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Location. The blue legend of Rushtan

Rishtan is a small village in the Southern part of the Fergana Valley, approximately 5 hours drive from Tashkent. En route from Tashkent you pass the elongated Karakul Reservoir, over the winding Kamchik pass, through the recently finished tunnels into the Namangan Province. Rishtan is situated half way between Kokand and Fergana, near the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. At one point along the road, you actually enter into Kyrygzstan, but a visa is not necessary, and there are no border posts to contend with. Here, away from the hustle and bustle of bazaars and heavy traffic, we found ceramists manufacturing uniquely hand painted glazed ceramics. Rishtan, formerly known as Rishdon, is one of the largest ceramic centres in Central Asia.

Archeologists have yet to discover the origin, though many legends abound. One of the legends suggests that 800 years ago, a man from Roshidon, Saint Burhonitdin, (a famous religious figure of the early 12-century, and the author of the treatise "Al Hidoya") decided to build a mosque. He invited ceramists from Bukhara and Samarkand to assist in its construction and design and since then, Saint Burhonitdin has been considered the protector of all ceramists.

Rishtan ceramics relies solely on the local raw materials. Porous reddish clay, which is high in minerals, is taken from the quarry, which is located near Rishtan, whilst white clay originates from Angren or Osh. Well-turned on the potter's wheel, Rishtan ceramics are beautifully designed with a combination of plant and animal motives. Designs are often based on superstition, pomegranates symbolize fertility, water illustrates life- each finished product a different connotation. The vivid blue hue shines through a delicate layer of glaze, which is unique to each ceramist. Works of art are never repeated, as templates are never made.

Each starts with a pummeled slab of clay. Over and over they beat the clay, removing air and making it more pliable. Each potter moulds his own products, with the use of the potters wheel and extremely talented hands. Once dried the myriad of clay goods are hand sketched and then painted with varying dye shades. Plants are often collected and burnt, the ashes used to create the well-known ishkor glaze. Beautiful turquoise and ultra marine combinations dominate on a white background.

Rishtan potters make both decorative and functional crockery, as well as mosaic tiles for house ornamentation, in 2000, more than 20 ceramists assisted in producing the tiled mosaics for the cupola-shaped mausoleum of Burhonitdin al Rashidony al Marginony in Sahiby-Hidoya. This perfect mausoleum nestles in amongst the back streets of Rishtan, amongst the winding dusty roads and white washed walled houses. Just before dusk the mausoleum is at its best, with the colored mosiacs glimmering in the late afternoon sun. All of the tiles were manufactured in Mr. Kamilov's workshop, with the assistance of the local ceramists. Mr. Kamilov is a 7th generation ceramist and one of the finest in Rishtan. His attention to detail, from moulding, painting to the different technologies of glaze and kashin is remarkable. His work features in museum collections in Uzbekistan, Moscow, St. Petersburg, The Hermitage, as well as part of other private collections around the world.

Architectural finds in the area have lovingly been restored using the expertise of many years of excellence in the trade. The potters' brushes still made from goat's wool, carry the warmth to the kuzagars and nakoshs ceramics, which are removed from the hand made kilns after 12-18 hours of firing.

Rishtan is reputable, not only for its potters but also for their chefs. Local culinary delight, Ahunjan Nigmatov is famous in Rishtan for his preparation and cooking for large Uzbek marriages. He prepares national dishes in kazans, similar to a huge wok right on the street. He magically dices at a breathtaking pace whilst simultaneously entertaining the crowd with clever puns and humorous stories. It's well worth the time to stop over at Mr. Usmanov's, a ceramist, both for accommodation, and to experience Ahunjan's popular cuisine.

Mr. Usmanov (tel: +998 7345 21585 ), educated in the ceramic art, works from his studio on the road between Kokand and Ferghana. Here you have the opportunity to see a renowned ceramist at work, witnessing the entire process. You will soon begin to appreciate their prolific talent, after you have tried your hand at painting a plate or two yourself.

Being the highlight of Rishtan, many tourists buy directly from his vast array of beautifully designed items at fair prices. His show room contains works of art from various ceramists, as well as paintings, antique Iranian ornaments and national Uzbek lyagans (deep plates), and multi designed tea sets.

The love they exude for their talent is revealed in their personalities and their wares. Visiting and buying directly from a potter from the depths of his home, from such a small part of the world, will allow you to retrospect every time you look at your souvenirs. Their hospitality, warmth and devotion to their work, is magnanimous. Purchases are also available from art-galleries, hotels' curio shops and from small shops located close to historical monuments.

The Blue Legend includes material from "Ceramic of Rishtan. Traditions and masters" album. Author Ms. Kodzaeva (Kodzati).
Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation (Soros Foundation) edition.

Discovery Central Asia #3

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