As a law student in Egypt’s Menufiya province, Mustafa al-Agoury was simply looking for a job to get him through his last year of classes.
But when a friend gave him a pottery kiln, the young man “fell in love” with the craft, which he quickly turned into a profession.
“A friend gave me an oven as a gift, and I worked on it at home… in one year, I fell in love with the trade,” said Agoury, now 40, speaking from his workshop in the village of Shamma, in the Nile Delta province north of Cairo.
He and his 15 employees extract clay from different types of soil found across Egypt, particularly along the Red Sea coast and near the southern Nile River city of Aswan.
They work on large wooden benches, cluttered with pots of paint, rudimentary tools and classically shaped vases decked out in wild colours.
Row upon row of grey, unfinished pieces line the workshop’s edges, waiting to be given a glossy finish.
Some are spray-painted with bright hues of blue, green, yellow or red — sometimes a swirl of all four. Others are hand-painted.
It takes between seven and 10 days to finish one piece, depending on its size.
Agoury estimated his workshop produces about 1,000 pieces a month, many of which take pride of place in the salons of Cairo.