Potters of Ethiopia, Ethiopia

How it is made

  • Preparing clay from a riverbed

    Traditional Ethiopian pottery is made from three types of clay collected by hand from the riverbed. Once it is dried, it is pulverized with a big wooden pestle and then mixed with water to create a flexible paste that can be kneaded.

  • Shaping the clay

    In Ethiopia, most potters do not use a potter's wheel but rather a flat, round wooden plate, which serves as the bottom support for working the clay. The technique of building up the pot is by spiral coiling. The craftswoman rolls a thick sausage of prepared paste in her palms, and presses it in place, and then adds another, working her way up.

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    Smoothing the Surface

    When the wet body is finished, the craftswoman smoothes the surface with a small wet corncob, leather rag, or sherd of clay.

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    Drying & Burnishing

    Once the basic shape is created and dried in the sun for several hours, each piece is burnished. For this time consuming practice, the craftswomen rub the pottery with a smooth river stone to give it a smooth and shiny surface texture, making it more waterproof.

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    Firing the clay

    Right before firing, the craftswomen coat each piece in sesame oil and, once fired, cover them with dried eucalyptus leaves. This process gives the pottery its exceptional shiny black patina.

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    Painting the pottery

    As a final step, the craftswomen will paint the guinea fowl. Each white spot is placed manually with a thin wood stick as a paintbrush.

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