A pas­sion for pot­tery

Twenty years af­ter dis­cov­er­ing her love for mould­ing clay, a tal­ented artist and teacher is still de­vel­op­ing her craft. Anna Seaman re­ports

The National - News - - Page Two - asea­man@then­ational.ae For more pro les of a na­tion, see then­ational.ae/pro les

Twenty years af­ter dis­cov­er­ing her love for mould­ing clay, a tal­ented artist and teacher is still de­vel­op­ing her craft.

Cre­at­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful from a lump of wet clay, shap­ing it with your fin­gers and watch­ing its form emerge in front of you, is a tac­tile and deeply sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. But it is not a skill learned overnight. In fact, Homa Vafaie Far­ley be­lieves, it makes sim­i­lar de­mands to mar­tial art.

“I have been study­ing pot­tery for more than 20 years and I still find it a chal­lenge,” she said. “It re­quires pa­tience, a steady hand and a huge amount of con­cen­tra­tion. It is a lot more skilled than any­one can imag­ine.”

At Abu Dhabi Pot­tery, her work­shop, class­room and gallery, Mrs Far­ley can be found teach­ing a class of am­a­teurs or ex­per­i­ment­ing with new tech­niques and colours, which come from pow­ders stored in the con­tain­ers that line her floor-to­ceil­ing shelf units.

At her thrice-weekly classes in the city, novice pot­ters can take a turn on the clay wheel and see the fruits of their labour emerge from the kiln.

Mrs Far­ley, who is Ira­nian but has lived in the UAE for 19 years, dis­cov­ered the art of mould­ing clay dur­ing a visit to Saudi Ara­bia in the 1980s.

“ I was walk­ing through a small vil­lage and a saw an el­derly man work­ing on an old-fash­ioned wheel pow­ered by a foot pedal,” she said. “ I was in­trigued. The first time I touched the clay I knew I wanted to work with it for­ever. It felt like it was a part of me.”

She moved from Iran to Bri­tain as a teenager, and has been no stranger to travel. She lived in Liberia, Saudi Ara­bia and Bahrain be­fore mov­ing to the UAE in 1990 with her Bri­tish hus­band, Michael, whom she met while he was work­ing for a ship­ping com­pany in Tehran.

Al­though they con­stantly moved and re­set­tled be­cause of Michael’s job, Mrs Far­ley felt in­creas­ingly drawn to the art no mat­ter where she lived.

“I read about it and searched for teach­ers wher­ever I was,” she said. When they moved to the UAE, she met a pot­ter at the Malaysian em­bassy who told her there were no teach­ers prac­tis­ing in the Emi­rates.

“I came home and told Michael we had to buy a wheel and a kiln,” she said. “He was mor­ti­fied. They weren’t ex­actly cheap and we had nowhere to put them. But I was de­ter­mined. I had to pur­sue my hobby at all costs.”

She prac­tised on the wheel at home and be­gan trav­el­ling to Bri­tain for short cour­ses in the art. Even­tu­ally she be­came com­pe­tent enough to teach.

“Any­thing I do I put my heart and soul into it,” she said. “When I was in Bahrain I be­came a teacher in a Ja­panese mar­tial art called hap ki do hoi jeon and I saw many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween that and pot­tery. Pa­tience, dis­ci­pline and ded­i­ca­tion were es­sen­tial for both.”

For a while, Mrs Far­ley at­tempted to find time for both pas­sions, but the con­stant work left her with numb­ness in her arms. She had to choose be­tween sport and art.

“It wasn’t a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion; I al­ready knew I couldn’t give up pot­tery. Be­sides, Michael had in­vested so much I wasn’t about to throw all that away.”

In 1994 she opened a tiny stu­dio in Kha­lidiya. Within a few years, she had three premises − a work­shop, a gallery and a kiln room. She was tak­ing on stu­dents and sell­ing her wares. The busi­ness was a suc­cess.

Mrs Far­ley then be­gan what she says will be a life­long quest for knowl­edge. While jug­gling her fam­ily com­mit­ments to Michael and their chil­dren Neusha, 31, and Peter, 24, she spent one month in Ja­pan learn­ing pot­tery tech­niques. She also went back to her home coun­try and was in­vited to tour the an­cient pot­tery archives of the Tehran Na­tional Mu­seum. She went to In­dia, France and Bri­tain to study and exhibit her work.

In 2003, two of her pieces were dis­played in the Abgineh Mu­seum of Tehran, fa­mous for its glass­ware and ce­ram­ics. She is the only liv­ing pot­ter to be dis­played there. “ Of course I am proud of my achieve­ments,” she said. “I come from a fam­ily of artists. My fa­ther was a poet and my brother was a painter so I feel I am con­tin­u­ing in their path.” Mrs Far­ley sees pot­tery as es­sen­tial for all gen­er­a­tions and cul­tures. “Pot­tery has been around for cen­turies. All civil­i­sa­tions use it, so it is such a big part of the hu­man tra­di­tion. I quickly be­came fas­ci­nated with it,” she said. “You can learn so much about cul­ture and his­tory by just looking at the pots, the way they are made and their func­tions. I found my­self yearn­ing for more knowl­edge and the more I read the more I learned about my art.”

In 2004, Michael was posted to a job in Shar­jah so the fam­ily moved north. She closed up two of the shops in Abu Dhabi and be­gan teach­ing six times a week at the Dubai In­ter­na­tional Arts Cen­tre and the Higher Colleges of Tech­nol­ogy and hosted spe­cial events at Zayed Uni­ver­sity. She also pre­sented at least one ex­hi­bi­tion a year. Mrs Far­ley now com­mutes be­tween Shar­jah and Abu Dhabi, giv­ing classes for half of the week and leav­ing the store in the hands of her staff at other times.

“Mak­ing a pot takes time. Some­times just the process of fir­ing can take a week,” she said. “It must go in the kiln for 10 hours and cool down over one or two days. Then it must be glazed and fired again and this is all af­ter the time it took to ac­tu­ally de­sign the piece.

“ I get plea­sure now from watch­ing oth­ers go through the process. Clay is such a mar­vel­lous medium, it brings out peo­ple’s char­ac­ter­is­tics. When I get to know my stu­dents I can tell whose pot is whose just by looking at them.

“For ex­am­ple, my daugh­ter’s pots are al­ways colour­ful and creative, show­ing the bub­bly side of her per­son­al­ity.”

Mrs Far­ley uses her art as a form of ther­apy when she works with chil­dren with spe­cial needs.

“Clay re­sponds to a per­son,” she said. “It is for­giv­ing in your hands and it has a sen­sual tex­ture. It can help peo­ple to ex­press them­selves if they strug­gle in con­ven­tional ways.

“ I also be­lieve that ev­ery hu­man re­sponds to clay be­cause ul­ti­mately that’s where we all came from. It has a soul­ful prop­erty. You for­get ev­ery­thing when you touch it.”

Jaime Pue­bla / The Na­tional

The pot­tery teacher Homa Vafaie Far­ley shows how to make a raku pot.

Jaime Pue­bla / The Na­tional

Mrs Far­ley, left, with a stu­dent at Abu Dhabi Pot­tery.

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