The sign on the main road said Laboratorium Gerabah Putaran Miring/Tilted Pottery Wheel Laboratory. There were abandoned kilns, some pottery wheels in the workshop area, products exhibit, office/Gedung Pusat Keramik Putaran Miring, and a homestay. “This is where I was wedging 100kg clay. Professor Kawasaki asked me to do it”, said Sidik when we visited the abandoned lab in Klaten.
Let me tell you a little backstory about all this …
I’ve got into pottery lately. I always love creating things, and I’ve been staying in one city: Yogya, so it is possible for me to join workshops. I wrote about my first pottery class experience and the results on hellofirsta.com, the articles are in Indonesian. Check it here if you want to have a read.
I met Sidik when I took my pottery class at Buntari Studio, Yogya. He is my pottery instructor and also the founder of the studio. During my pottery classes, he would tell me stories, though mostly answer my questions.
I often bombarded him with plenty of questions.
He would also share information about his hometown, Klaten, and his desire to contribute to improve the pottery products from the area. He wanted to improve the life of the craftsmen.
The trip to Klaten was the result of the tales Sidik shared about Putaran Miring.
At that time, I was fascinated by the ‘normal’ pottery wheel that I tried at Buntari Studio. Then I heard about Putaran Miring. I was so curious about it.
You are probably wondering what Putaran Miring is? It is a tilted pottery wheel. The technique is about 500 years old and a legacy from Sunan Bayat (Sunan Pandanaran). Why so? At that time, the pottery craftsmen were women. To maintain modesty, and because the women use jarik/fabric as skirts, a tilted pottery wheel was created.
Women sit obliquely—not facing straight ahead.
The pottery wheel, which is generally made of teak or mahogany wood, with a diameter of 40-45 diameter and 5-6 cm thick is placed at an angle of almost 45 degrees to the ground. The wheel is powered by a foot-driven pedal.
A hooked rope is used to support the wheel. During the process of making ceramics, the craftswoman sits on a dingklik/small wooden chair. It is said, due to the technique (the diameter of the wheel and the tilted position), the maximum size of the pots produced have a width of 23 cm and a maximum height of 30 cm-ish.
Sidik, Riri, Yudi, and I set up for a day journey to Klaten. To see Putaran Miring—and to get some clay barrels and big pots. We wanted the pots because the quality of Bayat products is well known. You can also find some of Bayat products at Kasongan, the pottery village in Yogya.
Klaten is a 1,5 hours drive from Yogyakarta. We wanted to visit Paseban, Pager Jurang and Melikan village. While Paseban and Pagerjurang villages are in Bayat sub-district, Melikan village is in Wedi sub-district. We’d be doing a loop, going from Melikan village, and from there walking to the other two villages.
It was a relatively nice walk through small roads, except for the walk to the laboratorium. We had to cross the main road and there was not much shade. It was quite hot that day.
It was so nice to visit the area with Sidik, someone who knew the area and the history. I think that is one of the key developments of tourism villages or special interest tourism in Indonesia. There should be a knowledgeable person who can guide tourists. Having Sidik with us made our visit more memorable.
We walked through the villages, from one craftsman house to another. Pottery was stacked on wooden shelves, or arranged on the terraces of the houses. The yards are filled with semi-finished sun-dried pottery. On the terrace of the house, women were making pottery with Putaran Miring wheels.
Sidik invited us to stop at several houses to chat with the craftsmen, watch them work on a Putaran Miring, see their traditional kilns, and see some of the products they produce. One thing that I noticed, there are not many craftsmen who directly sell products to consumers. Usually, they sell their handicrafts to shops on the side of the main road not far from these villages.
They may not know how to sell to consumers I thought. Riri said, “it’s easy, they just have to put the sign, this object is for sale and put a price.” Makes sense.
From one of the craftswomen, we learned the price of one small cauldron is Rp7,000. She said The craftswoman usually makes 100 pieces in a day. Since I’ve tried to make a few items out of clay, I know how tiring it can be. And the creating process isn’t over there.
After creating a cauldron, these items must be dried in the sun, given a handle, then fired. Finally, to finish the cauldron, the cauldron needs to be painted.
With all of that work, the item should be more expensive.
Besides the unique technique in those villages (Paseban, PagerJurang, and Melikan) with Putaran Miring, the other highlight of the region is the clay.
The clay from Bayat has a different texture, character, and a brownish color. Sidik told me, “Look you see the metallic effect on this piece? That’s the mark of the material from here (Bayat)”. When I said that I’ve seen some things like this in Kasongan, Yogya, Sidik said that some pottery sellers in Kasongan resell pottery from Klaten.
To wrap up
In 2015, there were 137 pottery and ceramic craftsmen who started their business between the 1970s to 2010s. Nowadays, Sidik estimates there are around 100 craftsmen. Not sure if the numbers are decreasing, but given the fact that youngsters aren’t really interested in doing pottery—being a craftsman is the option of last resort for locals.
Certainly, in the last few years, the number of craftsmen has decreased.
If you’re interested in pottery, I recommend visiting these villages, mainly because of the putaran miring. You’ll enjoy your time in Bayat, Klaten. If it is possible, visit the villages with a local guide. Try the tilted wheel technique in one of the craftswomen houses, walk around the villages, and buy some of their products.
I hope one day the Laboratorium Gerabah Putaran Miring will be running again so it would add more value to the visit.
It would be even better to get to the place where you have tourists staying for a few weeks in the village to learn about pottery. If that happens, being a pottery craftsman will be one of the most desirable jobs for locals, not the last option.