April 2024

Guest Blog: Donah Mbabazi chats to Theophile Cyizere about his path to pottery, inspired by his father’s talent

in Design

Guest Blog: Donah Mbabazi chats to Theophile Cyizere about his path to pottery, inspired by his father’s talent

Donah Mbabazi is a writer and journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda. A former reporter at Rwanda’s The New Times, she has been writing and editing for almost 10 years and enjoys working on articles that focus on travel, interior design and stories of personal transformation.

Donah recently visited Singita Volcanoes National Park where she met with various local artisans and craftspeople to delve into the role their Rwandan heritage plays in the creation of their designs (from ceramics to carving and clothing design).

Potter Theophile Cyizere spoke to her about how his father positively influenced his creative journey and career choices, and the beautiful pieces he now creates at the on-site Akarabo Nursery.

Theophile was inspired by his father's skill as a child and now, at 22, is proudly pursuing this passion

Following in his father’s footsteps

On any given day, you’ll find Theophile working quietly in the pottery studio alongside Singita Kwitonda Lodge. This is his ‘happy place’, where he celebrates the craft that was passed proudly down to him.

“I’m working my father’s job,” says the 22-year-old. He grew up watching his father model beautiful objects out of clay and as a child, what he witnessed amazed and inspired him. How beautiful things would come out of ‘dirt’ or lumps of clay was a mystery he would later come to understand, and a skill he would one day master. “I grew up watching my father do pottery; it has been his profession since my childhood. He is the one who gave me these skills, although I think my passion for pottery has always been hidden in me because it came to me so naturally,” he says.

Theophile recalls that without any machinery or technology, his father would use his hands to create works of art. “While working, he would go somewhere quiet. And then he would come out holding beautiful pieces.” Two particular pieces remain etched in his childhood memories: that of a dove and a model of the Virgin Mary – they epitomised his father’s incredible talent.

Working from his 'happy place' at Akarabo Nursery at Singita Kwitonda, Theophile is continuing a family tradition by using and mastering the skills his father taught him

A legacy of love

It was through this observation that he picked up on these skills, and after completing high school in 2019, he started working with his father at a pottery studio in Kigali, where he was trained to master his craft.

Now, stationed at Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Theophile wakes up and lives this dream daily. The view from his pottery studio at the Akarabo Nursery is of magnificent greenery and the amazing views of the Muhabura volcanoes. Inside his studio is a neat space where he displays the finished pieces, which range from usable to decorative – he makes cups and saucers, sugar bowls, oil burners, plates, jugs, teapots – many of which are bought by visitors to Singita. He says, guests love buying the ‘Singita coffee cup’ which comes in a big and small size and is a perfect keepsake and gift.

The young potter is very proud of the family legacy and the doors his craft has opened. “I love what I do, especially because it’s a talent I inherited from my father. At first pottery was something to try out, but he encouraged me to do it as a profession, and I accepted and am sure that has made him proud.”

Waking up every day to live his dream profession, passed down to him, Theophile is inspired by his heritage and surroundings

A conscious craft

For the five years he has been working as a potter, Theophile says he has learnt so much about the workings of his chosen profession, noting that becoming a good potter is more of an ‘inner’ job than an ‘outer’ one.

“Pottery is something that comes from the mind, it is not something you merely learn and that is that. For example, you can’t have stress and do a good job even if you have the skills. You have to concentrate on the job at hand. I believe it helps open up your mind,” he says.

Theophile believes this path could be the foundation of a very bright future.“I will keep it up and even if I end up taking another path, I can never fail to engage in something related to pottery.” He continues to research his craft in order to stay up to date with the latest trends. “Doing pottery is not something that is always set in stone. It requires you to research the materials and types of clay used. You can also keep up by watching videos to see how others do it and learn how to do it better.”

Guests visiting Singita Volcanoes National Park can try their hand at pottery and painting – Theophile takes classes at the on-site studio

Artistic moments of calm

In addition to other activities at Singita Volcanoes National Park, like gorilla and golden monkey trekking, cooking classes at Singita Community Culinary School, and hiking and walking or spending time in the Conservation Room, visitors can also expand their creative skill set – pottery is one of the activities on offer. The Akarabo Nursery is home to a wheel-throwing experience, giving guests the opportunity to get creative.

Theophile says, “We have pottery and painting lessons. Guests can come to us with an idea they have in my mind and we help them make it. This makes them very happy.” He enjoys meeting guests from a range of different countries and backgrounds. "Engaging with people from different places is helping me grow,” he says.

If you’re planning a visit to Singita Volcanoes National Park, set aside time to pop into the pottery studio and meet Theophile – you’ll find him here going about his craft creating beautiful works from ‘dirt', just like his father.

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