Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 31 - Let’s talk about Culture and …..Clay and Ceramic


Having written my review on Erol Refikoğlu’s current exhibition MythEROLogy it is most appropriate to give some thoughts to the material itself. Clay. Clay plus fire equals ceramic. The oldest material humans made use of to improve their life. Depending on the place where it is found clay can appear in various colours from gray like mud to a deep orange. We have clay findings in Cyprus. They are derived from the erosion of silicate rocks, transported by water to be laid down either in river or lake beds. Our only pottery in North Cyprus, Dizayn 74 gets the raw material delivered and does the processing at the back of their shop. It is a lengthy working process but with the use of machines today. Our ancestors had to do the kneading with feet and hands.

Hasan Eminağa, one of the owners of Dizayn 74, explained it to me one day: “We know where the deposits of clay are on our island and we get a lorry full from time to time and unload it here, then the process of slaking it down starts in one pool, is then transferred to a second pool for 2-3 months. Then, when we need clay for our pottery, or even for orders from other ceramists, we take a certain amount out and work it through several sieving machines, to separate unwanted matter from the clay.  It is then put into a special machine to extract the water, after which the clay has to be worked to take out all the air bubbles, otherwise the earthenware would just explode in the kiln. And from here we take our daily amount of clay which we work into the ware we sell to customers and which also fills our storage shelves.”


Clay has plastic properties and depending on its composition it can be divided into various groups. When you mix the clay with different minerals you obtain the raw material for earthenware, stoneware porcelain and bone china which require different firing conditions, earthenware about 700°, stoneware about 1200° and porcelain and bone china at about 1400°. Firing conditions can also differ, fire being the oldest. Right in the centre of fire or in something like a küp kebab oven; or the ware is piled up in one place in the potter’s backyard and a sort of ‘oven’ built around like an igloo tent which is destroyed when the process is finished as I have seen it done  in India and in the South of France. Modern firing methods are electric. There is also to mention the Western method of Raku firing, an oxygen reduction process - oxygen is reduced – gas firing - and the appearance of the clay surface and/or glazing becomes metallic in some places. The basic process is to fire the ware in high temperatures and as soon as the glaze has melted to remove it from the kiln and let it cool in the open; submerging it in water will give a crackling effect. Many famous ceramic artists have been experimenting in this field.


Clay has many fields of application. In the old days it was used as the first writing medium where letters were engraved in its moist surface. Just imagine the postman’s extent of work in those days. It was used in construction business, bricks for houses and material for aquaducts;  it is used for filtering and isolating; pipe smokers will appreciate a clay pipe. In the ancient times in tribe conflicts clay was being used for forming balls as sling ammunition; what a mess that must have been.

What we know about clay starts in school when our art teacher taught us to do our first ashtray for daddy or a cup for grandma. Ceramic courses are the hit for young women when house, children and garden go on their nerves; for singles who are seeking the company of others, for sick and old people to bring them out of their isolation. Ceramic courses are the answer or one of the answers to satisfy the urge for creativity. To create something yourself with your fingers, to see it grow and finally come out of the kiln to take it home is a most satisfying experience..

When sculpting a figure or a bust with clay, you will learn more about anatomy than with books, the construction of a head, the delicate form of a nose or the build-up of your eye.

For some years the profession of potters and ceramic artists found little interest with young people as the job is very work-intensive and the years to gather experience are long. But lately I realised a sort of revival worldwide, not only the return to homemade things but ceramic art is becoming more and more internationalised with fairs, biennales and workshops around the world, for example recently in Karachi or last year in Shanghai as I have learnt from a friend who participated in both occasions.

In North Cyprus we have opportunities to join courses with either the local Ceramists Association or with private ceramic artists; there is also the School of Art in Kyrenia offering very nice courses over the whole year; communication is no problem at all, in the arts you will understand each other without making a lot of words.

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