Women and Power: Waithira Chege, Kenya’s leading ceramicist [VIDEO]

Most women shy away from the very mention of a “pot”, but Waithira Chege is a woman in love with them…well atleast the ceramic kind. She has had a relationship with clay for the last 35 years and is considered one of Kenya’s leading Ceramicist. Gladys Gachanja spent time at the potter’s house in this week’s Women and Power.

waithira chege1My Ceramics Background
Instead of reinventing the wheel in regards to highlighting my expertise in this remakable field, I will simply refer to my final academic assessment from a very inspiring person — my mentor at Goldsmiths’ College.

During the academic year 1988-1990 Waithira Chege undertook a programme of study leading to the award of the Goldsmiths’ Diploma in Ceramics, and which she successfully completed in July 1990. Throughout the course Waithira was exceptionally industrious and proved to be a most dedicated student. The most notable aspects of her studies in the period were as follows.

Testing of Raw Materials
A number of clays and allied materials from Kenya wer tested and analysed by Miss Chege. At least three clays proved successful manufacturing and glaze-making clays under appropriate blending and firing controls.

Development of Glazes
Progress was made on the formulation of glazes at stoneware temperatures. Waithira was responsible for the original calculations and developmental modifications to a number of glazes which she subsequently is using. Kenyan clays were used in some of these glazes.

Pottery Making
The design and making of an extended range of domestic wares was undertaken by Waithira and successfully exhibited as her main project for her diploma.

Kiln Construction
Waithira quite thoroughly researched gas kiln designs and construction methods. She is presently having two kilns constructed in her workshop which directly relate to the research previously mentioned.

General Professional Experience
Having very demanding requirements for her years study, Waithira managed to make a number of significant visits to professional practitioners and study sources. They include:
(i) a 3 day study/drawing course at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
(ii) a 1 day seminar on African pottery at the Horniman Museum.
(iii) visits to Ray Finch – Winchcombe Pottery.
Jane Hamyln – Yorkshire.
Abbersywyth Summer School – Mike Casson.
Robin Welch Pottery – East Anglia.
Toff Millway – Researcher on traditional Kenyan Pottery.

It should be noted that Mr. Millway (Researcher) was interested in Waithira Chege assisting him with continued studies into Northern Kenyan traditional potteries.

Waithira Chege demonstrated technical and aesthetic advances in her pottery making of a marked degree. Her commitment, enthusiasm and application to her subject has provided a sound and very extensive basis on which she can pursue her own practice in making potts and teaching ceramics in a institutional context.

A most rewarding student of ceramics.

Ken Bright
Director of Ceramics Studies.
Department of Visual Arts,
University of London, Goldsmiths’ College

I will always remember Mr. Bright as a man who was extremely passionate about the Arts, and who opened a lot of doors for myself (and other artists). Sadly, he passed away in a swimming accident in July 2005. Simply put, the world has lost a great visionary and teacher of the Arts. My thoughts will always be with him, and for his family.




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