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Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

Fine Italian ceramics are nothing new. Dating back to the Middle Ages and beginning to flourish in the 1400s, the ceramic centers of Italy have been producing incredibly detailed ceramics for literally hundreds of years. I recently came across a little book discussing Italian and other European ceramics throughout history – Mailolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi – and wanted to share some of its beautiful images with you. Just look at the inside of this “loving cup” from circa 1500 Faenza, used to celebrate engagements or as a gift for a beloved:

fine Italian ceramic loving cup

The detailed likeness is strikingly similar to work by Tuscia d’Arte, such as this Italian canister.

Italian canister

Another timeless piece is this plate of a solider from circa 1630:

Italian soldier plate

He looks so jaunty, reminding me of this contemporary Italian ceramic plate with a drummer at its center.

Italian ceramic plate

One of the amazing things about hand painted Italian pottery is that patterns and techniques have been passed down through generations. Artists today hand paint using the same process as those centuries ago, following traditional patterns as well as Italian utensil holderadding some contemporary touches. Historically important areas for Italian ceramics have stayed pretty constant throughout the years, many of them in the center of Italy. One is Montelupo Fiorentino, outside of Florence in Tuscany. It’s where I get the fine Italian ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection. In a few months I plan to travel to Italy to visit both Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni as well as some potential new artists; I can’t wait!

Other famous centers are Deruta, Siena, and Vietri, examples of which are easy to find at Biordi Art Imports, also here in San Francisco. Biordi has a huge selection of typical Italian patterns that go back to the Renaissance; their walls are stuffed with dinnerware, decorative pieces, and exquisite tiles. If you find yourself in North Beach and want to see some Italian ceramics in San Francisco, check Biordi out.

No matter where hand painted Italian pottery comes from, I love how it connects to the artists that create it. Fine Italian ceramics are usually hand signed, a fitting recognition of all the time it takes to paint as well as form these pieces of art. Italian canisters, Italian utensil holders, or dinnerware pieces, these are all ceramics rich in history and tradition that make it easy to bring Italy to your home.Italian hand painting

What are your favorite fine Italian ceramics? Any recommendations for places in Italy I should visit this coming summer? Leave a comment and let me know.

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As we enjoyed the last days of 2012, I found myself thinking about the ways that people celebrate New Year’s Eve around the world. Special drinks and foods abound, as do traditions to bring good luck for the new year. From breaking plates (yikes, maybe not these plates) to wearing polka dots, here is a small sample of New Year traditions worldwide.

Mexico is not only home to Gorky Gonzalez’s pottery workshop, but a host of New Year traditions. People eat twelve grapes, one for every chime, at the stroke of midnight. Each grape is supposed to be a wish for the upcoming year. The same custom is found in Spain. Traditional food includes the Rosca de Reyes, Mexican sweet bread that has a coin or charm baked inside. Whoever finds the charm in their slice has good luck for the whole year.

Throughout Latin America, South America, Spain, and Italy, people turn to their underwear for good luck. Those looking for love wear red, while others looking for money wear yellow pairs. People in the Phillipines wear polka dots, a pattern that links to coins and prosperity. They also throw coins at midnight to increase wealth. Hoppin’ John, a dish from the American South, also invokes money for good luck. It consists of rice and pork-flavored black-eyed peas or field peas (which symbolize coins), served with collards or other greens (the color of money) and cornbread (the color of gold). A plate of home cooking that brings good luck – sounds delicious to me!

In Denmark people jump off of chairs at midnight to ensure they fall into good luck. They also smash old plates on their friends’ and neighbors’ doorsteps as a sign of good luck and friendship. Those with the biggest pile of broken plates in the morning are seen as the most lucky because they have so many loyal friends. Being surrounded by handmade ceramics and Gorky Gonzalez pottery here in the Palo Alto pop-up shop, I can’t imagine throwing these plates, no matter how lucky it might be.

