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Stories from the Middle East Region

Interview with former US diplomat and Le Souk CEO, Doug Littrel

Doug Littrel

Who or what are your influences?

For our artwork and designs, classical Islamic art is a constant source of inspiration.  Geometric lines and patterns are a mainstay of our ceramic designs. 
 
 What inspires you? From the Middle East? Around the world?  

Travel and experiencing other cultures is the best way for me to be creative.  Seeing other people with a different way of doing things allows you to think outside your own box, question your own manners and traditions, and come up with new ways to think and act.
 
 Tell us a bit about your production process: where do you produce? What materials do you work with?  

My studio, where we do all of our production, is in Nabeul, Tunisia. We buy the raw clay, the modern paints, and the glazes and then do all of the work from start to finish ourselves -no sub-contracting. We paint every piece 100% freehand, using no decals, stencils, or machinery.

How long have you been in business? When did you start?  

I started Le Souk Ceramique in 1997.
 
 Why did you decide to start Le Souk? 

It was never a conscious decision.  I was a former US diplomat with no background in ceramics, art, or even business.  But when you start off as a small studio, you either sink or swim.
 
 Describe a typical day in the studio.  

Our 50+ employees arrive around 8am and it’s a beehive of activity.  We unload the kilns that have been firing overnight for either bisques or finished pieces.  Then we continue to make bisques (33 shapes total) and paint our various designs.  Downstairs on the ground floor is our bisque section and upstairs is our painting area.

 Who is your favorite Middle Eastern designer and why?  

I would say my various employees at Le Souk Ceramique in Nabeul.  Working with them to create new designs is always a good challenge and then watching them paint it on our 30+ shapes is always a thrill.  I do not need any more inspiration than that.
 
Where did you study? Train? Work?  

I studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I got a B.A. in Middle Eastern Political Science and I also studied Arabic.  After college, I went to work first at the US Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, and then to Algiers, Algeria and finally Tunis, Tunisia.  In Tunis, I resigned from the State Department and started Le Souk Ceramique.

 How would you describe your work in three adjectives?  

Artisanal, authentic, hand-painted.

With contribution from Hala A. Malak.