The 20Th Century Cretan Potters

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Four Pottery Centres were established in Crete at the beginning of the second millennium, one in each prefecture. The reasons for this distribution and choice of location are not known, as there are rich sources of clay everywhere in Crete.

The Pottery Centres were villages where only part of the population was involved in ceramics, while the profession did not necessarily pass exclusively from father to son. Potters and Cretans in general considered it to be one of the worst crafts to exercise, due to the constant exposure to mud and the low income.

Potters were divided into specialist pithos makers or pitharades and those who produced smaller shapes. Their indispensable assistants were the clay digger (homatas), who recognised and excavated the layers of clay, and the kiln minder (kaminiaris) who regulated the kiln heat during the firing of the pots. His was a great responsibility, as traditional kilns had no thermometers or heat gauges and any mistake during the 10-12 hours of firing meant that the whole batch would be ruined.

In the two larger Pottery Centres the potters formed guilds, small groups of six known as a takimi who scattered across the whole island from April to September. Each group would work for the whole period in a specific countryside location with a source of clay, water and a kiln, away from any villages. The seasonal migration of the guild group was called the vendema (Italian for vintage or harvest), because each year the potters chose an area where there would be a good olive harvest (vendema) and therefore the growers would need pithoi, the most lucrative type of ceramic to make.

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