For those wanting to get rid of things, in Italy people throw old televisions and other unwanted goods out of their windows. Folks in Ecuador burn portraits or something else that represents the old year as a way to get rid of the past.

No matter where you are, you probably have a tradition or two of your own — Maybe you served your wishing grapes on a cheerful rooster plate or another colorful piece of Gorky Gonzalez pottery, invested in some colorful underwear, or tried a new dish. No matter how you rang in the new year, here’s wishing you health and happiness for 2013.

Champagne image courtesy of maxxtraffic.

Rosca de reyes image courtesy of From Argentina With Love.

Broken plate image courtesy of Kristian Thøgersen.

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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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Love French ceramics from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries? Then you need to check out the exhibition that opened last Saturday, October 6, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled “Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection,” it features over 130 examples of faïance, soft-paste porcelain, and hard-paste porcelain used in French daily life.

I found out about this exhibition months ago and wrote about it when comparing French ceramics past and present. For example, the curves of French country pottery pitchers mirror those of antique ewers which traditionally held water for washing in the morning. Other French ceramics in the exhibition include tablewares, tea accouterments, toiletry items, and even pieces used in times of sickness. The sugar bowl and spoon featured on LACMA’s blog is charming, with soft pink accents and a curiously slotted spoon.

Covered Sugar Bowl, 1780, Lunéville, France; and Sugar Spoon, 1775, Lunéville Petit Feu Faïence Manufactory, Lunéville, France; gifts of MaryLou Boone, photos © Susan Einstein

“This exhibition reveals and celebrates both the artistry that exists in the service of the utilitarian and the ability of this discriminating collector to bring together remarkable examples of that artistry,” said Elizabeth Williams, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at LACMA, in a recent press release.

Wine Bottle Cooler (Seau à demi-bouteille). Chantilly Porcelain Manufactory, Chantilly, France, c. 1730-1735. Soft-paste porcelain with glaze and enamel, The MaryLou Boone Collection. photos © Susan Einstein

I couldn’t agree more, especially looking at examples of handmade French pottery today, from French platters to the elegant curves of a French ceramic serving bowl. I was amused to see a French ceramic wine bottle holder circa 1730-1735 as a featured piece on the LACMA website. The Asian influence is obvious, as is the practicality of having something to keep wine cool. Unlike the porcelain jars for pomade, a wine bottle holder is a practical ceramic piece people still use today.

Many of these pieces look like they came from Asia because they were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford. Today’s French ceramics embrace colors, shapes, and textures of a timeless (yet contemporary) French aesthetic. French country pottery is a pleasure not only to see, but also to use, though the delicate artistic touches on Sylvie Durez‘s birds or the edging of Poterie Ravel’s French platters invoke the early examples of this tradition the LACMA exhibition highlights.

“Daily Pleasures” runs until March 31, 2013, so if I make it down to L.A. before it’s over, I’ll definitely check it out. Have you seen this exhibition or know of others that focus on French ceramics in your area? Leave a comment below and let us know!

“Daily Pleasures” images courtesy of LACMA.

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Work schedules are very different in Europe and the United States, especially when it comes to vacation time. It’s very common for businesses to close for weeks in the summer or even the entire month of August. What does this have to do with Spanish ceramics? Well, let’s just say that due to vacation schedules, my order from Ceramica Valenciana (a famous maker of Spanish ceramics and one of the reasons I was inspired to start Emilia Ceramics in the first place) now looks like it will arrive in fall, not summer. (Who am I kidding… let’s just hope it’s here by Christmas!)

But even though I don’t have any pieces by Ceramica Valenciana in stock yet doesn’t mean I can’t give you a sneak peak at what to expect in a few months. The full name of Ceramica Valenciana is La Cerámica Valenciana de José Gimeno and it’s been in business since 1925. This family-run business makes a full range of Spanish ceramics. Most famous for tiles (known as Azulejos in Spain) and reproductions of traditional pieces from the 18th century, they also do many modern pieces, from lamps and canisters to dishes and bowls. What I love about their work is how it combines tradition, innovation, and a fun Spanish spirit.

