Tips to help you buy traditional baskets and pottery during your travel to Sri Lanka
Pottery is one of the most ancient art forms in Sri Lanka, initially used to make utilitarian items like pots, pans and kitchenware. Later, the artisans expanded their repertoire to clay figures, vases and animal figurines.
Pottery in Sri Lanka was a caste-based profession that is now practised by a handful of families in the country. Each piece is hand-made, where the potter fashions clay over a manually turned wheel. These pieces are oven hardened in a brick kiln. Some high-end items may use coloured clay or glazing to give a shiny finish.
Similarly, cane products such as baskets have been a part of Sri Lankan tradition for many generations. It is cane and not bamboo that is used to make baskets. Cane products are more easily found in west Sri Lanka, as the raw material grows well in Moneragala, Matara and Ratnapura.
Although the equipment used is very simple (a barrel and a sharp knife), the different techniques require two or three different cane types. Additionally, the process is labour intensive, requiring cleaning, splitting and smoking before it can be woven.
Cane products can be utilitarian (baskets) but can also be delicately ornamental (lampshades, vases, boxes, toys). Close to the beaches, you will find artisans selling woven hats and baskets that can be useful, pretty and light to carry home! Unlike other souvenir products, these are found only in the south and west of Sri Lanka in places like Batticaloa, Galle, Kandy, Matara, Kurunegala and Ratnapura.