By Rosemary Schalek
Potters and Sculptors Club member, Yee Wong, recently visited the North African coastal nation of Morocco for 16 days in March, 2016 with a tour group. Since they arrived at the end of the rainy season they had beautiful weather during their trip.
Yee met the other tour group members in Casa Blanca. They stayed in accommodations ranging from hotels in Casa Blanca, tents in the desert, to riads, a large family home converted into a bed and breakfast.
Yee visited a ceramics factory in Fez, where she observed the entire ceramics process. The artisans use low-fire clay that is dug from a local river bed and refined by mixing it with water in a large hole in the floor.
Once the clay is pliable, the artisans use kick wheels to throw a variety of shapes, including plates, bowls, cylinders and candle holders. The huge outdoor wood-fired kiln is made of mud and straw and is heated with a variety of paper, cardboard and wood.
An artisan decorated a bisque plate by using a compass to divide the plate and make the design. A special brush is used to outline the design with oxides and stains. The design is filled in with colored oxides, a clear glaze is added and the piece is fired. This style of decoration is used on plates, casserole dishes, and the like.
The factory also produces tiles in a variety of colors. Some of these tiles are used in the making of the mosaic ware. There are two styles of design used in the mosaics, Roman and Islamic. Roman style uses mosaic pieces that are square or rectangular in shape. An Islamic style of mosaic design is more fluid and artistic with the pieces of tiles cut in many shapes.
The design lines are drawn on the tiles and it is chipped away with a special hammer. There is no grout used in the mosaics. Once the mosaic design is completed, cement is used to hold the mosaic pieces in place.
To make a mosaic table, the design is worked upside down, with the pieces of tile forming the design being laid, the colored side is down. When the design is complete, cement is added to the back.
For wall or floor mosaics, the designs are created face up. Many of the mosaic pieces are quite labor intensive and therefore expensive to purchase.
During Yee’s visit to the desert region of Morocco, the group stayed in solar-powered individual tents. Each tent had its own bathroom and rug covered floors. One of the many highlights of the trip was that the group met with a local family during their stay in the desert region and enjoyed tea with the family.
Yee frequently chooses countries with different cultures to visit and, although communication can be difficult, she enjoys the experience and opportunity to learn. She incorporates some of the unique ceramic techniques she sees on her vacations into her own work here at home.