to no avail," Sukonto said. He added that for rich craftsmen, a fixed line was not big problem since they had cellular phones, which were too expensive for small time craftsmen to buy.

With the absence of infrastructure like roads and telephone lines, he said, it would be hard for the hamlet's craft business to further develop or even compete with their counterparts in Klampok and Kasongan.