Fayoum Pottery: Ceramic Arts and Crafts in an Egyptian Oasis by R. Neil Hewison celebrates three pottery villages in the Fayoum, a fertile depression in Egypt’s northwestern desert. After discussing Egypt’s rich and ancient ceramic history, Hewison takes us to Al-Nazla. Here, outside the busy village itself, we come to “the potteries – a jumble of simple workshop huts and brick kilns that seem to rise organically out of the earth, interspersed with ranks of hundreds of raw pots, dark brown or gray-black, set out on the ground to dry before firing, and stacks of finished ones, light pink or rust-red ready for sale…” The potters who work here are all related. They produce fat, spherical water jars using techniques passed down through generations. You can see the kilns and pots in a video promoting the 2019 hit, “Bint akaabir” by the popular Syrian artist Asala. Worth a look whether the music is to your taste or not.
Next, we travel to Kom Oshim. Here too, skills have been passed down through generations, but the potters now make enormous garden pots rather than traditional water jars. They make the largest pots in Egypt, some over six feet tall! They are sold throughout the country and internationally including “Belgium, France, Italy and Cyprus, where it is said that one enterprising importer … re-exports them for sale in Greece, marked “Made in Cyprus.'” Who knows? Surely, a Kom Oshim pot would look wonderful in my garden, but alas, I am thousands of miles away in a too cold climate.
Tunis, the last potters’ village Hewison shares with us, became a lively center for pottery after an idealistic Swiss couple set up the Pottery School in 1990 and offered free classes to local children. Today there are more than twenty-five workshops and show rooms. The pottery is dazzling with glazed plates, bowls, animals and tiles. Shops in Cairo and faraway London and New York sell pots from Tunis.
The book then turns to profiles of individual potters and their work. Fayoum Pottery is profusely illustrated with color photos of the kilns, potters at work, and many pots. It is impossible to read it without wishing to hop a plane immediately and visit the potteries for oneself. With all that ails the world right now, few, if any of us, can do so. The book is a gift then, giving us a close look at such an important pottery center.
Fayoum Pottery by R. Neil Hewison, Published by The American University in Cairo Press. 978-1-649-03132-7
Note: I have read a number of interesting books on pottery in the past year, but somehow have not shared them with you here. What is it about the Pandemic that makes everything so crazy? My plan is to share at least the best with you in the next few weeks, but omicron rages and I have a long list of pots to make, so, well, we will see. Happy New Year though. Good Health to us all.