Nikola Kusovac,
Art historian
IN THE SPIRIT OF TRADITION

Ljiljana Nikolic,
Art Historian,
Fine Art Critic
THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL COLONY OF CERAMICS

 

Biljana Đordjević Bogdanović, archaeologist
ON ZLAKUSA POTTERY AND ITS
SIGNIFIANCE FOR ETHNOLOGICAL
AND ARCHEOLOGICAL RESEARCH

Famous from afar for its quality, the pottery from Uzice's region has become interesting also for scientists as well, from as far back as the beginning of this century. Long ago, in 1909. Zivko Joksimovic wrote about it in The Serbian Ethnographic Anthology. In 1936., Bisenija Perunicic focused her interest right on the pots from Zlakusa, whilst the most thorough and complete document on them was made by Natalija Blagojevic in 1973., in The Anthology of Uzice. The last so far published ethnographic review of the work of the potters from Zlakusa, Bosiljka Rosic presented in 1983. The same year, Persida Tomic in her monograph "Pottery in Serbia" united all former knowledge on this subject.

At the beginning of the nineties the archaeologists as well, got interested in the method of manufacturing Zlakusa's pottery, which, by all means, represents the most archaic pottery's technique known in Europe, nowadays. Comparing this pottery and technology applied in its origination to the knowledge that we have on prehistoric ceramics, especially ceramics from the iron age, interesting results can be obtained, also useful for scientific purposes.

Uniqueness of the pottery, here talked about, is in the material used for making pots, as well as in the very method of manufacture. A perfect combination of clay (overripen) brought from the village of Vranjani and calcite (kind of calcite mineral - "vrsta"), dug in the village of Rupeljevo, in the ideal proportion 1:1, enabled origination of the pottery which endures for centuries. Even in the conditions of modern way of living, when the fashion of metal dishes, it could be said, pushed them back, the pots from Zlakusa succeeded in surviving and every day they justify their existance more and more.

Specificity of these pots make is particularily important for ethnological and archaeological research. Hand-turned-pottery wheel, which is nowadays used in Zlakusa, remained in the Balkans only in some parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The data mentioning its existance in Spain and Portugal are old for couple of decades, so it is possible the rapid modernization in the last twenty years, has brought to disappearing of this handicraft in the furthestwest of Europe, too. No matter this assumption is true or not, Zlakusa, of course, represents if not the last one, then at least one of the last bastions of hand-turned-wheel in Europe.

Hand-turned-pottery-wheel is made of wood. In the Balkans there are four different types, out of which the one from Zlakusa is most complicated. It consists of round wheel of diameter 33 cm, thickness 5 cm, placed on a shaft of 22 cm height, which passes through a cross, the parts of which are connected with the wheel by means of small supports of 14 cm height. The whole structur is fitted onto a stand thus providing stability.

After preparation, with a piece of clay in the shape of round bread, a potter starts making dish bottom and building walls. Adding spirally new pieces of clay in the form of sausage, called "sudzuk", he continues building a dish, which he will finish with special tools and turning the wheel one-handedly. The tools used for that purpose are made of natural materials, also available to a prehistoric potter. "Bocilo" is a conical piece of wood, as used from inner side, gives to a dish a rounded form and at the same time it equalizes wall thickness. "Kustura" or "kostura" is a wooden knife which removes clay excess. "Rub" is a piece of cloth or leather which makes rim and smoothes the dish from outer side. "Saraljka" is a notched, small wooden stick (nowadays it is a metal gear) meantfor dish decorating.

Baking of such made dishes is one specificity more of Zlakusa's potters work. After couple of days of drying in the air and smoking in a smoking room, baking in open fire commences. Dishes are placed on a plat ground, on a base of wooden round logs. All the structure is surrounded and covered with wooden clogs and tree branches then set on fire. The baking process lasts until dishes turn white. The efficency of such a method is quite surprising, having in mind the minimum temperature necessary for baking ceramics is 600-700°C and also with regards to the fact the dishes are exposed to fire unevenly. Finished dishes are of good quality, fireproof and solid, so they are still in usage, regardless the dishes made of other materials, commonly used nowadays.

It is interesting that such a method of pottery-ware manufacture is preserved right here until present days. According to the memories of local potters, pottery craft has been developed in Uzice's region in the last 300 years. In the first half of XIX century, the greatest number of potters, was exactly her in the districts of Uzice and Zlatibor. Out of 189 potters in Serbia, 71 of them were from the region of Uzice, consisting of the two mentioned districts. In the last two centuries, with a change of circumstances, demand for pottery-ware decreased, it was replaced with enameled dishes in households, so the number of potters was also lessened. The handicraft, however, has not absolutely faded away until today. It is not by chance that the last strong base of potters in this region is right here in Zlakusa.

The potters from Zlakusa are the only ones who endure, because they used best raw materials and were most skillful ones which resulted in best quality pots, always very much in demand.

In the village of Zlakusa at the beginning, 1996.y., 6 potters have dealed with this craft. Today, 8 years later (2003) there is more than 40 potters.