The blue ceramics of Uzbekistan
By Rustam Mirzaev


    From ancient times the people of Uzbekistan have treated water and earth as sacred objects. Under hot Asian sun there is no life without water. Earth is the life-giving source, the origin of everything; and even the first man, Adam, as Koran says, was also made of clay. At all times the people inhabiting this land were making from clay their own world. Adobe and baked bricks were used to construct fortresses, temples and dwellings. In round clay stoves called tandir they baked lepioshka - round flat bread. In pre-Islamic epoch clay idols protected the family from any kind of troubles; toy-whistles were made from clay for children; clay was irreplaceable material for making plates and dishes.

 

 


Ancient ceramics

     

        It is not surprising that among various crafts of Uzbek people ceramics is considered to be one of the most respectful. In every region of the country there is a local school of ceramics whose traditions trace their roots back to the ancient times.

        On the Afrosiab hills, in the suburbs of Samarkand, archeologists found numerous terracotta statuettes imaging fantastic animals, dragons and lions, as well as fragments of ceramic dishes painted by unknown masters that lived in Maracanda 1500-2000 years ago. In the middle of the twentieth century, national master-ceramist Umar Djurakulov, after having studied the archeological findings, ancient ornaments and plastic art techniques, started modeling fancy figures, thus reviving the ancient art.


        In our days in the ceramic workshop in one of Samarkand streets, named after this outstanding master, his followers cherish the traditions of ceramic art of Afrasiab. Amazing riders on donkeys and horses, statuettes imitating the situations that one can watch in chaykhanas and bazaars, clowns-maskarabozes and, surely, miniature dragons - all these terracotta articles are the best souvenirs, the keepsakes to remind the tourists of their trip to Samarkand.

        Many craftsmen make toys from clay but only few of them are able to make these simple articles a perfect work of art. Whistle-toy once brought world popularity to outstanding hereditary ceramist Hamro Rahimova from an old village Uba. Today her follower, Kubaro Kabaeva, teach her own apprentices to model many-headed horses and lambs, brightly painted and able to produce a high-pitch whistle.

        Near Uba, in forty kilometers from Bukhara, in a small town of Gizhduvan which once was popular throughout the whole Great Silk Road by its ceramics, there lives a well-known master Alisher Narzullaev, full member of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, master-ceramist in the sixth generation. Lyagans - big shallow dishes, pialas - oriental cups for drinking tea, kosas - big cups for drinking soup, vases decorated with the patterns that resemble peacock feathers - these are just few of the works of this master. Bright colors, which are blurred with thick layer of glaze, get softness and expressiveness of watercolors. The secrets of potter's wheel workmanship, of original forms of clay articles, the techniques of ceramic painting were handed down to Alisher by his father, Ubaydullo Narzullaev.

        Near Uba, in forty kilometers from Bukhara, in a small town of Gizhduvan which once was popular throughout the whole Great Silk Road by its ceramics, there lives a well-known master Alisher Narzullaev, full member of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, master-ceramist in the sixth generation. Lyagans - big shallow dishes, pialas - oriental cups for drinking tea, kosas - big cups for drinking soup, vases decorated with the patterns that resemble peacock feathers - these are just few of the works of this master. Bright colors, which are blurred with thick layer of glaze, get softness and expressiveness of watercolors. The secrets of potter's wheel workmanship, of original forms of clay articles, the techniques of ceramic painting were handed down to Alisher by his father, Ubaydullo Narzullaev.

     


At the pottery

        In Khiva, one of the oldest towns of the world, there has developed the Khorezmian school of ceramics remarkable for its monumentality of clear geometrical ornaments. The patterns of ceramic articles have much in common with majolica decor, that covers the walls of famous architectural monuments of ancient Ichan-kala, because present-day craftsmen are the direct descendants of the ancient masters who decorated the ancient palaces and mosques. For making the glaze - ishkor they use the same components that were used by their ancestors for getting unfading blue, azure and turquoise tiles.


Wall patterns at Khiva

     

        In any place of the Republic a lover of the pottery will find original style of painting, clarity of decorative forms, the real feeling of master's creativity. The true connoisseur of the blue ceramics will long to get to Ferghana valley, to Rishtan.

        According to historical facts, pottery craft emerged in Rishtan about one thousand years ago. Rishtan ceramists, kuzagars, consider themselves to be the descendants of the founders of ceramics as well as the advocates of old traditions.

        In the middle ages the art of Rishtan craftsmen gained popularity in many towns and countries, which lay along the Great Silk Road. After the powerful empire, Movarrounnahr, had been established by Amir Temur, the best commodities from all over the world could be found in the markets of the empire. The finest white Chinese porcelain with cobalt blue painting was among the most valued goods. But the secret of its manufacture the Chinese craftsmen kept to themselves.

        It is well known that at the end of 14th century Amir Temur sent several masters from Samarkand to Rishtan. It was at that time that the attempts were undertaken to reveal the secrets of Chinese porcelain manufacture. These attempts failed because in Fergana Valley there were no deposits of high-quality kaolin clay. However, in Rishtan there was invented the techniques of making from local sorts of clay of semi-faience pottery, covered with white glaze and blue painting, so-called "chini" - "Chinese". This style of painting got a rather original evolution in Uzbekistan To tell the truth, the Rishtan potters were making "chini" ceramics in the 19th century. According to the ancient oriental beliefs, aquamarine symbolizes happiness because it is the color of water and sky.


