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One of my favorite parts about my four years with Emilia Ceramics has been developing a rapport with ceramic artists all around the world. In this series of posts, I’ll give some insights into what happens behind the scenes to make these beautiful hand-painted ceramics come to life.

Whenever I go to visit Talavera Vazquez I’m always sure I’ll get terribly lost — the streets in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico look so similar, I’m very relieved to arrive and see the smiling faces of Juan and Roberto Vazquez. They and their team of talented artists are the reason for the unique serving dishes, vases, tibores (ginger jars), planters and other lively Mexican ceramics produced by this family-run workshop.

While the blue and white Mexican pottery (like striped vases and zig zag ginger jars) might be some of my more popular Talavera Vazquez offerings, the workshop itself is an explosion of vibrant color. Juan Vazquez is the fourth generation of the Vazquez family to run this family business and his son Roberto is certainly poised to be the fifth when the time arrives. Not all members of the management team are related, but they still feel like a family. For example, Francisco, who is in charge of all the artwork and my liaison with the designers and artists, has worked with the Vazquez family for over 20 years.

The small team of artists at Talavera Vazquez takes care of all aspects of the ceramic process, from measuring the distance for the stripes on a wine bottle holder to loading the kiln with pieces for the final firing. The motto of this prolific studio is “Nuestros productos se fabrican y decoran a mano, la irregularidad que presentan acentúa su belleza,” (roughly translated as “Our products are made and decorated by hand, the irregularities present accent their beauty”). Every piece is formed by hand, then dipped into a “bath” of base glaze that turns creamy white after firing. When the base glaze has dried, the artists paint the vibrant geometric designs with crisp edges. Watching them work, I’m always amazed at the precision – there’s no way to erase a mistake or a drip of the brush. The results are unique serving dishes, pottery planters, and other Mexican ceramics that truly stand out.

Talavera Vazquez continues to flawlessly combine traditional techniques with modern design. I’m excited to have new zigzag tibores in yellow and gray, as well as more blue and white pottery planters. With all their wonderful Mexican ceramics, I’m never sure what new discoveries I’ll make on my next visit. But I’m always thrilled to be able to share them with you!

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One of my favorite parts about my four years with Emilia Ceramics has been developing a rapport with ceramic artists all around the world. In this series of posts, I’ll give some insights into what happens behind the scenes to make these beautiful handpainted ceramics come to life.

A visit to Gorky Gonzalez’s workshop in Guanajuato, Mexico is truly a feast for the senses. There’s color and creative genius everywhere you look, piled in ceramics both finished and in process. Considering the number of awards and international acclaim Gorky’s pottery has received, it’s no surprise that his development as a ceramic artist has international flavor as well.

An antique piece of Majolica pottery that Gorky found in the early 1960s inspired him to rescue this basically forgotten craft. After studying in Japan (where he met his wife Toshiko), he returned with a variety of techniques that have truly revitalized Mexican ceramics. The results blend past and present, creating Mexican ceramics that are unique and timeless.

Today Gorky and Toshiko’s son Gorky Jr. (known as Gogo) handles the daily responsibilities of the business, continuing the family tradition. On my most recent visit to Mexico this past June I was delighted to find all three members of the Gonzalez family hard at work with their dedicated team of artists. I visited with about six artists who were working on the wheel or painting these vibrant Mexican ceramics by hand. Whether dinner plates or mugs, each piece is treated with care through the multistep process that Majolica requires including multiple firings in the kiln.

With a workshop as large and bustling as this one it can seem like it might get old painting the same Mexican ceramics every day. However, there are always plenty of new pieces and designs being created as well as the continuation of old favorites. I talked with one artist who’s been painting Gorky pottery for nine years and still loves it. Each piece has a design guide that the artists follow, but they are encouraged to put their own individual stamp on it so in the end, no two pieces are ever exactly alike.

On this trip I was lucky enough to find some truly unique pieces to add to my Gorky pottery collection: dinner plates with the Catrina design (perfect for Dia de los Muertos), new creamers with owls and roosters, and even some fun new dip bowls. As Gorky pottery designs expand to include more traditional patterns as well as the modern Gogo collection, I’m always excited to share these amazing Mexican ceramics with you.

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Whether it’s a white serving bowl or a white platter, everyone needs a few pieces of go-to serving ware that can adapt to any occasion from causal to formal. When it comes to pieces that are clean and crisp, you can’t do better than white pottery platters. They really show off your food without taking up too much attention, whether canapés during cocktail hour, scones at brunch, or a succulent side dish at dinner.

Of course, there are lots of stark white platters out there, like those mass-produced in China. To me, the feel of these pieces is impersonal and almost clinical. And who wants to serve their food on something that seems like it belongs in a hospital? White serving ware that uses natural glazes has a warmer tone, giving an authentic, at times rustic look, which is a much better compliment for your home-cooked meals. Pieces like the Gogo oval platter, long serving platter, or round white platter are just some examples of white platters that really showcase your cooking.

