A short drive from Lezhe, down a narrow country road that winds through fields where eagles soar overhead, is a small and unassuming ceramic studio. Located a stone’s throw from Mrizi i Zanave, in the hamlet of Krajen, ceramic treasures are crafted with passion and care.
Run by Vasil Kukaj with the help of his wife and two brothers, the studio consists of a maze of rooms including a shop, storage areas, and a sweltering hot room containing the pottery wheel and kiln.
Vasil left Albania in the early 90’s and travelled to Italy where he learned his craft. Calling it one of the oldest professions of mankind, he mastered the trade before returning home to continue his work. Today his pieces grace the tables of some of the country’s finest restaurants including Mrizi i Zanave around the corner, Mullixhiu in Tirana, and others the length and breadth of Albania.
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His work includes custom pieces made to order such as dishes hand painted with Albanian patterns that will be exported to Italy, and goblets destined to hold honey in a local restaurant. He also creates souvenirs including busts of Skanderbeg, ceramic friezes of the country, and ethnographic items destined for the tourist market.
Then, amongst these items are true gems of Albanian crafts- sculpted plates and dishes imprinted with the veined patterns of leaves, earthenware with flowers engraved into it, and wall hangings painted with typically Albanian colours and traditional patterns.
He also creates a stunning range of kitchen wear including plates, cups, saucers, serving trays, and an assortment of dishes and vessels for oil, honey and other products. Painted by his wife, children, and other members of the family, designs include lemons, flowers, and traditional Albanian geometric prints.
Vasil sits at his wheel and in just one minute and 46 seconds, crafts a symmetrical and completely flawless vase before crafting a small dish in less than 10 seconds. This is not to say that he rushes his work of course- some of the larger pieces such as urns can take days or even weeks of preparation, not including the drying and baking process.
But for Vasili it is not just about income, it is about passion and doing what he loves. He explains that he feels lucky in his life for finding something that he loves to do, and being able to make money from it. You can see in the work that the creates and the manner in which he talks about his work, that this is the case because each piece is crafted with tenderness and care.