2022

2023

Firing the Arabic kiln in Úbeda

With the Tito family and Rachid Koraïchi

For over a year, Factum Foundation worked with Melchor Tito Sr. and Melchor Tito Jr., a family of potters, on a project to revive and fire a traditional Arabic kiln in the city of Úbeda, Spain. On a night of full Harvest Moon between September 29th and 30th 2023, the kiln was brought back to life for the first time since 2007, and more than 500 objects were fired over the course of 35 hours.

View of the Alfarería Tito © Otto Lowe | Factum Foundation

This project was funded by Factum Foundation and made possible by Nicolas Berlanga Martínez, founder of the Huerta de San Antonio Foundation. It counted on the support of Marcelino Sánchez Ruiz, who was the Mayor of Úbeda from the late 1990s to the early 2010s. Contemporary artist Rachid Koraïchi – whose work is in dialogue with traditional crafts, joined the project and spent weeks working in the Titos’ workshop to produce and decorate two big, Alhambra-type vases which were eventually fired in the Arabic kiln.

The Tito family, owners of the Alfarería Melchor Tito, have lived and worked in Úbeda for generations. The town is renowned for its Renaissance architecture and has been inhabited over the centuries by the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors. The production of ceramics is Úbeda’s most notable craft activity and the city is home to several fine potters, heirs to generations of craft and skills. Most of them, including the Tito family, are strategically located right outside the historic centre, in Calle Valencia, as the town’s wind conditions usually allow the smoke from traditional kilns to dissipate further east without affecting its inhabitants.

The slow, complex process started with loading the kiln with the objects before sealing it with bricks, leaving only a small opening in the lower section to feed the fire chamber. The Titos and their friends started a low, gentle fire using wood waste, letting the chamber gradually heat until the hue and vigour of the fire changed as the late afternoon drew near. More than five tons of orujo, the pomace made from crushed olive pits, were repetitively added to the fire by the Titos and their friends in 12-scoop burst intervals over 24 hours, burning up as dense clouds of smoke. Each scoop was added with controlled strength and movement, uniformly increasing the carefully monitored temperature inside each part of the monumental kiln.

Around 2AM on the night of September 30th, flames began to emerge from the kiln through the openings in the roof and gradually, as night turned into day, the temperature inside the kiln approached the desired 1,020 °C. Four days were needed to let the temperature inside the kiln cool down before removing the bricked door and unloading the objects.

Hundreds of objects, from jugs, pots and oil cans to jars and plates emerged from the kiln; all unique in their materiality and small imperfections. The shops supplying the tourist market have demanded uniformity and predictability and as a result, kilns fired with recycled materials were made redundant as the fire produces unpredictable results.

Indeed, different parts of the kiln can perform in different ways. But thankfully aesthetic values change, and the result is a beautiful collection of objects produced by the poetic transformation of fire and earth.

The entire process, including the modelling, carving, glazing, and bathing of the pieces, was meticulously documented by two cameramen from the Factum Foundation. The Foundation’s goal was to create a film that would capture and immortalise months of dedication, culminating in the firing of the Arabic kiln. This ambitious project aimed not only to revive the pottery tradition in Úbeda but also to provide a record of the firing process for both functional and artistic objects.

Teaser trailer of the film © Oscar Parasiego and Henry Boston-Crayfourd | Factum Foundation

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