During a recent trip to Egypt, I had the pleasure of visiting the wonderful Fayoum Pottery School. Located in the tiny hamlet of Tunis, along the shores of the salt-water Qaroun Lake, this little place has been a hub of creativity since it was set up in the 1980s by Swiss potter Evelyne Porret.
Having moved there with her husband and potter Michel Pastor, and her children, Evelyne noticed that the local children enjoyed making little clay animals and toys from the local mud and this led her to slowly start to teach them the art of pottery. Gradually, this turned into the Fayoum Pottery School, a peaceful and quiet place in which many of the local children could learn how to throw pottery and develop their creative skills.
The school is still going strong today, and many of the students have gone on to open their own pottery studios. Actually, the whole of Tunis Village has become a bit of a pottery haven, with many workshops and even an annual pottery and crafts festival.
I had been to the school many years ago and absolutely loved the work they did there. The whole concept of the school and its promotion of craftsmanship, teaching young people a skill that could provide them not only with a creative outlet, but also with the potential of making a living is just wonderful. And ever since I set up my business, I've wanted to bring pieces from the Fayoum Pottery School to sell at Pomegranate - and here was my chance!
THE FAYOUM AREA
To get to the Fayoum Pottery School, we (yep - I dragged my very good and very patient friend Maha along) drove about two and half hours south-west of Cairo, then along the huge salt-water Lake Qaroun and up into the little village of Tunis. It's a really beautiful drive, especially along the lake.
Fayoum is also known for its rich heritage that extends from pyramids & Greco-Roman ruins to two lakes, waterfalls, whale fossils, iconic water wheels and a world heritage site. So if you're ever in the area, there is no shortage of things to see in Fayoum!
It's also a very rich agricultural area full of greenery, wonderful palm trees and gorgeous dome-shaped traditional dovecotes. Combined with local animals like water-buffalo and goats, as well as fish from Lake Qaroun, these make up the majority of the themes depicted by the potters at the school.
THE FAYOUM POTTERY SCHOOL
After a few wrong turns in the tiny little alleys in Tunis village, we finally found the school and it certainly didn't disappoint!
It hadn't changed all that much since my last visit and I was pleased to see that there were several potters at work and a varied choice of pottery pieces being sold in their charming shop.
The school is simple, built in the local vernacular style with domes, curved roofs and arches. It's not fancy, but it is packed full of charm, grace and style and is surrounded by lush palm trees, beautiful bougainvillea and other wonderful trees and foliage.
We were given a short tour of the school and workshop and I loved seeing pieces in various stages of production. The students learn everything from working and preparing the raw clay, to throwing and shaping it into useful or decorative items, then glazing and finally firing it.
After that came the time to choose what pieces to bring back for Pomegranate!
THE FAYOUM POTTERY SCHOOL SHOP
The shop is as charming as the rest of the school. Its traditional mud-construction, uneven floor and simple shelves are a perfect backdrop for the huge selection of work available to buy.
I confess that it took me (quite!) a while to decide on which pieces to choose. I wanted them to reflect the area of Fayoum in their colours and designs, but also to appeal to customers back in the UK. And of course, I had to check that they were well finished and - this was important - that they could fit in my hand-luggage!
I settled on 13 bowls and small plates with charming designs and in lovely colours. Each piece is signed by the potter who made it and I was pleased to see that each item was noted down in a sales ledger with the name of its maker, so that they could receive their percentage of the sale.
THE POMEGRANATE SELECTION
Once back in the UK, I photographed each piece and proudly added it to the Pomegranate website - and now you can own a unique piece of pottery from the Fayoum Pottery School, carefully chosen and brought back just for you to enjoy and use at home.
Here are the final pieces available selected and available on the website now.
I'd love to know what you think of the Fayoum Pottery School collection. Did I make good choices? Do leave me a message in the comments below and let me know!
...'till next time.