White all the time can get a bit monotone, however. That’s why the blue and white combo of Mexican pottery is a surefire winner. It’s a simple equation: blue and white Mexican pottery has the crisp neatness of white, along with the rich contrast of blue. There aren’t many blue foods out there, so most items will really pop on blue serving ware. The end result? Food that looks even tastier, no matter the meal or occasion. Blue and white Mexican pottery like Gorky’s oval serving dishes or Talavera Vazquez’s blue and white serving platter will enliven any table. They’re also sturdy enough to be used everyday for family dinners, not just special occasions.

Want to add some unique serving dishes to your collection of blue and white Mexican pottery? When it comes to blue and white platters, I love the unexpected shape of El Mar and Las Flores pottery platters.

Not quite rectangle, not quite oval, these unique serving dishes are a fantastic example of what makes blue and white Mexican pottery appealing to so many people. The border detail isn’t overpowering, but it makes the perfect frame for your desserts, appetizers, or cheeses.

Do you have favorite pieces of blue and white Mexican pottery? Let us know about your go-to serving ware pieces by leaving a comment below.

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Ah, summertime. With outdoor BBQs, lazy afternoons on the porch, swimming and lounging poolside or at the beach, and all the delicious fresh foods at the farmer’s market, what’s there not to love? With so many options, what is it that says summer to you? To me, there’s something about Gorky Gonzalez pottery that’s very California, very coastal, and very summery. These pieces are simply perfect for this time of year, feeling at home on a picnic table or in a dinning room.

Perhaps it’s because California was once part of Mexico, but I find that many Californians are drawn to the relaxed feel of Gorky Gonzalez pottery with its multiple colors, fun designs, and party-ready plates and platters. There’s something there that speaks to eternal summer and a carefree attitude. For this reason, my current favorite Gorky Gonzalez pottery pieces for a California vibe feature fish (pescados). Playful and fun, fish reflect so many aspects of summer that I love. And while they are similar, each piece of Gorky Gonzalez pottery is hand-painted and so each fish is unique… meaning that collecting various plates, bowls, and platters is like creating your very own hand-painted school of fish for your California-style home.

 

Here are three ways you can incorporate fish into your summertime fun:

  1. Summer snacking: Fill a large serving bowl with tortilla chips and then add your favorite dips, whether it’s salsa fresca, guacamole, or a truly spicy habanero salsa. Small dip bowls around the chips cut down on drips and mess over your chips. This mini dip bowl reveals a playful fish when empty; it’s a pleasant surprise even when all your yummy salsa is gone.
  2. Taco party: The best tacos are ones that have a wide variety of options for garnish. Fresh cilantro, crumbled queso fresco, red onion, lime wedges, and sliced radishes are just the beginning. The pescado triple dish is a fun and practical way to make your three favorites easy to pass around the table. This is Gorky Gonzalez pottery meets California and Mexican fusion in a big way.
  3. Dessert time: Fresh berry pie is one of my great weaknesses, whether it’s strawberry rhubarb with a homemade crust or a chilled cream pie perfectly decorated with blueberries or raspberries on top.

Fish mini plates with a fun octagonal shape enliven even the most ordinary desserts. Need bigger servings of your sweets? Choose larger salad plates with another fun variation on the fish theme (or make a set that mixes your favorite animal motifs so everyone can choose a favorite).

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When we arrived in Dolores Hidalgo, the streets were bustling with activity — it was 1:30 and everyone was out eating lunch and shopping. I was grateful that my driver knew exactly where we were going because even though this was my third visit to Talavera Vazquez, I never would have found it on my own. Every block, corner, and street in Dolores Hidalgo looks just about identical. But when we pulled up out front I recognized it immediately and Roberto Vazquez met me at the door with a handshake and a hug. The overflowing abundance of colorful and creative ceramic artwork inside were just as amazing as I remembered.

Roberto’s father Juan was also there to greet me — he is the 4th generation of the Vazquez family to run the business and Roberto is well-groomed to be the 5th. He ushered me into the studio out back to meet the three artists still hard at work (the others were already on their lunch break). One specialized in the design stage of the glazing process — he was using a pencil and ruler to carefully measure stripes onto a wine bottle holder destined for the Emilia Ceramics collection. Another, pictured here, was a painter — applying what will become cobalt blue glaze to an intricately designed planter. And the third (pictured below) was giving tibores their “bath” in the base glaze, which after firing, becomes the white color we see in the background of our Talavera Vazquez ceramic pieces. It was so fun to see pieces being made that I knew I’d soon be unpacking in California.

