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Pursuing pottery

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Neal P. Corpus

Posted on April 09, 2021

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Artist, potter, and Hey Kessy owner Mansy Abesamis tells us how touching clay can help you cope during the pandemic.

Ever since she was a child, artist and potter Mansy Abesamis was already creating with her hands. “Back then, I would make my own toys,” she says, fashioning things to play with from found objects with her siblings and neighbors in her province of Pangasinan. “Talagang nasanay ako using my hands to create anything that I needed.”

It’s this instinctive act, deeply rooted in tactility, that would become important not only important in her life, but also in coping during the pandemic. “I realized na kailangan talaga ng world ng pottery, kasi ‘yun ‘yung nawala in our lives,” she says, “the freedom to touch things which are very dear to us.”

Mansy Abesamis. Photo courtesy of Mansy Abesamis/Hey Kessy

Mansy owns and runs Hey Kessy, a multidisciplinary brand of handcrafted products, chief of which is pottery. In the past year, Mansy and Hey Kessy have had to do some major contemplation, thinking whether or not this was the right thing to have pursued.

‘Nung nag-start ‘yung pandemic, just like everyone else, sobra rin ‘yung anxiety ko,” she shares. “What’s going to happen to my chosen career, my craft?” Should she have become an app developer instead, she laments, or have become part of an “essential” or forward-thinking industry?

There was a lot to consider: how was Hey Kessy’s physical store in U.P. Town Center, which stocks her ceramics, jewelry, and other art and craft supplies, going to survive?

A big part of Hey Kessy’s business had been conducting workshops to teach pottery to people of all ages — would it even be possible to teach pottery online? “Siyrempre clay ‘yun eh, you really need to touch it,” she says, “You have to be near to the person to explain [kung] ano ‘yung form.”

After an initial period of adjustment, Mansy was able to find a way to continue teaching. “Naisip ko na worth it eh,” she shares. Even if she was getting anxiety about teaching virtually, the benefit of sharing the experience of creation outweighed putting her practice on pause indefinitely.

For Mansy and her students, pottery has become a way of expressing emotions and coping during the pandemic. Photo from Hey Kessy Pottery's website

Nakita ko sa faces nung students ko ‘yung joy of touching things, and molding it into any shape [they] want,” Mansy shares. It was empowering: from a shapeless block of clay, “and then if you decide na, ‘Okay, I want to make my own cup,’ makikita mo siya mag-transform right in front of you, and ikaw lang yung nag-force to shape it.”

Practicing pottery during the pandemic also became a way to process emotions, both for Mansy and her students. “What we’re going through right now is so complex,” Mansy says. “Even ‘yung sadness, ‘yung loss, ‘yung pag-miss mo sa mga tao. It’s so difficult to explain — suddenly it’s not just sadness.”

The spectrum of emotions brought on by the pandemic have become difficult to express with words, but once Mansy and her students touch the clay, it all pours out.

“Sometimes meron akong students na umiiyak na lang,” shares Mansy, “Kasi I think sobrang primal nung touch, tapos sobrang primal nung emotions, nag-connect na sila and you don’t need words.”

She adds: “You just express it, and that’s so different from the life that we had before. [Tinatanggal ng pottery] ‘yung pressure to explain with words, whatever it is that you’re feeling.”

It is a powerful thing to be able to share this, and it’s easy to understand why Mansy chose to forge on with her practice, even if she had to adapt it for a virtual audience.

The workshops are conducted online via Zoom, and Mansy ships out the materials beforehand. After the session, the participants send their work back to Mansy’s studio, where she fires and glazes them in her kiln, and then sends them out once more.

The Hey Kessy pottery studio. Photo courtesy of Mansy Abesamis/Hey Kessy

It sounds like a laborious back-and-forth process, but one upside this set-up has brought is that Hey Kessy has been able to reach an audience beyond U.P. Town Center, reaching various places around the country like Cagayan and Cebu — something Mansy didn’t think was possible before.

