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Ceramics of Rishtan

The names of master of Rishtan pottery, those who over many tenerations have held and handed on the secret to creating the dazzling blue and white glazed wares from clay we today admire and cherish, are firmly embedded in the memory of those who continue this millenia old craft in the Ferghana valley.
At the end of the XIX century articles of the Rishtan potters were exported to Russia, where they were exhibited and where they made for popular sales items. In 1900 they were successfully presented at the Wold exhibition in Paris. Ceramics from Rishtan were compared to the best European majolica, on par with works by European masters.

Rishtan masterpieces of that era are incorporated into museum collections not only in Uzbekistan where they eponymous authors are specified through the typological belonging to their area of origin, entirely different from Gijduvan, Urgut, Andijan, Denau or Tashkent ceramics.


Researchers unanimously acknowledge the supreme role of Rishtan in the art of ceramics in the XIX - early XX centuries. The small town between Kokand and Ferghana is considered to be "the cradle of the ceramic art of the entire Ferghana valley", once influencing all ceramic centers of the region.
Ceramics were indispensable items and in some ways constituted the key to survival. In an extreme continental climate with very hot summers and dry air, ceramics made water and food storage possible. A classic vessel was the hum, the wide mothed water jug, whose every feature is intended to keep the precious liquid fresh and cool. Narrow spout-less shoulder jugs were used to get water from the well. In former times, houshold items such as small jugs, namely: obdasts, kuzacha, oftoba for drinking water, large and small vessels for dairy products were made in a multitude of shapes, with two or four handles, such as the dugusha, koshkulok, chorkulok, and hurma.
At the end of the XIX century after the opening in 1889 of the Tashkent to Ferghana railroad and the emergence of massproduced imported Russian china ware, demand for Rishtan ceramics drastically decreased.
Bukhara, Samarkand followed by Tashkent became the production sites of ceramics factories in Turkestan. The laboriously handcrafted and thus more expensive bowls, serving plates, milk and water jugs from Rishtan were no longer able to compete on the market. Many masters turned to other sources of income or abandoned their skills altogether. It is immediately notable how in the 1950s-1960s, the few remaining potters in Rishtan complied with the trend of the time, mainly brightly enrobed, polychromatic articles made in the line of Tashkent and Gijduvan ceramics, a far cry from the classic Rishtan school. A revival of the best tradition of Rishtan set in only relatively recently.

The contemporary craftspeople of Rishtan ceramics adhere to the creative remake of the artistic expression of their ancestors, whose ornamentality, decorative and utilitarian principle sets the standard. Specific ornaments are chosen in relation to the functionality of the ceramic object they adorn, thus perfect harmony is achieved. Flowing lines, elegant and very strict proportions distinguish Rishtan ceramics. The large serving dishes charkhi tavoka or laghan with diameters up to 50cm are widely esteemed still today all over Uzbekistan and by foreign visitors alike.

Younger ceramists nowadays experiement with additional colours such as yellow and green, to add variety and create a style of their own. They do stay faithful however to the patterns so typical of Rishtan. As you brows the bazaar shops of Samarkand and Bukhara, you will immediately not how Rishtan ceramics stand out.
Photos with gracious authorization by Rustam Usmanov from the new publication "Ceramics of Rishtan" by Ljalja Kuznetsova,and texts by the author of the present article, Lyudmila Kodzayeva. The book and a fine selection of exclusive samples of Rishtan ceramics by the masters depicted here are available at Samarkand's "Bird of Happniess" gallery on Chorsu Square.

Discovery Central Asia #17

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