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Santa Fe Indian Market: Incredible Handmade Pottery and More

I ended up at Santa Fe’s incredible annual Indian Market just the other week purely by chance. But what a feast for the eyes! The entire plaza downtown was covered in booths with art ranging from ceramics to handweavings to paintings. Native American artists bring to the market truly incredible examples of their work, often from multiple generations.

New Mexico landscape

This was my first visit to New Mexico. It was much greener than I expected, thanks to recent rains. Santa Fe was full of cool spots, like the revitalized Santa Fe Railyard that now boasts cafes, restaurants, and weekly market events.

santa fe railyard

Walking towards the Plaza we passed a bunch of beautiful doorways, churches, and lots of hanging bunches of peppers. Apparently dried peppers are a New Mexico thing; they were everywhere. We got to the fringes of the market and suddenly there were rows and rows of artist’s booths. I have an unerring eye for locating silver jewelry that’s completely beyond my price range, but looking at the incredible, detailed earrings, I knew they were worth every penny.

santa fe church

The Indian Market covers 14 blocks, with more than 1,000 artists in over 600 booths. All that art plus all the people browsing made for quite a crowd. I saw ceramic artists with tables full of figurative pottery next to other artists who specialized in black glazed bowls and other decorative-looking vessels. Different pueblos have different clay available for their craft, the secrets of which have passed down from generations. I talked with a family who had an array of shiny, black glazed animal ceramics. The smallest pieces had been done by the 12-year-old daughter, larger pieces by the daughter in her 20’s, and then incredibly intricate, large figures made by their grandfather. It seemed that everything the mother had made was already sold. Lesson: if you got to the Santa Fe Indian Market, go on Saturday. And have cash or checks with you.

Unfortunately the batteries in my phone drained taking this video of a boy doing a traditional hoop dance, so I have no photos of the incredible array of handmade pottery that was there. He had incredible flair and verve; he also can’t be more than 5 years old.

[quicktime width=”360″ height=”640″]http://emiliaceramics.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/boyindianmarket2.mov[/quicktime]

Although the Indian Market is only once a year, handmade ceramics abound year round. I saw talavera ceramics quite frequently, including these ceramic tiles on the wall outside of a shop.

ceramic tiles in santa fe
It’s like the red sports car phenomenon: when you have one, you can’t help but see them anywhere. Though in my case I can’t help but see majolica-style ceramics. It’s probably no surprise that much of the majolica I saw looks quite similar to traditional Mexican ceramics. After all, these ceramic traditions stretch back before today’s borders.

Have you been to Santa Fe’s Indian Market? What caught your eye? Maybe I’ll see you there next year!

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Have You Seen These French Ceramics Yet?

French street
It’s hard for me to resist anything French. Wine, cheese, brandy, ceramics, art… the list goes on and on. Thankfully I can get my fix stateside for la vie française with events like Bar Agricole’s recent Brandyfest (Armagnac remains a favorite from my time living in Orthez), visiting with Francophone friends, and using lovely French ceramics. Have a similar love of all things French? Then check out these gems:

French country window

French ceramic watering jugs

French watering jugs

Richard Esteban brings function and flair to the mundane task of watering. These exposed terracotta watering jugs are accented with Richard’s signature butter yellow, adding style to the next time your houseplants get a drink. These French ceramics are so lovely they’d also be fantastic on display in a garden-themed room or filled with beautiful flowers. Two sizes make for versatility.

French ceramic cheese plates

French ceramic cheese platter

In college I had a poster with all 300 cheeses of France on my wall. It was a large poster. French cheese plates are the perfect compliment to your favorite Camembert, comté, or chèvre. Use small cheese plates for two or three cheeses, medium plates for three or four, and large plates for five or more cheeses with accompanying fruit, nuts, or honey. Pair with wine for a delicious beginning or end to a meal.

French cheeses

French ceramic pitchers

Poterie Ravel’s bright, bold colors set their signature French ceramics apart from the rest. Their canary yellow pitchers beg to sit on the kitchen table throughout gray, cold months (fall and winter for most, often June and July here in San Francisco), acting like a ray of permanent sunshine. If whimsy is more your style, Sylvie Duriez’s unique French ceramics are perfect. Her animals and flowers make Provence feel like it’s right there, instead of an ocean away. I particularly love this collection of three lily pad pitchers. They’re the perfect mix of chic, charm, and functionality.

French ceramics: Sylvie

What are your favorite French things? Check out the Emilia Ceramics collection of French ceramics for more ways to bring France and Provence to your home or our France board on Pinterest if you need a mini-French vacation tout de suite.

French cheese image courtesy x1klima via Compfight cc.

