Experimental archaeology
- Traditional Production
of Ceramics


lt was a great opportunity to attend the summer workshop of the 8th lnternational Fine Art Colony in Yugoslavia (Serbia) in August. Fifteen ceramists from five different countries participated, working together for ten days in Zlakusa, a beautiful village, about 200 miles south of Belgrade.

Although modern techniques are currently in place in western countries, what impressed me at Zlakusa, was the determination of the organiser and members to maintain local traditions of pottery. The express aim of the event’s organiser, Sofija Bunardzic, is to maintain 300 years of traditional Zlakusa pottery by using a wooden hand-throwing wheel, and firing pots in an open field at 700 centigrade. When she started this in 1996, there were only nine potters, but now, after eight years, this number has increased to 40, communicating through an exchange of culture. This is the result of her determined effort to sustain the event.

They use Zlakusa clay from a local source, and mix it with calcite (mineral stone grained) quarried from the village in a 50:50 proportion. The texture of the clay, though somewhat rough, is very soft. Local potters produce mainly domestic ware. The quality of the clay is quite different from others (low temperature firing clay) but quite easy to control.

They use clay direct, from an already well-mixed chunk, to make sausages to their own required size without making coils, which compared with my experience is a very rapid process. Under this low temperature firing, glazes are not available for decoration but they can use terra sigilate and engobe for decoration (colour pigments). Furthermore, it can produce pieces with a smooth, shiny surface.

Zlakusa pottery
open field firing
Demonstration by local potter Dragon
at the Zlakusa pottery

One of the participants, a ceramist, Professor Vukicevic, from Belgrade University, uses this method for his work when he is in Zlakusa, producing very interesting clay pieces. The work is normally hand-built and fired at high temperature (1250 centigrade)
similar to my own.

Sofija Bunardzic is a painter and ceramist and one of the Zlakusa pottery experts. Her pots are mainly decorative, ornamental and on a large scale. She shows her work in galleries in Uzice, Serbia’s second city, about ten minutes away by car. She has a studio in Uzice, where she teaches and works. This space is also used for keeping former participants’ work. This was the eighth Colony, and consequently the government now gives her work serious support. Her long-term aim is to open an art museum in Uzice. l hope she succeeds in this venture and that her energetic efforts will be rewarded.

We all stayed at potters’ homes, working in the workshops and eating together in one of the houses. The people were most hospitable, even though they spoke little English or any other language.

l knew that there were quite a few summer workshops in the world like this one, but have never heard of this kind of exchange in the UK. Three participants from Japan (well-established clay artists from Tokoname and Seto) were supported financially by the Japanese Government, receiving a grant for travelling costs. But the organisers provided everything for the ten-day event.The flight from Manchester to Belgrade with Lufthansa cost about E270.

Keiko Harada

(CPA NEWS, The Newsletter of the Craft Potters Association,
Number 93, January/February 2004, p. 5)
The similar article published in: Ceramic Review, 205, January/February 2004, p. 61