Egyptian Village Mourns Swiss Artist

Evelyne Porret: The Trailblazing Pottery Teacher
Swiss artist Evelyne Porret in Tunis village, Fayyoum, Egypt. (The website of the Pottery School)

Swiss artist Evelyne Porret was not just a famous potter. But she was a pioneer in creative community services and community development.

After news of her death this week at the age of 82, thousands mourned her departure as she was behind making the Tunis village in Fayyoum city one of the most famous and prominent artistic and tourist destinations in the world.

Porret learned the art of ceramics from her childhood and studied applied arts at the University of Geneva.

Visiting Lake Qarun 45 years ago, Porret or Madame Evelyne fell in love with the Tunis village and has since then been on a quest to turn the underprivileged village into a tourist attraction.

In Egypt, Evelyne also married the late Egyptian poet Sayed Hegab and built with him a simple house near Lake Qarun, surrounded by clear greenery, trees, sun, and pigeon towers.

At the time, Tunis Village consisted of a few peasant dwellings surrounded by greenery with no electricity or water. But with her house, Madame Evelyne breathed life into the village.

Ten years after she settled in the village, Evelyne organized the first pottery festival. After the festival, the Egyptian authorities provided the place with electricity and water.

Evelyne also established a school in the village, teaching young men and women the manufacture of ceramics and pottery.

Egyptian plastic artist, Mohamed Abla, wrote on his Facebook page, “Bye bye, Evelyne. Much sadness in Tunis village and all of Egypt.”

The same grief was expressed in a statement by Fayoum Governor Ahmed Al-Ansari in which it was stated that Porret loved Fayoum and settled in Tunis village since the sixties of the last century.

“She established an association and a school for the manufacture of ceramics and pottery in the village, teaching young men and girls the craft of making pottery.

“She helped them set up their own workshops and opened areas to market their products locally and internationally.”

He added that Madame Evelyne worked to transform Tunis village from a rural village into a tourist destination, with a special character, and a spot for visitors from Egypt and various countries of the world.

Egyptian artist and potter Khaled Serag, a professor at the Faculty of Applied Arts, Department of Ceramics, Helwan University, said that Porret began her life in Fayoum by making friends with young children and their families.

“She used to give every child a piece of pottery clay, and leave them to have fun with it and form art pieces,” he recalled.

The artist added that those children developed a passion for making pottery. So she opened that school for them and her students started working on teaching others and they established their own workshops in the village.

“It all started with a piece of clay that she gave to the children of the village - a great gift that included everyone.”