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Our Favorite Handmade Handpainted Majolica

From leaves and flowers to frogs and ornate curlicues, handmade handpainted majolica spans a range of styles. Partly the differences have to do with changing fashions and artistic movements. For example, English Victorian-era majolica is much more vegetal in shape than Italian Renaissance pieces, as these examples show:

Victorian majolica

Victorian majolica

I think having a snake as the spout of your teapot (bottom shelf in the middle) is a bit over the top, which is probably why I’ve never really gotten into collecting this style of majolica. Many pieces in this style were also mass-produced instead of handmade and handpainted; I definitely prefer ceramics where you can tell they’ve been made by human hands. That said, these majolica serving platters are pretty impressive. Each plate depicts the food it’s designed to serve, though with the lead used in glazes in this period, I wouldn’t eat off of them.

majolica serving platters

Of course, three-dimensional ceramics are live and well today. Just look at these French serving platters, each with a different relief around the border.

French serving platterfrench serving platterHowever, contemporary majolica artists often leave their pieces smooth to really show off the intricacies of designs painted in glaze, like these Mexican serving platters.

Mexican serving platter

 

Display is a crucial aspect of any majolica collection. This kitchen uses a mixture of vintage-looking majolica plates and platters for a great focal point over the stove that doesn’t conflict with the ceiling pattern.

majolica plate displayWhat are your favorite examples of handmade handpainted majolica serving plates and platters?

English tea service images courtesy Martha Stewart Living, March 2005, via Martha Moments.

Green kitchen image courtesy Mendelson Group via Laura Casey Interiors.

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Can History Explain the Popularity of Italian Ceramics?

Deruta patterns

Italian ceramics are incredibly complex and time-intensive, especially the task of hand-painting, which is a precise skill that allows for no errors. So how has majolica been a ceramic favorite for over 500 years? Maybe looking at history will explain it all.

Italian ceramics waiting to be glazed

Before Italian Ceramics

The majolica process originated in Mesopotamia during the 9th century, though the white tin-glaze process wasn’t yet known by this name. Both practical and beautiful, the process traveled along major trade routes in these early centuries. The Moors brought majolica techniques with them to Spain and from there they made their way to Italy, usually by way of the port in Majorca (thus gaining their name).

Italian Ceramic Artists

Italian ceramic artist

In Italy, the conditions turned out to be perfect for the craft and Italian majolica pottery quickly took off. Faenza, Deruta, and Montelupo-Fiorentino all become production centers due to their location, natural resources, and talented artists. Italian ceramics proved extremely functional as both storage vessels and tableware — In fact, ceramic tableware actually changed Renaissance eating habits as people shifted from eating off common platters to using individual ceramic dishes! Among aristocrats, Italian style dinnerware becomes a sturdier alternative to porcelain and other more fragile ceramics.

oval limoni platter

Beyond Italy: Majolica Around the World

Of course, majolica didn’t just get made in Italy during the Renaissance. Important Spanish and Portuguese ceramic centers were also in high demand. In the 19th century the technique became the basis of Wedgwood and other companies which manufactured in the United States and Britain. Meanwhile, Central American ceramics also adopted and adapted the technique, fusing it with traditional designs that are still in use today.

Technique and Talent

The five step majolica process hasn’t changed much, which is perhaps why it remains so popular. Artists have passed the traditions and techniques down through the generations: just look at historic examples of Italian ceramics next to contemporary creations. Ornate Deruta patterns make for hand painted dinner plates that truly stand out. Tuscan cheer endues pitchers and serving platters. Looking at the end results, I feel like Italian ceramic artists will be making beautiful ceramics for generations to come, no matter how arduous the process seems to an outside observer.

Italian ceramicItalian ceramic canister

Historic majolica image from Maiolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi.

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Black and White Love: Ginger Jars

black and white ginger jars

My love of black and white is getting a little out of control. Thankfully, this classic combination is a perpetual favorite for both fashion and the home, so I have plenty of ways to indulge. Black and white ginger jars, pillows, vases, throws, trays, shirts, shoes, dresses… the list just goes on. In this first post celebrating black and white together, I’ll take a closer look at an Emilia Ceramics favorite: the black and white chevron ginger jar.

black white chevron ginger jar

Talavera Vazquez’s Mexican ceramics remain some of the most popular in the collection, their bold colors and patterns perfectly fusing modern and traditional aesthetics. Their ginger jars capture this sensibility nicely: traditional shape and ceramic method, glazed with designs that have a contemporary edge. Though the black and white chevron ginger jar is ubiquitous in design blogs and interior designers’ showrooms, the other black and white ginger jars are equally striking.

