Dedza pottery

First, for those of you concerned about the fate of The Dude upon my July departure: fear not.  My housemate is staying in Malawi for three years, at which point he will either move The Dude with him or find another fine family for him.  The Dude will not be abandoned.

In my previous post, I neglected to mention another of the past weekend’s activities:  a trip to Dedza.  (Yes, I realize this is Thursday and we’re almost to another weekend, but I’ve been having internet issues.)  Dedza is about an hour and a half south of Lilongwe on the M1 and is famous for its pottery studio, cheesecake, and lovely surroundings.  My housemate and I made the drive Sunday morning, arriving in Dedza before lunch.  It’s at a higher altitude than Lilongwe and the breeze actually felt cool.  (Shocking.)  The pottery studio, started in the 1960s by a British couple, sits on well-groomed grounds and is open 7 days a week.  (You know something is a tourist attraction in Malawi when it’s open on Sundays, as most of the country shuts down.)

The crowd was almost exclusively non-Malawian, and the wares not really African, but what a Westerner might imagine African pottery to look like.  I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the selection.  After checking out the showrooms, we had lunch at the restaurant.  The food was decent but overpriced by Malawian standards.  (Since the only Malawians present were servers, though, I guess Malawian prices don’t matter much.)  The patio where we were seated was also occupied by a group of Peace Corps volunteers.  I’m sure the PCVs are lovely people and doing good work in their villages, but I only seem to run into them in (loud, characteristically American) groups and can’t help but be annoyed.  Who needs to consume three glasses of wine at lunch on Sunday?  Apparently, American PCVs.

Full after lunch and eager to get to our tour, we skipped out on the cheesecake.  Perhaps this was a mistake, but since Malawian dairy products have done nothing but disappoint since my arrival, I wasn’t too eager to part with my 500 kwacha for a slice.  The tour was definitely the highlight of the visit (and a better use of my 500 kwacha).  Since we paid for the tour, I felt completely justified in asking 7000 questions, and I did.  I learned that all the clay and minerals used in the pottery come from Dedza district, and saw the sheds where they are dried, stored, and eventually mixed to make clay.  Most of the pottery at Dedza is molded, though apparently some of it is thrown.  One artist demonstrated throwing a pitcher for us, though what he was working on when we arrived looked more like resistors for electrical lines.  The most creative work definitely occurs in the figurine department, where artists are allowed (and sometimes comissioned) to make original designs.  There were only two artists working on Sunday, but both were very talented.  (Both were also wearing NY Yankees hats, but when I teased them about it, didn’t really get the joke.)

Most real Malawian trucks have more people in the back - but Im glad the artist is making an attempt at realism!

Most real Malawian trucks have more people in the back - but I'm glad the artist is making an attempt at realism!

Bisque-fired pottery, which our tour guide referred to as biscuit fired

Bisque-fired pottery, which our tour guide referred to as "biscuit fired"

The pottery making process was explained from beginning to end; we also saw the glazing department and finally the kilns.  Since I had a Ceramics class in high school, I was familiar with the process, but still found the tour really interesting.  (And oddly familiar, as it mirrored most of the high school process – down to the aged and potentially malfunctioning kilns.)  I did my tourist duty and ended up buying a mug as a souvenir, as well as some cool batik cards.

If you are a random person contemplating a trip to Dedza (as opposed to one of my loyal blog readers), here’s my assessment:  the pottery is overpriced and kitschy, but the process is really interesting.  I highly recommend the tour.  (It costs $5 per group plus $1 per person.)  Others would highly recommend the cheesecake – I wouldn’t know.  Though Dedza Pottery made for a nice afternoon, if you’re looking for “real” African art, you might want to look elsewhere.

There are also supposedly rock paintings in the Dedza area, but they are difficult to find without a guide and we were a little anxious about how The Dude was doing at home (since it was only his second day at our house).  Before departing, we did stop at another art shop that specializes in paper recycling.  I got a few Christmas cards and was able to get a price reduction without much haggling.  We also drove through Dedza town, which was larger than I expected but looked much like other Malawian towns.  There are many fruit and vegetable stands along the M1, so we stopped on our way back to buy some masuku (a tree fruit with brown skin and sort of bitter fruit) and a similar green fruit (not sure what it’s called) that tastes better.  We were back in Lilongwe before dark and happily discovered The Dude still chilling on the patio.  All in all, not bad for a sleepy Malawi Sunday.

The Dedza Pottery showroom

The Dedza Pottery showroom

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2 Responses to “Dedza pottery”

  1. John Cattley Says:

    The slice of cheesecake cost the same as the tour? Overpriced food meets cheap labor?

    And it’s so weird to think that folks from another country can set up shop there and make money off the tourists.

    Thanks for responding to my shameless attention grubbing on Facebook, BTW.

  2. Domestic Glazier Companies in GY6 Says:

    Domestic Glazier Companies in GY6

    Dedza pottery | Malawi, not Outer Space

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