Sharing knowledge and resources with fellow creatives has long been a part of Mansy’s work. She started Hey Kessy in 2012, just as the crafting community in the Philippines was taking shape. But there was one thing missing: materials.

There was one particular material she saw crafters from the US and Europe were using, a decorative tape called washi tape. “I tried ordering online and sobrang hassle pag galing pa sa States kasi ang tagal,” she says, noting it would take two months for the shipment to arrive.

Mansy took this as an opportunity to fill this gap and set-up shop online. She also added paper products into the mix, and shortly after began conducting workshops. Later on, she would open a brick-and-mortar on Esteban Abada street in Quezon City, just a stone’s throw away from Hey Kessy’s future home in U.P. Town Center.

Around the same time Hey Kessy was starting, Mansy went on a trip to India and Nepal, where she would discover the intersection of creating with her hands and gathering a community. “Meron silang mga small clay na cups, tapos ‘yun ‘yung ginagamit nila to serve tea sa street,” Mansy recalls.

Naisip ko na lang na, ‘Ah okay, kung hindi ako marunong magluto or magtimpla ng drinks, ako na lang ‘yung gagawa ng vessel na magho-hold ng food na pinrepare with so much love and care,” she adds.

When she returned to the country, Mansy spent a month in Sagada to learn pottery making. “Dun ko nakilala ‘yung matatandang potters and then nakita ko ‘yung power talaga ng akala mo plate lang, pero pag nilagay mo na yan sa table, it can really gather a community,” says Mansy. “It’s the center of their conversations.”

Hey Kessy opened in U.P. Town Center in 2016, where it became a destination for craft supplies and pottery workshops. Photo courtesy of Mansy Abesamis/Hey Kessy

A few years later, in 2015, U.P. Town Center offered Hey Kessy a space to open a store, where Mansy would again be able to grow the community around pottery and crafting. She joined a row of local shops and brands championed by Ayala Malls: “Nagkaroon ng opportunity ‘yung mga small businesses like us na magkaroon ng mas malaking market,” says Mansy.

There, Mansy would not only hold workshops, but also organize the Katipunan Art Festival in 2017, which featured art stations and exhibits. “Doon nag-start, [and then] continuous na,” Mansy recalls.

And then, of course, the pandemic hit. Apart from moving her workshops online, Mansy also started a project called Pottery for the Future, which aims to keep the ancient art form of pottery alive by bringing it closer to the younger generation.

Apart from that, Pottery for the Future also seeks to bridge the gap between elder potters — like the ones Mansy learned from in Sagada — and the digital world, by creating an online platform for them to sell their products through Hey Kessy.

It’s a move that’s especially helpful not only because it provides income in a time when tourism is non-existent, but also because it will keep the craft of pottery in the country alive. It also saves these potters the stress of having to adapt to the digital realm, allowing them to focus on what they do best.

If there’s anything Mansy has learned during all this — dealing with the pandemic, having to move online, uplifting her community — is that there is comfort to be found in constantly changing and looking forward to the unexpected.

“Unlike before, na ‘yung sudden change ang traumatizing niya for everyone, pero ngayon mas nasanay na ako mag-change nang mag-change,” Mansy says. “Kunwari, may kailangan i-solve na problem, [iniisip] ko na, ‘Okay, pwede pa rin ‘to mag-change.”

She explains that even if you feel like there are so many limits to what we can do — especially these days — there is still hope, and we can still shape our lives into anything we want it to be. Just like a piece of clay.

Prior to the extension of ECQ in NCR+, Hey Kessy was scheduled to conduct a Basic Pottery Workshop at U.P. Town Center on April 11. Follow U.P. Town Center on Instagram and Facebook for updates on its rescheduling.

For more information on Hey Kessy and its online workshops, visit heykessypottery.com and follow them on Instagram.


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