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Dahoud Tawfiq Nasser, tile designer

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 16.11.2008:

Taybeh Antique Floor Tiles

By Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.

In this new millennium where it has become more economical to produce machine-made tiles, someone is bringing back the tradition of handcrafted coloured tiles. Among the new local products this fall at the Taybeh Oktoberfest – the annual village festival that aims to promote local products – were the unique floor tiles handcrafted by Dahoud Tawfiq Nasser, a father of three and the founder of the Taybeh Antique Floor-Tile Workshop.

Since 2000 Dahoud, the son of a retired Orthodox priest, had been contributing to the 50 percent unemployment rate in Taybeh since he could no longer maintain his permit to enter Jerusalem after working thirteen years as a purchasing manager at the prominent Notre Dame Hotel.

But in 2005 Dahoud got into the business of making handcrafted floor tiles after listening to many of his friends and relatives complain that such traditional tiles were hard to replace. He would often hear: “My tiles have become old and need to be replaced, but they are not available anymore.” These words, “not available,” encouraged Dahoud to learn the skills needed to make handcrafted tiles. He participated in brief training sessions with other local experts who produce traditional coloured tiles for floors, and afterwards began the quest for the right machinery to set up his workshop, which currently overlooks the new illegal Israeli settlement on one of the mountaintops of picturesque Taybeh.

Using his specialised machinery, Dahoud has created twenty handmade patterns or clichés. The press, the main production machine, is relatively small – about two meters high. It is used to press the cement into the cast-iron mould. The press lies between two tables where Daoud prepares the mould and cement and lays the tiles he has removed from the press. It was amazingly interesting to have a tour of the workshop.

Dahoud showed me the heavy cast-iron mould (20 x 20 cm) with three separate parts. The cliché is the lightweight copper or tin design-mould that has a number of compartments that form the design.

I saw lots of little containers for various colours and many small bowls to hold the coloured cement and water. The coloured tile has three layers – a top, a middle, and a bottom layer – made out of three different concrete mixes that must be individually prepared each time the manufacturing process is begun. The middle one even has to be prepared twenty-four hours in advance so that it is dry when used.

In its publication, Traditional Floor Tiles in Palestine by Suad Amiry and Lena Sobeh (2000), Riwaq – Centre for Architectural Conservation has concentrated on the artistic documentation of Palestinian cultural heritage in floor tiles. Riwaq reports that the first floor-tile factory in Palestine was started in Jerusalem in 1912 by the Qassiyeh brothers, with machinery imported from Italy. This factory closed down two years after the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. Today you can actually come to Taybeh and order these beautiful antique floor tiles, thanks to Dahoud Nasser.

Dahoud Nasser can be reached by phone or fax at +972-2-289-8383 or by e-mail at davidnasr@yahoo.com. His work will be on display at the next Taybeh Oktoberfest, 3 and 4 October 2009.

This Week in Palestine

November 2008

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