The quality work at Ceramica Valenciana hasn’t gone unnoticed. They won the Manises “Qualitat i Disseny” award in 1994, 1997, and 2000; the Alfa Gold Award in 1980, 2000, and 2002; and the NOVA for craft (the highest award from the Generalitat Valenciana) in 2006. They also worked with architect D. Santiago Calatrava to construct two huge murals for the Palace of Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia. This dramatic performing arts space is truly stunning; check out their virtual tour and see if you can find the two murals inside.

But even with all these modern accolades, the artists at Ceramica Valenciana still stick to their traditional majolica methods. Pieces are all handmade and hand-painted, which gives every plate, bowl, jar, and vase a truly unique character. Archive footage from 1940 shows José Gimeno himself working on large pieces – check out this video (in Spanish) to see more for yourself. The film quality feels to me like a film noir, but covering Spanish ceramic production. (Fun fact: the factory in the film is the same building that Ceramica Valenciana still occupies today. I’ve been to visit 3 times and it is an old but absolutely stunning building housing endless amounts of ceramic masterpieces.)

http://video.google.es/videoplay?docid=3822281691113565574&hl=es

Even though technology has changed in so many ways, the methods to make these beautiful ceramics have remained the same for hundreds of years. Now that Ceramica Valenciana is almost back from vacation, I look forward to finalizing my order and being able to share their gorgeous Spanish ceramics with you in the near future. Here are a few of my favorite pieces to whet your appetite…

Images and video courtesy of La Cerámica Valenciana de José Gimeno.

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Think you know French ceramics? Many people picture porcelain when they think about French ceramics, such as the famous Sèvres porcelain. Louis XV became the owner of this producer in 1759 and it was a major maker of French porcelain throughout the eighteenth century (according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Most of these early porcelains were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford, though there was plenty of French innovation once the new processes got traction. Because of a lack of essential materials to make a clay body that was the same as the Asian pieces, all of the French ceramics made before 1770 were soft paste porcelain, not hard paste. (For those that are wondering, soft paste porcelain requires a higher fire temperature and is much harder to form than the more plastic and malleable hard paste porcelain, which contains minerals like kaolin and quartz.)

Technical talk aside, these old French ceramics are certainly beautiful to see. If you’re in the LA area, an upcoming exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art will feature examples of porcelain from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France that have a whole range of style and function. What’s particularly interesting about this collection is that it also features faience, which is simply another name for tin-oxide glazed pottery… also known as majolica.

Flash forward to today where faience/majolica is still going strong in French ceramics. Sturdy, rustic, yet also refined, this ceramic tradition continues to grow with modern sensibilities while staying true to its roots.

Just look at the curves of the pitchers by Richard Esteban and Poterie Ravel. Simple and elegant, their rich glazes are enticing for hands and eyes alike. Compare a faience ewer circa 1700 (like the photo above) to Richard’s barn red milk pitcher – they have the same clean lines and visual appeal with tall, stately spouts.

Poterie Ravel’s fancy pitcher, stunning in mustard yellow or creamy ivory, also reflects shapes and function from the past that fits in with today’s aesthetics for French ceramics.

Then there are French ceramics like those by Patrice Voelkel and Sylvie Durez. Patrice does so much with colors like white or blue, creating pieces that are deceptively simple. His large serving dish has a delicate rim that exposes the black local clay of Provence, while the white irregular glaze gives it real character. Sylvie goes a completely different direction, treating her bowls, serving platters, and pitchers as canvases for playful animals, dreamy women, or pastel landscapes with a surreal feel.

No matter your style, the variety of French ceramics being made today are sure to be just as sought after in hundreds of years as those that were made in the 1700s. So which French ceramics suit you best?

French faience ewer image courtesy of Sean Pathasema/Birmingham Museum of Art.

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