Professional Workshop Categories

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Ceramic Tile

Ceramic Workshop

Morocco's ancient city of Fez is a center for these ceramic and tile workshops. The work initially began in the 8th century and especially flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. Almost all of the workshops have been family-owned for many generations. Many who do the work are family members, and many others not related by blood have also been employed by the same workshop for generations.

Through the workshop, different teams of artisans work, each specializing in tasks and type of production. The work is still most often handed down from generation to generation. Some work to prepare the clay. Others sit at the potters’ wheel, turning the clay into various pieces and others will paint the pottery. Another team will make tiles, others will paint tiles, and others will fire the work. Still others will create zeliij tile, and a vast array of work from this particular type of tile work.

The Art and Skill of Moroccan Pottery

Every aspect of the process requires skill. The quality of the clay is very important, as are the preparation it undergoes before being formed into blocks that the potters will use to make turn or tile makers will form to make tile.

Artisan potters turn the pieces; these include vases and urns, bowls, dishes, and cups, candlesticks and more, each of many sizes, shape and function.

The pieces are fired twice, before painting and after, in kilns in a manner similar to how it’s been done since pottery was first created. The kilns are not electric, and instead have a unique beehive design that use olive pits left over from the oil pressing process for fuel.

The finished products are beautiful and the possible patterns and colors are endless.


Zeliij Tile

Zellij Workshop

The most fascinating of the work, for me, is the creation of zeliij tile pieces and the works created from them. Combining traditional and historical artistry and mathematics, the work is especially skillful, time intensive and beautiful.

The making and craft of zeliij tile is fascinating. Zeliij differs from mosaic it’s usually composed of random-sized pieces of various tiles to create a piece, whereas zeliij has a specific set of colored and shapes of tile and each tile is hand cut to that particular shape. The tiles are formed to create often elaborate geometric Moorish and Islamic patterns.

Patterns are traced onto the colored tile. There are 26 possible tile shapes. Each shape and color is steeped in Islamic symbolism and meaning.

Zeliij maalems then meticulously uses a mallet-chisel to cut a shape out of the tiles, using only one or two preferred chisel types.

The tiles are cut with beveled edges, the backsides smaller than the finished fronts, so that the plaster or adhesive used after the pieces are assembled keep the tiles better in place, and also minimize space between the tiles.

The chisels, called menqach, are heavy. artisans must great upper body strength from the work. Our chisels are held against the leg and that helps distribute the weight and give control. From these tiles, the finished work is created.

Larger pieces, such as fountains, may use a mold, in which the tile is laid, finished, colored side down, thousands of pieces creating the finished product. Adhesive (rather than concrete) will be used to seal the tile in place. The tiles are set close together and use only a minimal of grout.