May 19, 2011
Originally part of the Jordanian heritage, ceramic art was slowing dying out. One of the reasons why this traditional craftsmanship was starting to be lost was the forcing of the roadside potters off the roads by the government because of the pollution created by the use of kilns. Also contributing to this loss was that children of the potters were not being encouraged to take up pottery.
In 1990 two sisters, Reem and Rula Atallah, who had just graduated from college, decided they wanted to do something that would benefit their country and make a difference. They wanted to preserve the cultural tradition of ceramic art, create jobs for women artisans and utilize the local resources, skills and talent. Silsal Ceramics was started in their basement with a team of four craftsmen.
Today Silsal Ceramics employs 20 craftsmen from Amman, Zarqu' and Salt, some for more than 10 years. The workshop has long moved from the basement and is now housed, along with the gallery, in two 1950s villas between the fourth and fifth circles of Jordan's capital, Amman. A couple of years ago Reem's daughter Samar Habayeb began overseeing the day-to-day operations of Silsal Ceramics.
On my recent trip to Jordan I had the opportunity to meet Reem and visit the workshop and gallery.
The designs and shapes featured on Silsal Ceramics are modern, inspired by the historical traditions of the Bronze Age, the Islamic and regional motifs, the Mamluk period, as well as minimalist modern designs. The designs incorporate a blend of distinctive features which vary between floral patterns such as Jordan's national flower (the Black Iris), tulips and carnations. They might also contain animals such as birds, ibexes, and fish which are characteristic features of the Bronze Age period. Olive trees that symbolize peace constitute a popular motif on many pieces, in addition to Arabic calligraphic designs inspired by the Islamic history.
Pieces made at Silsal Ceramics undergo a number of steps that might take several months before the final pieces arrive in the gallery. The first step is the planning of each piece, including the design, color, technique, style and even the execution. Once this has been completed the piece begins to be created. The next step is the shaping of the clay by one of the artisans either by the wheel or through hand-building (creating earthen ware without a wheel) and then the piece is left to dry completely for three to four weeks.
After the piece is completely dried it goes into the kiln for "biscuit firing" for three continuous days, which prepares the piece for glazing. Out of the kiln, the semi-baked piece is painted with glaze and then the Silsal's artists draw the designs on the glazed piece. The piece is then returned to the kiln for another three days. After this step the piece is finally ready to be marked, archived and signed with their 20 year old signature.
Each piece of Silsal Ceramics is a beautiful, unique piece of art that is entirely functional. Outside of Jordan, Silsal Ceramics can be found in Kuwait and Saudia Arabia. Soon VirtuArte will be adding Silsal Ceramics to its collection.