Arts and Crafts – Ceramics and Pottery
Pottery is one of the first handcrafted activities of humanity; a utilitarian art and craft born of necessity more than 3500 years ago to become an outstanding and subtle art form. When Fes potters, who had been trained by masters coming from Al-Andalusia (Spain & Portugal) in the 9th century, refined their technique to create an elaborate sense of ornamentation combining the Berber heritage with the Hispano-Moresque influence, they were to elevate the tradition to the rank of rarely-equaled artistry. Two main categories can be differentiated: Town pottery with sumptuous objects made in Fes, Safi and Salé for the main part; Utilitarian pottery of the north widely made by women and southern country pottery made by men. Two main types of ceramics are produced: unglazed pottery, originally for domestic and utilitarian use such as the ubiquitous Tagine and painted and glazed decorative ceramics, which were used as bowls and plates and loose cut tiles. Moroccan pottery is also tied to its people’s belief of magic and evil spirits for, in the Middle Atlas Mountains region, pottery was once used to predict the type of year a person was going to have, either successful or not, when the hardy gentlefolk would place a couscous steamer on a tent pole and then push it off. Were it only to break into a few large pieces, then the year would be good; should it fall and shatter into many tiny pieces then winter will be awful and hard times were awaiting them.
The principal pottery workshops in Fes and the Atlantic port city of Safi have traditionally produced distinctive ranges of decorative wares using fine red clay. You will find potters mainly in Fes running family businesses whose skills of pottery making are passed down from father to son so you may notice similarities among products of a same extended family, mainly with regard to size and motifs in the very distinctive blue and white Fassi pottery – blue, said to be able to ward off evil spirits. Each piece is unique because of the firing technique used to create them for, once fired, there is no way to predict how the glaze will settle, so much so that two articles made with the same glaze could easily come out two different shades, adding to the dedication and skill required for this art form.
The kilns and workshops of Safi, the most extensive pottery centre in Morocco, are to be found outside of the town. The industry was revived in the late 19th century by those potters from Fes attracted by the quality of the local clay to introduce the technique of polychrome decoration with simple borders and medallions of geometric motifs painted in blue, green, and yellow on bowls, plates, and vases. Pottery and ceramics made here are more popular, less meticulous and produced in larger quantities than in Fes and are inlaid with metal or covered tightly with leather. This type of ceramics is used as a representative of Moroccan art and craft, most probably because it is close to a modern sense of aesthetics often with cobalt blue, yellow and crimson designs in geometric shapes with leaves and flowers in the pattern that shine off a brilliant white background and whose many different shapes of pots and vases make them incredibly versatile for interior decorating: smaller, flat pieces to be placed on tables, while tall vases may be placed in corners of a room to fill excess space. Berber pottery, in contrast, uses brown and red clay from the mountainsides and oases to make unglazed items that are painted with simple designs in vegetable-based colors of red and yellow.