Vasil Kukaj’s love of his craft stems from childhood when, at only 5 years old, he used to steal the wiring from his electrician uncle to create baskets. From there his artistic mind and industrious will evolved into what is now “Studio Qeramike Vasili“; the only successful pottery art studio, exporter and supplier to Albanian restaurants, shops and businesses in all of Albania .
Vasil studied art at the University in Perugia, Italy followed by his masters at the Universita Belle Arti, Rome. The love of art and history, combined with his desire to return to his homeland and create something far more reaching than just pottery, brought him back to his town of Krajne in the Zadrima valley. This is where Vasil grew up and this is where he wanted to establish his own roots.
We visited the studio today with much anticipation, because of my love for hand-painted pottery and I was not disappointed. We were met by Vasil and had an immediate likeness for him. He is very unassuming and humble. He welcomed us into his studio, which is on his property, and showed us not only the finished pieces in his exhibit room but also the entire operation. He created the studio in 2000 and was later joined by his two brothers who were living in Greece. Together with their wives they set up a very successful business.
You see Vasil is a history buff and he commits himself to research every small aspect of the old Albanian life, culture and tradition and pass that onto his art. There is not one piece of pottery that he can’t tell you about. Every piece is historically detailed; the colors, the costumes, the designs, are all historically related to a certain area of Albania or a certain subject. Vasil does all his research in libraries in order to find the most accurate details and then passes the images on to his wife and sisters-in-law, who paint them onto his pieces. Vasil creates the pottery, his wife and two sisters-in-law paint the designs and voila! While his brothers handle the commercial side of the enterprise.
Some of the portrait plates are historical figures, like the Princess of Zadrime, or Skanderbeg’s Wife. All immaculately detailed and as historically close as possible. The plates, amphoras, bowls, etc. all have designs which reflect Albania’s traditions of different regions, except for some which are painted in the traditional Italian designs. It truly is an inspiration to hear his story and see the results.
The studio is truly a gem and I am glad to have found it while driving around the countryside. Of course I couldn’t leave without making a small contribution and putting in an order to have my Albanian grandparents’ portrait, in their national costumes, painted on a plate!