By Myracle Mugol
Telly Kongolo, an artist and small business owner, shares his journey from the bustling streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, to Tumon, Guam. As the co-owner of The Potter's Studio Guam, Kongolo's story intertwines personal growth, artistic evolution and the challenges of managing a creative business.
Born into a family deeply rooted in the art community, Kongolo's journey began with early exposure to creativity. His uncle, serving as the dean of the Fine Arts Academy, ignited his passion for the arts. Kongolo's family later relocated to Paris, where his formative years laid the foundation for a multicultural artistic perspective.
Returning to Congo for college studies in art and earning a master's degree in France, Kongolo's artistic voyage took an unexpected turn in 1996 when he received a scholarship to conduct research in China. This global exposure became a fundamental influence on his evolving style, blending his Congolese roots with diverse cultural experiences.
Kongolo was the featured artist at the Lees-Reyes Art Gallery in Tumon Sands Plaza in October. His art show, titled "My Life," showcased a large body of work, including oil paintings and sculptures that leaked hints of Cubist influence.
"The main source of inspiration is my motherland, Congo/Africa. However, having lived in various countries and immersed in diverse cultures, I've developed a deep appreciation for the rich tapestry of how people live their lives within these cultures. This blend of my Congolese roots and exposure to different worldviews greatly influences my artistic work," Kongolo said.
The inception of The Potter's Studio Guam emerged from Kongolo's relocation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Faced with the decision to focus on painting, sculpture, or ceramics, he identified a gap in Guam's artistic offerings.
"After moving from Korea to Guam during the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt a strong desire to open my own art studio and engage in creative work. I faced a dilemma, trying to decide whether to focus on painting, sculpture, or ceramics. However, I soon realized that while there were numerous painting studios on the island, there was a notable absence of a pottery studio, and the demand for this type of art was substantial," Kongolo said.
Reflecting on the challenges and successes of managing the studio, Kongolo emphasizes the logistical difficulties of importing materials. "My most significant challenge in running my studio is the importation of all the necessary materials from overseas. The cost of materials is quite high, and the shipping expenses add to the financial burden. Approximately 90 percent of the materials I supply for my classes are shipped from the mainland USA. This includes everything from the clay and glaze to the kiln and even replacement elements and tools. The process of obtaining clay locally in Talofofo or Ordot is cumbersome and time-consuming," he said.
Kongolo considers himself fortunate to have found a community that embraces pottery and is passionate about learning and creating. "The immense joy I witness on my students' faces when they produce a final product in just 90 minutes is incredibly rewarding. It's what motivates me to wake up each morning and eagerly return to work," Kongolo said.
Balancing the roles of an artist and a teacher is not a simple task. "I typically carve out time for my artistic endeavors when I'm not teaching, although it can be quite challenging. I often find the mornings, when teaching demands are lower, to be the most conducive for my creative work," he said.
Kongolo's teaching philosophy revolves around teaching the skills necessary for students to explore the intricacies of pottery. "Pottery involves a depth of understanding that often surprises people who step into the studio for the first time. The level of engagement can differ significantly between students who are merely curious and those who have a genuine desire to delve deeper into the world of pottery," he said.
Looking ahead, Kongolo aspires to see more pottery on the streets of Guam, reviving traditional pottery that has been forgotten. He envisions The Potter's Studio Guam becoming a hub for Guam's artistic revival, not only for the local community but also for tourists seeking a connection to the island's cultural heritage.
The Potter's Studio Guam, co-owned by Telly Kongolo and Barbara Wrightson, is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays for both morning and evening classes. Saturday mornings are dedicated to the youth, and the studio remains closed on Thursdays and Sundays.