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At 50 km west of Fergana, there is a village of Rishtan (pop. about 22,000), whose residents are known for their pottery. Famed for its blue and green plates, coated with the unique ishkor glaze, it is said that the residents of Rishtan have been making items from the local red clay, decorated with natural pigments, for more than 800 years. Skills and designs are passed down from father to son. Rishtan pottery differs with richness of decor, which is dominated by blue.
This unique blue glaze "ishkor" is produced by hand from natural mineral pigments and ash mountain plants. The products are made from red clay that is mined only here. From generation to generation craftsmen pass the secrets of their skillful mastery. Big dishes - "lagans", deep bowl "kosa", spit water-jugs, vessels for milk, ornamented with glaze "ishkor" unforgettable turquoise and ultramarine colors, made Rishtan and its masters famous on numerous international exhibitions. They decorate exposure of many museums in the world and private collections. About 90% of the ceramics you see in souvenir stores across Uzbekistan originates here – most of it handmade.
Some 1000 potters make a living from the legendary local loam, which is so pure that it requires no additives (besides water) before being chucked on the wheel. Of those 1000 potters only a handful are considered true masters who still use traditional techniques. One of the masters says that Rishton potters are facing a potential crisis, as the purest clay is becoming scarce.
In 1920 the government collectivised 30 small, artisanal workshops into the Rishtan Art Ceramics Factory (6 B Roshidoni; 452 1549; 09.00-18.00 daily). Around 2,000 craftsmen now work here, using a combination of modern machinery and traditional techniques to produce around five million items a year. Visitors are welcome to watch the craftsmen at work as they throw pots, decorate them with delicate designs and then fire them in the roaring furnace. The showroom sells everything from tea pots to plov dishes (which make ideal souvenirs) and, if you fancy having a go yourself, you can mould, paint and take lunch at the neighbouring workshop of Rustam Usmanov.
Masters give tours and serve lunches as well as offering travellers an informal training course in traditional Rishton ceramic making. Rishton is best visited as a stop on the way to Fergana from Kokand (or vice-versa). It’s about a 45-minute ride by car.