Briefings Magazine

Throwing Down

Business leaders get their hands dirty in the ceramics studio.

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By: Vindhya Burugupalli

In a sunlit, airy rooftop studio in Hyderabad, India, Vivek Mahindra heaps a chunk of clay onto a metal- plated potter’s wheel. For the next two hours, the 51-year-old founder of Vivikta Advisory, a business infrastructure and organizational consulting firm, continuously molds the fragrant terracotta lump until the creases of his palms are caked with earth. More than once, he loses control, his fingers applying the slightest excess pressure and collapsing the delicate walls of the aspiring drinking cup in his grasp. Mahindra attended his first pottery class last summer. The unique sensory experience has continued to draw him back ever since. “The process of ideation, expressing myself through clay, and seeing it respond to my touch…it communicates back to you,” he says.

Vivek Mahindra is among the new class of ceramists fueling the resurgence of this grounding hobby.

Like Mahindra, many cognitive workers are feeling a pull to throwing, the ancient process of forming clay into various shapes on a potter’s wheel. For those who spend most of their lives in their heads, their fingers feeling little more than the slick protrusions of a keyboard, pottery represents a return to the tactile and a refuge from mental overstimulation. Racing the clock before the clay hardens leaves little room for multitasking. “It really brings people back to centering themselves,” says Jennifer Waverek, director of Bklyn Clay Studios in New York. “You’re literally working with earth, which in itself is grounding.”

Paradoxically, it’s social media that’s fueling pottery’s renaissance among a new demographic, like it has so many other hobbies that were once primarily the domain of the retired middle class. Sure enough, the $11 billion industry is booming, with community studios opening across the world, workshops continuously being held online, and markets popping up to showcase handmade wares. And, of course, pottery now has its own reality TV show. The practice is no longer bound to a certain age group, gender, or racial demographic, says Waverek, whose studios, which offer memberships with 24/7/365 access, have created an artist residency program to support BIPOC makers.

Mahindra's handmade ware.

Five years ago, Mahindra, who was constantly either working or traveling for work, decided to make time for hobbies. First, he took up sketching and photography. While those activities gave him time to reflect and express himself, he wanted more. Incorporating physical touch and three-dimensional creation provided a more complete experience. “Those who come to the studio often talk about having transformative experiences,” says Waverek, who worked as a creative director in advertising for more than 20 years before opening Bklyn Clay in 2016. She explains how molding ceramics stimulates parts of the brain and body that are otherwise neglected in the modern, white-collar existence.

When Mahindra is in the studio, it’s just him and the piece of earth in his hands, he says. All else evaporates, including judgment and expectation. “I may start out with the intention of sculpting a vase but end up with an ashtray,” he says. In the same way, change is inevitable in the business world, Mahindra says. One’s actions can be managed, but not the environment and not always the outcome. As he puts it, “It’s about how you adapt to what gets thrown at you.”


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