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Lori Ann holding African potLori Ann's Pots
Educating the public, creating jobs, and honouring culture

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These pots are really traditional pots. I want to be able to have things in the store that are genuine. Obviously everything that I have in the store is made in Africa but what I mean is something that western society hasn't demanded. They don't use napkin holders in Kenya, and although I sell them and they're cute, they have little animals, this is more culturally relevant. I want to be able to expose people here to that, but I also want to be able to provide an income for the women who make and sell the pots.

This is something that if you go to markets in Africa, not city markets where the tourists are going to go, but the local markets, this is what you're going to find. Obviously it will depend on the area because this is a special clay that comes from the north western area of Kenya and they have really good clay. They're known all over Kenya as being a really high quality pot.

Generally they're made by women. In fact I don't think I've ever seen a man make these. They're made by women and they're sold by women. It's quite interesting watching how they make them because when you have an old pot they take the bottom of the old pot and that's what they build the new pot on. So they use that actually as their circle for making their pot. They'll usually sit around, in sometimes large groups, sometimes a couple of women, and they'll work on their pot and they'll discuss, "Oh well this one I want to put this type of pattern" so you'll see them put different patterns on them. In the development of it, it's a traditional method that's used, there's no point improving on that traditional method because it works really well. There's that togetherness, I guess you could say.

This one here, it's still pretty small but they would use this for water, there's much larger ones that they would use as a refrigerator, and what's wonderful about these is that they don't leak but they breathe so as the dampness evaporates it causes a cooling effect so it makes the water inside nice and cool. Also the minerals in the clay make the water really sweet, so it's a nice cold sweet water.

For a lot of the Africans who come in here, it's like seeing something so typical from your childhood that it gives you a warm feeling and really reminiscent. But that's how the bigger ones would be used. The smaller ones, they'll have different lips on them, the base is usually the same, very round. You can just sit these in the mud because you're dealing with mud surfaces and you'll find a nice balancing point. Some have a smaller neck that they'll use for brewing beer. They'll have some that are a bit wider that they'll use for cooking their meats and their stews and they put it right on the fire.

Lori Ann with African potThey're a really good clay, you can probably hear the high ping. There's a high metal content. The women who make the pots are actually quite far off, in the middle of nowhere, and I would never find these women. The women who I encounter are the women who are working in the villages. There's usually a market every Friday. It's there every day but the big day is Friday and everyone comes in from these outlying areas and if you had an aerial camera, early, early in the morning, you'd see piles and piles of people who are slowly coming in to the centre for the market. By midday when the sun's up everyone's already on their way home because they don't want to be stuck in the sun. The women who are at the market are selling these and they go in to the outlying areas, to the outreaches, and buy them and then bring them in. I try to buy directly from the women who make them but this is a situation where I would never have access to them. There's no roads that go out to the places where these women live because they make them in their own little farms or shambahs. So the only link I have is through these other women.

In the markets it's interesting, you would never buy a pot from a man and that's simply because of who uses the pots. The women make the pots and the women use the pots and how would a man ever know? You'd never have a man in the kitchen and so he wouldn't know that if you have a pot where the pebbles haven't been taken out of the clay, it will crack. It's faster to make them - you can make lots of pots with a poor quality soil, but they're going to crack as soon as you put them on the fire. A woman would never leave those pebbles because she knows what a hassle it is to have the pot crack when it's on the fire. You have all your stew in there and you have to make this dinner for your family and the pot cracks, like what else could go wrong? I think that there's this greater degree of trust with another woman.

That doesn't mean that they don't barter. It's theatrical watching them sometimes. Because when you have one woman buying from another, she'll make a big production. They'll always tell you how awful your pot is and how they don't want it and you're charging too much and they'll do these fakes where they're going to leave and then come back and go 'Well, I guess there's no other pot, so I guess I'm going to have to take it'. So there really is a production when they're buying the pots. But if you had a row of 15 men and 3 women selling pots, you know that the women would be the ones who are selling them, because they just wouldn't even bother with the men, cause they just wouldn't know.

I think one of the other things that I've found over time with selling these pots is people who do pottery come in here and look at these and go, 'Wow that's really an amazing pot' and they know how much work goes into it. They recognize the amount of work that goes into them and there's an emotional connection to it almost immediately.

I also want to be able to sell these pots because then I can buy more from these women. If they have greater demand it ensures that they're going to be able to keep that skill level up and that they're going to pass those skills on to someone else.

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