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Swiss-born Ceramic Artist Sets Up School in Fayoum, Egypt

TV report transcript

In the quiet Egyptian oasis of Fayoum, children spend their days tending the animals or fishing in the lake. But they also pass the time by shaping mud into clay toys.

Inspired by their creativity, a ceramic artist, who lives in their small village, began doing some molding of her own. VOA correspondent Laurie Kassman has more on the young potters of Fayoum.

The steady rhythm of life in the small villages of Fayoum less than two hours from the hustle and bustle of Cairo.

Families eke out a living from the fertile fields and waters of the oasis. Women make cheese for the dinner table.

It is here in a mud brick home nestled in the date palms that Swiss-born potter Eveylne Porret made her home more than 25 years ago.


"I came here when I was 20. My father was a Protestant minister and I came to visit. I fell in love with Egypt and decided to make my home here."

Evelyne noticed the creativity of the village children, who like to shape their toys out of the thick mud of the fields. She decided to help them shape a new future away from the grueling work in the fields. She eventually set up a school and workshop to encourage their passion for pottery.


"I had worked with the Egyptian artist Ramses Wissa Wassef in the 1960s who had set up a weaving school for village children to learn a new trade. I wanted to do the same in Fayoum."

And learn they did.

Mohamed Mahmoud Ibrahim has been working with Evelyne for more than a decade now, graduating from student to teacher.

He says it gives him pleasure while he works on his own designs to help the younger students create a concrete memory of their daily lives.

The children get involved in the process from start to finish with Evelyne and her assistants offering a guiding hand and soft words of advice.


"We don't tell them what to make. We just encourage them to draw what they see every day. And when I see something good, I suggest things they might add. We talk about it and they put what they want. Some of the designs are perfect and I always find it extraordinary -- so simple and so beautiful."

Eighteen-year-old Barakat Saleh was drawn to the school several years ago. His signed pieces are sold in Cairo.

He dreams about matching the success of several former students who now make a living with their own pottery workshops in Fayoum. Another former student was recently invited to display his pottery in an international exhibit in Dubai.

Evelyne is always promoting her students.


"I'm always astonished to see their original designs -- some are naive, some are quite sophisticated. I love their enthusiasm. And I see in the village now they are forming their own community of potters."

And so, ceramic artist Evelyne Porret encourages the children of Fayoum to explore their talents and recreate the simple beauty of life in the oasis both for pleasure and for profit.