 

Ceramics of Rishtan


        Nowadays in Samarkand, Gizhduvan and Tashkent national craftsmen mostly use factory-made or home made leaden glaze for ceramic articles decoration. Rishtan potters still use enamel "ishkor", which is made from ashes of the bushes known only to them. Craftsmen add stannum, oxides of cobalt, copper or iron in it. Depending on the combinations of these additives with potash contained in the ashes, the glaze "ishkor" turns into ultramarine, turquoise, white, black or brown color.

        Nowhere else in Uzbekistan there is such a diversity of forms of ceramic articles as you can find in Rishtan. The creative imagination of local craftsmen is unlimited: lyagans - dishes for pilaf, cosas and shocosas - bowls for drinking vegetable soup shurpa, huge jugs - khums for keeping grain and oil, churns, deep vessels with lids for sour milk - koshkulok, oftoba - jugs for ablution before praying, pialas, kuzacha - jugs for water, vessels in the shape of fabulous bird urdac.

        Magic notions, embodied in ornamental motives, became a thing of the past, but their symbolic and poetic connotation is still known to kuzagars and, as peculiar "code", it is passed over from generation to generation. Thus on the ceramic articles the masters still make a beautiful picture of a pomegranate bough with fruit, ornaments with circles and helixes - ancient symbols of the sun, moon, and universe. Since the 18th century in the decoration of ceramic articles there have appeared the motives of jugs, teapots and vases with flowers.

        Contemporary works of Rishtan masters, the real embodiment of the traditions of blue ceramics of Temurids' epoch, are exhibited in the museums of Italy, Hungary, France, Belgium, Russia. In recent years the works of Nabidjon Kadirov, follower of Usto Ibragim Kamilov, Rustam Usmanov, Sharafutdin Ysupov, Makhmud Azizov have been displayed in the exhibitions of Switzerland, Germany, Japan and other countries. Collectors from all over the world long to purchase the samples of the handicrafts of blue ceramics. Tourist, too, are pleased to buy in one of Rishtan ceramic workshops a "miracle" made of clay. Any of these hand-made works is unique, because even one and the same master never repeats the form or ornament of his ceramic article.

        Rishtan is said to be the homeland of ceramic art in Ferghana valley. Muzaffar Saidov, master from village Minor near Rishtan, keeps traditions of blue ceramics "ishkor" in his works; the same can be said about an old master Gafurdzhan Masharipov from Gurumsaray village in Namangan province, who strictly follows the traditions of famous Usto Kenja.


 

Master at work


        It was here, in Gurumsaray village, that several years ago the full member of Art Academy of Uzbekistan, a well-known ceramist in Tashkent Akbar Rakhimov perceived the secrets of ancient technology of making the blue ceramics "ishkor".

        In one of the oldest districts of Tashkent, Kukcha, in Odil Mukhtorov street, there is one of the places of interest - a House-museum named after Mukhitdin Rakhimov. This outstanding person, a hereditary potter in the forth generation, an engineer-technologist on ceramics, a scientist, a researcher, lived a remarkable life. Having defended a thesis he worked as a senior staff scientist of the Republican Institute for fine arts study for more than forty years. During his numerous trips to the oldest ceramic centers, in archeological expeditions he thoroughly studied traditional artistic techniques of ceramics art of Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Farghana valley. For many years Mukhitdin Rakhimov had been studying the ceramics of Kushan period and the epoch of Temurds. He wrote several books and published tens of articles on history of ceramics of Uzbekistan and technology of ceramic processing, interpretation of various symbols and artistic images in ceramics.

        Mukhitdin Pakhimov gave his morning and evening hours to his life-work - the work with clay on the potter's wheel, charkh, and decoration of the ceramic articles with patterns. He created a great deal of wonderful articles many of which were reproducing the styles of Kushan or Temurids times. On his cups and vases there were flying birds of paradise, symbols of the peace and prosperity. Intricate geometrical ornament or conventionalized Arabian inscriptions were interlacing with each other, there were floating wonderful fishes, which from the times immemorial symbolized prosperity and happiness. Traditions that usto Mukhitdin had absorbed, his skills and tendency towards perfection were passed over to his son Akbar.

        After the death of his father, this outstanding artist-ceramist established at his own expense a private Museum-House in which the principal place was given to potter's workshop, personal belongings and the books of Mukhitdin Rakhimov. Here side by side with the works of Mukhitdin Rakhimov there are exhibited the works of Akbar himself and ceramic articles of the grandson of the great master - Alisher who is the successor of the sixth generation the Rakhimovs dynasty. Eleven times the works of this young talented artist were exhibited in Uzbekistan, Japan, Germany, and France. Cherishing family traditions, he works both in the style of the glazed ceramics of Kushan times, and the style of Temurids blue ceramics, experimenting on reproduction of Tashkent carved ceramics of 5th century, making the series of works imitating the motives of "kashgari" style.

        In the hospitable house of the Rakhimovs everybody remembers the words of master Mukhitdin Rakhimov, the words that have became a kind of a precept to his descendants and other ceramists: "Each article is made from clay. But one should remember that artist must not only love it with all his heart, but must make for this clay to acquire the required form".