The Pottery Adventure of Gen Z Children from Veles

March 12, 2024


Walking through the narrow and steep streets of Veles can easily give the impression that you have traveled back a hundred years in time. Parts of the city's architecture, where cobblestone and stone houses with tall windows authentically dominate, irresistibly evoke the past. Perhaps the most impressive part of this area of Veles is the alley of poetry, where the birth house of the great Macedonian poet Kocho Racin stands prominently. Built at the end of the XIX century, it is one of the main features of traditional Veles architecture. 

We visited the memorial house of Racin to meet Goce Stanchev, one of the last four ceramic artists in Veles. He was accompanied by some of the 25 children who visited the pottery workshops organized by the non-governmental organization Razboj as part of the project "Ethnic Creative Workshops for Revival of Old Crafts," an initiative supported by UNDP within the framework of the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans - ReLOaD, funded by the European Union. 


"Last year, we organized five workshops - pottery, weaving, wood carving, carpentry, and jewelry making. I led the pottery workshop. At first, we were skeptical, but it turned out that the children had a great interest, and a total of 25 students from primary schools in Veles signed up. Some of them were truly talented, and I offered them to come and learn in my workshop. If we manage to turn two out of 20 children into potters, it will be a great success," says Stanchev. 

Pottery has a long tradition in Veles, and in the first half of the XX century, many families in the city were involved in this craft. There were renowned artists whose products were exported to countries in Western Europe. Even the poet Kocho Racin, whose socially engaged poetry is a symbol of the workers' struggle, dabbled in pottery. Some of the ceramic objects he made with his own two hands are exhibited in the memorial house. 


Today, this craft is almost extinct, but the project of the NGO Razboj is a successful example that there are ways for young people to become interested in old crafts. The ceramic vessels made by children aged 13 to 15, who say they are happy to have had the opportunity to learn about pottery, are proof of this. 

"When I first came, it was strange to me, but over time it became more interesting. Now, I prefer to make clay objects rather than play games on my mobile phone. Pottery is really an interesting craft. Maybe I wouldn't do this as a job, but I would definitely engage in it as a hobby," says 14-year-old Antonio Trajkovski, one of the most dedicated students of the artist Goce.

"I didn't know anything about pottery before. The workshop was very fun, especially when we were drawing and working on the wheel. It would be nice to keep pottery as a craft because it is part of the tradition of our country," says Anastasija Davcheva (14 years old). 


"I haven't had the opportunity to visit a pottery workshop before. The most interesting part for me was when we had to draw the finished product. We learned that there are two types of clay firing - bisque and glaze. After it is fired, the vessel is painted with glaze so that it can be used for food preparation," explains Ljupche Nedelkovski (15 years old). 

Stanchev believes that it is necessary for the country to get involved in order to revive old crafts, and pottery should be included in art classes as part of the mandatory curriculum. 

"There is a future in pottery, but encouragement is needed. My wife and I have been professionally engaged in this line of work for 15 years. There is a great demand in the market, but there is no one to work. There are no young people interested in working in ceramics anymore. There are only 7-8 artists in the whole country, while many ethnic restaurants and souvenir shops interested in buying pottery and souvenirs have opened. I am proof that one can make a living from pottery." 


One of the main goals of the ReLOaD regional program is to encourage partnerships between municipalities and local civil society organizations, as well as to establish a methodology for transparent allocation of financial resources for projects benefiting citizens. 

"The Municipality of Veles constantly supports us. All workshops for reviving old crafts are held in art houses provided to us by the municipality. We have good conditions, and that's why these workshops are unique in our country," says Stanchev. 

Over the past three years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported a total of 50 projects by civil society organizations in eight municipalities in North Macedonia - Veles, Ohrid, Gostivar, Bitola, Kumanovo, Gevgelija, Kochani, and Kriva Palanka through the ReLOaD program. Project activities are mainly focused on supporting youth, promoting social cohesion and inclusion, environmental protection, and promoting the cultural heritage and tourism potential of the country.