Over the centuries, folk pottery-making in Latvia has developed primarily in the regions of Latgale and Kurzeme and is considered one of Latvia’s oldest art forms which dates back to the Neolithic Age. Nowadays the Latgalian pottery has become famous as an example of traditional Latvian cultural heritage. Pottery from this region includes a range of pottery styles – from the more recent decorative glazing techniques, still using green and brown earthen hues, to the more ancient, minimalist techniques and colours evident in black ceramics, which is based on archaeological findings.
Pottery from Latgale includes practical and decorative ceramics. The older style – the practical one – has been made in this region for thousands of years and some of the characteristic examples of it are used in cooking and for food storage. A number of different vessels are commonly made, among these are vāraunieks – a cooking pot, medaunieks – a pot for honey storage, sloinīks – a pot for storing fruit preserves, ķērne – a pot for storing sour cream, pārosis – literally translated, an “over-handle” – a vessel for containing food that is brought to workers on the field. Other types of pottery are not food-related, these include svilpaunieks – a bird-shaped toy whistle), svečturis – a candlestick, and decorative plates and possibly other items meeting more contemporary demands, for example, ashtrays.
The pottery trade has been passed down from one generation to the next and in Latgale there are a number of well-known families with traditional local knowledge of pottery-making which has been handed down from parents to children, a tradition that has continued for decades. There is also an interest by others to learn the skills associated with specific styles of pottery from the experts of the trade. These skills can be learnt at special classes or summer camps that are dedicated to passing on the traditions.
One such school is “Pūdnīku skūla” (Potters’ school) founded in 1990. It focuses on the researching of traditional clay processing methods and practical uses, with a great deal of attention devoted to black reduced ceramics. For this ancient craft the firing is done in a wood-fired kiln in an open fire at very high temperatures. The black colour characteristic of this pottery is obtained during the reduction firing process – each item, when taken out of the kiln, is unique, as the firing process produces a different result every time. Although this black pottery with its simple, handmade style is very popular nowadays, there is another pottery tradition that began in the 1930s. The use of bold-coloured glazes and a variety of ornamentation characteristic to Latgalian forms, is a popular and highly acclaimed tradition too. Whole exhibitions in Latvia have been devoted to the unique pottery of Latgale. Locals and tourists alike interested in local Latvian artisan crafts, travel to the remoter parts of Latgale to visit the potters in their workshops, get an introduction to making the crafts and also purchase their wares.
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