“I thought clay must feel happy in the good potter’s hand.” – Janet Fitch, White Oleander
On our third trip to Barbados, my wife decided that to celebrate her birthday she would like to meet the man behind the popular Hamilton’s Pottery brand. The trouble was, no one, including our cab driver (and his dispatcher), had any idea where to find his shop.
The glossy tourist brochures make no mention. All we knew was that it was somewhere in the St. Thomas parish, far removed from the commercial districts in Bridgetown or Holetown. A Google search advised that we were to ‘turn at Little Jerusalem junction.’
So, we headed inland toward Welchman Hall Gully and Misery Hill until a blue roundabout sign confirmed we were on the right track. Up we climbed, past rickety farm houses, past a lone foraging goat, past a tall sugar cane crop until a bumpy Allan View Road – more a pathway than a road – took us to a non-descript grey building with a sign confirming that we’d arrived.
“You’re a hard man to find,” said Shelley as we entered the shaded workspace. “I’m the one who sent you the email from Canada.”
“Oh yes, I remember,” said Mr. Hamilton Wiltshire, greeting us with a wide smile as he placed a handle on another clay mug being readied for the kiln. “Hello Ms. Shelley. Pleased to meet you and welcome to Barbados!”
Shelley explained how we had received gifts of his pottery in recent years. She began her shopping while I chatted with this amiable Bajan craftsman. Turns out he has been turning Barbadian clay into pottery now for more than four decades.
“I began when I was a teenager out of high school and heard a radio spot promoting a government-run pottery training program,” he said. “From there I took further training, including studying in Faenza, Italy and started my business selling Indigenous pottery at the Pelican Craft Centre.”
In fact, Wiltshire used Indigenous Potteries as a business name, until he moved to the current location at Sturges, St. Thomas. A customer wandered into the shop one day and asked if this was ‘Hamilton’s Pottery’. When a second visitor asked the same question, he decided to personalize his brand. A wise decision.
Today, he runs the countryside business with the help of his wife, sister and cousin. Their son, also a potter, lives abroad in the UK.
“I hope that maybe someday Ronaldo will come home and work with us to build on this foundation,” he said. “In the meantime, I am hoping to find a younger person, someone with the right attitude, to be trained to work with me.”
Wiltshire produces a range of stunning ceramic products, many of which are sold through retail outlets such as the popular Cave Shepherd chain of eight stores and the Best of Barbados shops. He also sells from a tent during the popular Holetown Festival in mid- February.
“The festival keeps me up until 2 a.m., but I love it,” he adds, while setting the latest mug onto a shelf to dry before being baked in the kiln.
His pottery is made with red clay sourced in nearby St. Andrews. The end products include functional and traditional pots – monkey jars, tableware and vases – along with decorative candle shades, flying fish wall art, chimes and spoon rests.
During our brief visit, his cousin was inserting individual plugs of clay onto a mould press, which produced a ready-to-bake spoon rest. As each item was retrieved from the mould, he trimmed the excess clay by hand. All of the colourful glazes that are baked onto Wiltshire’s creations are environmentally safe.
“Pottery making must be the closest art form to imitate nature,” he adds. “From mining the clay to throwing a pot and seeing a beautiful object emerge from the kiln, it reminds me of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a beautiful butterfly.”
Earlier in his career Wiltshire underwent a metamorphosis of his own. He had been encouraged to expand and ship products to overseas markets, but the huge demand on his time took away from what he loved most – the craft itself.
“I had to ask myself the question: Am I a potter or a packer?” He eventually cut back from ten staff to three. He will, however, still produce some custom orders.
Hamilton rung up our purchases and helped wrap them, offering a generous discount on top of the already reasonable wholesale price. It was a huge saving over the retail markups found elsewhere.
On our return to Holetown, our cab driver Dwight tells us that his real passion is cooking. He has studied in the US and UK and is considering taking a course in fine cuisine in Montreal, Canada. So, it was no surprise to me that my kind wife added something special as we paid our fare – one of Wiltshire’s specialty kitchen items – a ceramic spoon rest glazed in beautiful Caribbean blues and greens.
“Something to remember our trip by,” she said. “And now you’ll always know where to bring your passengers if they’re looking for Hamilton’s shop.”
Weeks later back in Canada, it is a chilly winter’s morning, a far cry from the 28-degree Celsius climate in Barbados. We reach for our new coffee mugs. Smiling, we remember our search for the happy Bajan potter who has pleased thousands of customers throughout the Caribbean and overseas.
Turning the mug over, the inscription reads: Hamilton’s Pottery, Barbados. A pleasant reminder of the day we met this extraordinary craftsman and gentleman. Proof yet again that you’ll learn the true character of this island by leaving your hotel or villa and meeting the proud Bajans who call Barbados home.
To find Hamilton’s Pottery of Barbados:
By car: From Holetown, drive 9.7 km east for 13-15 minutes via Highways 1A and 1. Turn at Little Jerusalem Junction, following blue arrow sign for Hamilton’s Pottery.
Address: Lot 4 (Allan View Road), Sturges, St. Thomas, Barbados.
Tel: +1 246-242-7176
Hours: Mon to
Fri – 9am to 5pm
Saturday – 9am to 1pm