Tripti Yoganathan moved to metro Atlanta from India in 1997 with a PhD in applied mathematics, a bachelor’s degree in the Indian classical dance form Kathak, and a baby on the way. But after she and her husband de ella welcomed their firstborn de ella, Anila, she found herself longing for a creative outlet that was n’t something she’d studied in school.
First, she tried quilting and, after that, glass fusion. Then, she remembered the potters she’d grown up around in India, where entire communities make earthenware as a profession. She started with a wheel-based class at a recreation center near her home de ella in Tucker. Over the next decade, as her hobby morphed into a passion, she studied pottery more seriously at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center with the program director, Glenn Dair.
During a trip to China in 2007, she chanced upon a double-walled, celadon-glazed lidded jar in an airport gift shop in Seoul. The ornate, blue-green object altered the trajectory of Yoganathan’s art of her.
Under Dair’s guidance, she learned the complex double-wall technique, and later began improvising and manipulating hand-built, wheel-thrown pots into shapes like a fish or an elephant.
She also began carving familiar motifs from Indian folk art onto mugs, bowls, and teapots. She considers the latter to be the pinnacle form of her craft de ella: “To make teapots,” she says, “you have to know how to make the lid, the spout, the handle, and the round form. I am not just making decorative pots. My teapots are functional on the inside—they can hold liquid, the water is not going to spill out, they can pour—and decorative on the outside.”
When gifted—as they traditionally are during festivals in the northern part of India, where her family is from—they are “a form of bringing God into your house,” she says.
Yoganathan has exhibited her work at shows dedicated exclusively to teapots, as well as at national events like the American Craft Council series and, this past spring, the Smithsonian Craft Show.
She also teaches classes at Callanwolde, recommending that students begin with hand-building before trying the potter’s wheel or carving inscriptions.
The heights of the craft are not beyond reach, she insists to her students: “It is not like teaching math. If you don’t get math, it is hard to explain. But if you don’t understand something in pottery, I can just show you.”
This article appears in our July 2022 issue.