BACK

The clay water vessels of Aegina Island

Using a special type of clay pot in order to cool the water has been used since ancient times around the Mediterranean. This unique ancient technique of crafting still survives on the island of Aegina.

Depending on the type of the pots to be crafted, the potters use various types of clay, combinations and ratios. The color and quality of the final ceramic product depends on the combination of the different soil types. For the production of the "water vessels" especially three types / colors of clay are used: white, charcoal, and black; their blend is known in Aegina as paspara.

The “sweating” jar

Paspara is used to cover the outside part of the jar. As the white soil is thin, it gives to the jar a highly porous surface rendering it highly permeable. The air drifting around the jar results to the evaporation of its content which consequently causes the cooling of the water. It is the same mechanism as the cooling off through the sweating of the body. So, this jar indeed does “sweat”.

In order to keep the evaporation and cooling process a gentle breeze should be ensured. That is why the water vessels are usually placed in a window ledge.

The workshop

Operations like the molding and decoration of the vessels take place in the pottery’s workshop. It used to be a building usually of rectangular shape and stone-built, equipped with one or more foot-operated wheels placed next to the windows in order to take advantage of the natural light.

Most of the potters’ works including molding, preliminary drying, and decoration, took place in this room. This room acted also as a storage place for unprocessed clay powder as well as the final products.

The process

After the suitable clay sand is extracted from earth and mixed in the preferred blend (paspara) it is then transferred in sacks to the workshop. There the paspara is pounded patiently using wooden graters, (kopanoi), to be converted into a fine powder.

In order for this powder to be transformed into a moldable form, tanks (karoutes) are used for mixing the soil with pure water. After some days the mixture is then dried, sieved to remove impurities and stocked in the workshop.The resulting powder mixed with water is then ready to be used to make ceramics.

The potter places a cylindrical piece of clay (svolos) in the centre of the wheel and raises it, giving it the desired shape. Using a horse hair or a thin metal string or the potter removes the new vessel from the wheel and lets it dry. Handles are attached to the vessel after it is partly dried.

The newly made wet clay vessels are dried, at first indoors, and then under the sun. The dried vessels are then fired in the kiln, usually places right next to the workshop. Traditionally, the potters would heat the one-storey firebricked kiln using wood, and estimate the kiln’s temperature and firing time without any device.

The lower chamber (combustion), had an opening for feeding the fire (bouka). The upper chamber (chamber firing), had an entrance for the placement and the kilning of pottery items. The two chambers were separated by a perforated stone floor.

The clay containers would fire for a whole day and then cool in the kiln for another three days, before they are ready for to be painted or for immediate use. 

The decoration art

Pots are crafted in various sizes and in various forms, depending on their use. Nowadays, the decoration of the vases of Aegina is highly distinctive and includes decorative clay add-ons such as flowers; grapes; female busts; ornate frames with name initials (of the craftsmen or owner), etc. All these extra decorative add-ons were made in wooden or plaster molds.