Dating back to 1954, the craft was initiated by a duo of French Monks, at the request of the renowned architect Hassan Fathi. Frenchman Robert De Mongolfier, who owned a pottery business in his hometown, was invited to Luxor, where he introduced the new craft to Garagos.
Amm Nosseir Bekheit, now 72 years old, is the last surviving founder of Garagous pottery workshop. He recounts the story of how it all began “One day in 1954, when I was fourteen years old, I was with my friends Tabeet Labib, Yousef Fahmy, Naeem Naguib, and Gergis Fahmy . We spotted two foreigners arriving. They seemed to be looking for something, and we assumed they were French Jesuits, here to visit our village monastery, Deir Garagous.”
“Every day we accompanied our new friends on a tour of the village, to meet the community. It was poor and agriculture was its main livelihood, though may also made a living from pottery, a 5000-year-old art form from the time of the pharaohs. Each day, after this tour, they returned to the monastery and we returned to our playing, despite the language barrier, we started to share our dreams and ambitions to do something different for our village. And the dream began to grow.”
Amm Nosseir laughed and said, “The funny thing is, we knew we had a dream, but we weren't quite sure what it was. Now, 57 years later, I can share with you the essence of this dream.
“In 1955 the French Jesuits told us about the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, noted for his ecologically pioneering architecture. Hassan Fathy arrived in our village to design the Garagos pottery workshop, with its mud-brick dome style adapted to our village environment. After months of hard work, we finished constructing the new Garagous pottery workshop, the first-ever small factory in our village. We built it in two parts: manufacturing area and showroom. And how beautiful it was! Brick domes with natural air vents, and natural entrances that fit into the outside environment. Days later the owner of a pottery company in France arrived to train the village youth in the secret techniques of pottery making in order to renew the ancient Egyptian art.
“Garagos lead-free pottery is today characterized by turquoise, blue, and gray glazing with subtle green and yellow tones. It features ancient designs of fish, birds, and the ankh (Coptic cross) and is produced from the same red Aswan silt that the pharaohs used for their pottery.
“I can't believe that 57 years have passed, and I am now a 72-year-old man. I still remember my four friends, who became my partners in the Garagous pottery workshop. We were not just partners, but like the five fingers of one hand — we shared a dream, and together we built it.”
Am Nosseir stared into the distance, as though looking far into his past and forward to the new generations in the village who will ensure the future of Garagous pottery.
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