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A Brief Introduction to The Romanian Art of Pottery

Claudia Miclaus
Pottery is a tradition in Romania, rooted deep into the history of this country. Using natural, unique tools, the Romanians produce their traditional bowls, plates, vases, etc., in various, surprising ways.
Pottery is an ancient craft, if we are to consider the beautiful works of ceramics from the age of neolithic. During this age, there was a remarkable civilization in the country of Romania.
Pottery implies a lot of hard work, strength, craft, and knowledge. Any mistake may result in destruction of the pot―for this very reason, pottery is traditionally reserved exclusively for men, while women help in decorating the resulting products.
The three most important types of pottery are―stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain, and each kind can be distinguished by the mixture of clay and temperature of baking or firing. For instance, earthenware requires a rather low temperature, which enables the use of colorful shimmering.
On the other hand, stoneware is more resistant and strong, since it is made of a heavier mixture of clay. In order to have a harder finish, stoneware is then baked at a considerably higher temperature.
Porcelain can be considered not only the purest, but also the most delicate and fragile form of pottery.Porcelain is made of a quite fine white clay called koalin, which is combined with measured quantities of flint and feldspar, and then baked at a rather low temperature.
Men take the clay from special places, bring it in, and mold it with their bare hands, with their feet, or with a big wooden hammer, mixing it with water.
The obtained paste is then cleansed, cut into thin slices, and then shaped with the use of a potter's wheel.
The wheel is made of two discs, a smaller one in the upper part and a bigger one in the lower part―these two being linked by a vertical axis. The earth piece is placed on the upper disc, while the lower one is handled by the potter, giving it quite a fast pace with his foot. The wheel spins in regularly circular movements.
Shaping an item requires a very special technique and a very fast working speed, because the mixture should not under any circumstances get dry before the product is ready (because of that, sometimes the item is produced even in 40 - 50 seconds.)
After giving it shape, the pottery is left to dry in the shadows for a few days. Then it is baked in special ovens after having been decorated. The most frequent decoration technique uses a cow horn with a goose feather. The color pours through the horn to the feather. So it is a very distinctive, unique brush for painting the items.
The finest decorations can be made with the use of a small stick with wild boar hair on its end. Another kind of decoration is made by scratching the item with a metal end, after inserting it in paint.
All the colors used by traditional Romanian potters are of natural origin. Thus, red is obtained from a special soil rich in iron oxide. This soil is dried, turned into powder, and then soaked in water. The resulting thick liquid is then passed through a cloth or a jigger, and the end-product is a shiny mixture.
Black is also made from a special kind of soil, found in earth erosion after rain. Green is obtained through baking copper wire mixed with humus. White is made of lime mixed with white mountain stones, burnt and turned to powder. Yellow is made of a special humus from Medgidia (reason for which it is harder to find), mixed with soil rich in iron oxide.
The chromatics of pottery preserves ancient traditions. The red ceramics from the south-western part of Romania is of Roman origin, whereas yellow, green, and white used in other parts of the country indicate byzantine traditions.
The high number of items produced in Romania could be explained by the custom of breaking such pottery objects at special events like weddings or funerals. Peasants' dwellings were generally decorated with a lot of pottery―bowls, cups, pots, plates, vases, whistles, small statues, toys, etc.