In the modern world craft has long given way to industrial production. Only rare oases of artisans have survived. Some work for the sake of tourists, others who are farther from civilization - for local residents.
Uzbekistan is one of the few countries where the former does not exclude the latter. Here in the same city you can see blacksmith shops, jewelry workshops and even home production of tandyrs (bakery ovens). Seventeen years ago, the government freed masters from paying taxes, and their products - from customs duties when exporting abroad. It is not surprising now that national crafts are thrived in Uzbekistan much more than in the rest of Central Asia.
Rishtan is a small ancient town in Ferghana valley between Kokand and Fergana. It is located in Uzbekistan, but most of its 20,000 population are Tajiks, though town is just several kilometers from border with Kyrgyzstan.
Such a mishmash in the Ferghana Valley is ordinary thing, but the town is not at all like this. There are no known monuments of architecture here, as, for example, in neighboring Kokand. Rishtan is famed with its potters and "branded" red clay.
According to legend, ceramics production originated here more than a thousand years ago. In the 9th-10th centuries, when Rishtan became a transit point on the Great Silk Road, every adult male there was a potter.
Collection of Rishtan ceramics in the Museum of Orient (Moscow).
Rishtan dish "chini" (stylized to China), the end of the XIX century. Museum of Orient (Moscow).
By the end of the XIX century Rishtan turned into one of the largest centers of production of glazed dishes in Central Asia. By the beginning of the last century there were 80 pottery workshops in the town, in which 300 people worked. It is known that it was the Rishtan potters who made tiles for Khudoyar Khan's palace in Kokand.
In the USSR Rishtan masters were united in the artel of Yangi Hayot (in Uzbek, New Life), and in 1960 a ceramic factory was opened on its basis, which lasted until the first decade of the 21st century. Production did not stop with the closure of the factory - now ceramists work at private workshops, teach students and collect new orders. Rishtan bowls, lyagans (large plates), teapots, figured jugs and toys can be seen both in Uzbekistan and far beyond its borders.Rishtan, mahalla Alisher Navoi (former Dukchiyon).
Two bright representatives of the traditional Rishtan - Sharofiddin Yusupov and Alisher.
Sharofiddin-aka (respectful suffix) is seventy years old, he lives in Alisher Navoi mahalla, which locals still call under its previous name Dukchiyon. "This is the name of the craftsmen who make small wooden things, for example spindles and pieces for children's cradles. But I am a ceramist. I was born a ceramist and knew that when was in my mother’s belly, " - Sharofiddin tells with a smile.
He studied with his father Isamaddin Yusupov. At the age of just over thirty he became the chief artist of the Rishtan ceramics factory, from about the same time constantly participates in exhibitions of folk art in Uzbekistan and abroad. He was awarded UNESCO diploma, became a member of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan. Family tradition is continued by his son, 40-year-old Firdavs Yusupov.
There are no more masters left in Rishtan, who work in line with traditional pottery technology apart from Sharofiddin. He makes ceramics at home, and sells from here as well.
Yusupov's works are exhibited at the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, the Fergana Regional Museum of Local History, the Museum of Arts of Kyrgyzstan, the Museum of the East in Moscow, the Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg, the Hermitage and other foreign collections.
- In a radius of three kilometers from Rishtan you can dig clay anywhere - everywhere it will be pure and red. All you need to do is to push it through the net to clear the small stones and roots. Then we heat it a little bit and everything is ready - you can mold, "pull" the dishes on the potter's wheel.
- For painting we use only three colors: cobalt, which gives a rich blue color; copper oxide - bluish-green, and iron, which becomes brown on the clay.
The main color, as a rule, is unchanged - all shades of blue and turquoise. According to ancient beliefs, the color of pure water and cloudless sky symbolizes happiness. As you can see, there is a lot of happiness in the works of Sharofiddin Yusupov.
Alisher Nazirov is a ceramist in the first generation. He studied his craft from the age of 12, now he is 56. Like Sharofiddin Yusupov, Alisher has a lot of good initiatives - he worked as the main artist at the same pottery factory, participated in international exhibitions, headed the town branch of the Association of National Masters "Hunarmand", in the middle of 1990's trained in Japan in the workshop of Isodzi Asakura.
Alisher's works are included in the collections of the State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan, the Ferghana Regional Museum of Local History, the Museum of the East in Moscow, the Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg, the Asakura-san Ceramics Museum in the Japanese city of Komatsu.
- Classic Rishtan pottery is a turquoise or white glaze background plus a large ornament. The fruits of the pomegranate, the four flowers "chorgul" - everything that we call with the Persian word "islimi", "floral".
- A small geometric painting ("Rishtan psychedelic") is actually faster and easier to make. This technique appeared in the 1970's, when artists in the factory needed to earn more - the salary was in fact a piece-work. In the best times, in the 1980s, up to 2 thousand people worked at this factory. The traditional pattern as you move away from the eyes simply decreases in size, while the new one is perceived differently with every step you make. Do you see how it is ruffling and dappling?
- To heat the furnace they used willow, "tal". When burning, it produces white smoke, which unlike black smoke is not absorbed by the glaze and not results in unwanted color shade.
Pottery furnace "hummdon" looks unsightly - a simple cube of homemade bricks, below - a furnace. However, this furnace is considered a special, sacred place. In the olden days, when they built the hummdon, they brought a special sacrifice to the patron spirits - they cut the ram so that the blood run into the furnace. They also believed that hummdon treats infertility. The women got inside it right after the burning process finished, while the furnace was warm.Bakhtiyor Nazirov by the pottery furnace.
- It's cold now, ceramics is not made until the 20th of March. Now we burn gas for the furnace, but this is problematic: gas is extracted in Uzbekistan, but the gas storage is in Kyrgyzstan. Everything that we extract is pumped into it, and it seems reasonable that we need to share it with the Kirghiz, but the presidents cannot agree. To ease the situation, the gas pipeline to the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley was laid as far as from Bukhara, but this is still not enough. So, in Rishtan gas for the industrial needs is allocated only from March to October.
After the first baking the dishes are covered with glaze. It is done by carefully rubbing the broken glass bottles on the millstones. The resulting fine powder is stirred in water, adhesive is added so that the glaze does not crumble when dried, and then this mixture is poured inside and outside the pottery. When in the furnace, the glass will melt and clothe the clay in a thin and durable shell.
By the way, manual work can easily be distinguished from the factory one - it's only necessary to turn the dishes upside down and look at the bottom. Even if it is covered with glaze, traces of the potter's wheel still will be visible. You also won’t be able to make from handmade pialas a smooth pile - each of them at least somehow differs from others.
In 2005 the old dream came true - the school of ceramics was opened in Rishtan, where the master himself is teaching now. Alisher’s wife Rano, his brother Bakhtiyor and numerous students teach now there.In the courtyard of Nazirov's ceramic school-workshop.
This is how the ceramic shop looks.
The student makes a flask for the hookah on the potter's wheel. Yes, sometimes they are made of clay ))
In another room the dishes are painted before going to furnace. This looks even more painstaking work than working on a potter's wheel.
The tiles from Rishtan are ordered for multi-apartment buildings of the regional center, the city of Fergana. For each building of 4-5 floors 120 square meters of tiles is needed.
"All these guys that you saw," Alisher says proudly – are real heroes and hard workers. They know: to become a master, you need to study 15 years without a break. But none of them refused.