Terra cotta pots support Kumbaran caste in India

Buy them at the Kingston Plant Sale, Central Market.

SUQUAMISH — When Jeremy Ellington was 19 he dreamed of living with a potter’s family in India to study the traditional art of making terra cotta clay pots. Now, 23 years later, it is his life.

In Sultan’s Battery, India, where he lives with his wife, Joy and three children, people of the Kumbaran caste are known for their beautiful terra cotta pottery.

The village is a shopping hub, sometimes attracting upwards of 350,000 people. Without the shoppers’ presence, it’s small in comparison to other villages.

“It is a unique group with their own ethnicity, their own language,” said Joy, while visiting Jeremy’s parents in Suquamish on Friday.

When Jeremy and Joy, a Calcutta, India, native, first became involved with the Kumbaran caste, there was no electricity and women had to pound clay with their feet.

“The ladies would buy dirt and pound it into clay, then slice out the stones and pound it again,” Joy said. “There were no machines to do that.”

When plastic, aluminum and steel pots became more prevalent, people of the caste sought work in construction because there wasn’t as high of a demand for the clay pots, Jeremy said.

“Now there is a renewed interest in their craft,” he said.

“It is important to know what their traditions are, even the old ways of cooking in the earthen pots,” Joy added.

Jeremy’s parents, Bill and Judy, brought home half a train car load of pots to support their son and daughter-in-law’s efforts, who have created an after-school program to help potters’ children learn English so they can finish primary and secondary school, and maybe even college.

“The reality was only 10 percent of the children were finishing level 10,” Joy said. “Most dropped out before fifth grade because their families were illiterate and couldn’t help them with their studies. It’s a really tough time going from their native language to learning advanced studies in English.”

Jeremy and Joy have funded and helped build a 6,000-square-foot factory, with electricity and have plans to continue building.

“We wanted to bless these people,” Joy said. “When you have a hunger and eagerness to learn about people you do what you can to change yourself and you can fall in love. We have fallen in love with these people. We love them so much.”

North End residents can see the pots today on sale during the annual Kingston Garden Club plant sale.

The sale goes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kingston Community Center. Proceeds will go to the Kingston Revitalization Association (KRA), which funds the downtown hanging baskets.

The pots are also sold at Central Market in Poulsbo and Town & Country on Bainbridge Island.

In each stack of seven to eight terra cotta pots there is a little surprise, which can be anything from a piggy bank to mini cup and saucer.

“You never know what you are going to get,” said Sally Christy, KRA member.

Money the Ellingtons receive from the pots goes toward the pottery factory in Sultan’s Battery. “Whatever we receive goes back to the factory. It’s a family business,” Jeremy said. “Some are very close to us.”

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