Last year I stayed for a week with an old friend on the Island of Aegina, lying in the bay about sixteen miles out from Athens. While there we visited one of the three old potteries still operating there. For centuries, up until the mid 1960’s, Aegina had exported pottery, particularly “water-coolers”, all over the Aegean. Refrigeration and bottled water has killed of the trade, though the coolers are still made, mainly for the tourist market. While the traditional coolers were porous (the evaporation of the water from the surface of the pot was what made them work), the modern ones I saw were glazed internally. Some had (non-traditional) coloured floral decoration.
Our potter marked his pots with what would be called over here a “sprig” using a mould first used by his grandfather. He used two different clays, both quarried on the island. One fired to a terracotta red, the other a paler yellow-cream. He washed and prepared them in open tanks behind the workshop. Neither was especially plastic as a throwing body. Both were quite dense after firing and the redder clay, if lightly burnished, was more or less impermeable.
Sadly (to me) the pots are fired in modern electric kilns, but our potter was in the process of rebuilding his grandfather’s wood-fired kiln. This was (externally at least) a big brick cube, with the fire underneath. The fuel he was assembling was trimmings of olive and one would imagine that a considerable quantity would have been needed to fire this up-draught kiln to even low earthenware temperature (but it would have smelt great!).
I didn’t get to use his wheel, which was an electric one of some age on which he sat “side-saddle”. I don’t know what the traditional wheels were like, but, of course, it is from the Aegean that some of the earliest thrown pottery comes. There is a fine small collection of pottery in the museum in the island’s main town. It is apparent that the ancient inhabitants used water-coolers identical in form to the modern ones.
Our conversation was restricted by our ignorance of one another’s language (notwithstanding the interpreter’s efforts of my friend’s Cypriot wife) but at the end of our visit he presented me with a small water-cooler straight from the kiln.
Since then, my friend has sent me a link to an interview given by our potter to a local magazine: http://www.aeginagreece.com/aegina/pages/articles/culture/pottery_food_mesagros.html