After watching the artists work, Roberto introduced me to a few other members of the small Talavera Vazquez team. Francisco (pictured below with me, Roberto, and a giant ginger jar) is in charge of all the artwork and responsible for being sure my requests are clearly communicated to the designers and painters. I asked if he was “a Vazquez” and Roberto replied “almost.” Francisco has been working for the family for over 20 years and is definitely considered an important part of the team.

I then spent an hour or so wondering through the various rooms selecting new pieces for the Emilia Ceramics collection. While I know that black and white zigzag ginger jars and blue and white striped vases are always popular, I was drawn to some new and fun shapes, color combinations, and designs… So excited to add these to the collection!

Everyone at Talavera Vazquez was so warm, welcoming, and friendly! This is definitely a family-run business that I am proud to support and who’s handcrafted artwork I am honored to offer my customers. Stay tuned for the new additions to the collection, probably arriving sometime in July!

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Capelo is the definition of a ‘Jack of all trades.’ Trained (and renowned throughout Mexico) as an architect, he now splits his time between teaching classes at the University of Guanajuato, managing the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, supervising a team of artists in his ceramic studio, and occasionally fulfilling some very special commissions — While I was visiting yesterday, Capelo showed off the gold ‘key to Guanajuato,’ which he was commisioned to make for the Pope during his visit to celebrate Mexico’s 200 years of independence. One copy of the key (which is made of gold and nickel) was gifted to the Pope and the other (which I held yesterday) will soon be exhibited in the museum. In his downtime, Capelo enjoys riding his horses in the beautiful mountains surrounding his home.

But enough about Capelo, let’s talk about his ceramics. There is something so unique and captivating, so soft and inviting about the glazes that Capelo uses… it really is difficult to explain. I asked him what it was about his glazes that made them so different. He said simply that he used all-natural glazes, without any modern-day additives, which we are more accustomed to seeing these days. Sounds almost too simple, but it fact it fits Capelo’s shy, old-school personality perfectly. Capelo has refused to compromise or change his glazes or technique over the years. He does things the right way, or not at all. He’s definitely much less interested in sales than he is in creating beautiful artwork. I still think there’s got to be something more to his technique — some secret that makes the colors run together like watercolor, with a glass-like sheen.

Whatever it is, I’m hooked. I couldn’t stop finding pieces I thought belonged in the Emilia Collection. I was especially drawn to some large vases and pitchers. Here are a few of the pieces I chose:

Because Capelo doesn’t deal with shipping, we had to fit my purchases in the cab I had hired. (Capelo lives and works about 15 minutes from Guanajuato, perched on top of a beautiful hill overlooking the city). But nobody else seemed concerned. Four helpers appeared out of nowhere to help us count, price, and wrap up my selections. And then we fit them neatly into the trunk and backseat of the cab. It all fit so easily, I wondered if I should have bought more!

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My love of Spanish pottery and fine Italian ceramics is long-standing and one of the reasons I began Emilia Ceramics. While living in Southern Spain, I saw gorgeous pieces of pottery (plates, cups, and bowls were only the beginning) being used everyday that were just as unique as the people using them. I realized that I couldn’t use all the pieces I thought were beautiful, but knew that there were others who would love them too. And thus Emilia Ceramics came into being.

Now my collection includes fine Italian ceramics, Tuscan pottery, as well as ceramics from France and Mexico. I’m excited because it looks like I’ll be adding Spanish pottery (by Ceramica Valenciana) to the Emilia Collection by the end of the summer (crossing my fingers about how shipping times work out). All these pieces emerge from the same roots and display similar techniques — resulting in majolica dinnerware and accessories that have distinctively “fat glazes,” vibrant colors, and unique designs that vary not only from region to region, but also from artist to artist.

But while I love these new pieces being produced today, what about vintage pottery? Collectors of Quimper, Fiestaware, majolica from Deruta and Faenza, as well as other fine Italian ceramics know what I’m talking about. A friend sent me a link to some Portuguese pottery she’d found made by SECLA (this espresso cup was my favorite piece) and it got me thinking about how designs and glazes have both changed and stayed the same for all these years. Just look at these Portuguese pottery tiles, ashtrays, and vases designed by Ferreira da Silva. Most of them are from the 1950s, yet their modern lines and fun designs could come out of an artist’s studio today.

That’s one of the reasons I love all kinds of pottery – they hold timeless appeal. Fine Italian ceramics become heirlooms, whether it’s a plate or a lamp. Majolica dinnerware graces the table for decades since its sturdy construction holds up quite nicely to the rigors of daily use. Not only does Tuscan, French, Mexican, and Spanish pottery look great, it’s functional and stylish. No wonder I keep finding artists whose pieces I love to add to the Emilia Collection!

Portuguese pottery image courtesy of R.Ferrao.

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