Talavera Vazquez Ginger Jars

Small ginger jars add a black and white note to desks, bathrooms, and nooks. Larger ginger jars flank staircases, fireplaces, or sit in solitary splendor on shelves and end tables. And for those who want more versatility than the vase/storage/decoration combination a traditional ginger jar brings, there are always ginger jar lamps to shine light on the matter. Orange, yellow, and blue and white ginger jars as well as multicolored pattern extravaganzas make for ginger jars continuing to appear in decorating schemes of every style.

black and white ginger jars

Which of these black and white ginger jars is your favorite? What kind of black and white accents will you add to your own collection in the coming months? Look for more black and white inspiration to come in future posts.

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Have You Heard of Capelo Pottery?

capeloWhile I’m sure there are a few Mexican pottery aficionados out there who have heard of him (in fact, I’ve met a few of you), most people reading this are probably thinking “Capelo who?!” Here at Emilia Ceramics, we like to describe Capelo as the Prince or Madonna of pottery, since he goes by just one name and has a style all his own. Capelo’s not the easiest artist to work with — He’s a true artist who is much more concerned with the function, form, and quality of his work than he is with the selling of it. (For more background, checkout the post I wrote while visiting Capelo last: Mas de Mexico!)

While the process of working with Capelo may not be seamless, I would never give it up. That’s because I am personally a HUGE fan of Capelo’s work. His vases, bowls, and plates have a touchable softness that is completely unique. He uses rustic-colored glazes that I love displaying with Richard’s French country tableware (in fact, Capelo Pottery is a bit like a “French Country” Mexican artist, if such a think exists!). What I love most is the smooth, water-like effect of Capelo’s glazes, which make each piece beg to be used and loved. I have a tray by Capelo next to my bed that brings a smile to my face every day and I am seriously considering bringing some of these little plates home to use for toast in the morning.

little_plate_9little_plate_5 little_plate_7

Also on my list of current Capelo favorites are these two footed bowls: La Tropical and La Primavera. They make perfect centerpieces, whether filled with citrus fruits or left bare to show off Capelo’s hand-applied brushstrokes. They would also be great serving bowls on a summer buffet filled with a fresh fruit or green salad!

footed_bowl_blue
footed_bowl_yellow

You cannot go wrong with a piece by Capelo. For one thing, nobody will ever have a vase, mug, or plate just like yours. That’s because he never makes two things exactly alike. Each one is imbued with Capelo’s charismatic, rustic, and super creative personality. Each one has been hand-crafted with the hope that it be loved and enjoyed and passed down from generation to generation. And I think that is truly how Capelo wants to be known — As an artist that loves his craft and his country and wants to share the best of each with others.

capelo_store

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Your Favorite Ginger Jars From Around the World

ginger jars

Ginger jars are a global favorite. Stylish and stunning, they remain a perpetual favorite with Emilia Ceramics customers around the world. Here are some of your (and our!) favorite ginger jars.

ginger jars

Mexican Ginger Jars

black and white ginger jar - extra large

These tibores combine classic Mexican style with a contemporary twist. People love black and white ginger jars from Talavera Vazquez, whether they feature chevron designs, stripes, or the intricate floral pattern of the Hidalgo tibor. Blue and white ginger jars are another popular category; I particularly love the small chevron tibor from this part of the collection.

blue_white_chevron_zigzag_urn_ginger_jar_tibor

Gorky Gonzalez ginger jars have a different vibe, with a rounder shape and delicate handle detailing. The layered motif of this ginger jar has a distinctly tropical feel, perfect for casual decor.

Italian Ginger Jars

What is the line between canister and ginger jar? I think it has to do with the curve of the vessel’s sides; a canister tends to be straight on the sides, a ginger jar curved. But there are always exceptions to prove the rule. Take this gorgeous vasetto di zenzero from Ceramiche Bartoloni. Used as a vase, shelf decoration, or to hold your stash of ginger, it’s a stunning example of ceramic fusion gone right.

canister_ginger_jar_italian_ceramics_bartoloni

Spanish Ginger Jars

A recent addition to the collection, this búcaro by Ceramica Valenciana is deceptively simple. People can’t seem get enough of its pure white glaze or graceful lines, let alone its three curving handles. It’s one of my new personal favorites too.

blue_white_stripe_urn_ginger_jar_talavera

Where do your favorite ginger jars come from?

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Surprising Salt & Pepper Sets, from Vintage to DIY

Beloved by collectors and food-eaters alike, salt & pepper sets come in a stunning variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. So I thought we’d take a look at some of the more notable salt & pepper ideas from the past and present.

 vintage salt & pepper sets

Vintage sets range from the mundane to the truly whimsical; I particularly love the smiling ears of corn in this collection.

 salt & pepper sets

Vintage shakers from the late 1800s go in a completely different direction. These ornate silver salt & pepper sets and massive salt cellars give just a taste of high-class dining during the fin de siècle. They would look right at home in Downton Abbey, don’t you think?

silver salt pepper shakers silver salt shaker

But salt pepper shakers can do much more than just hold familiar spices. Offbeat Bride recommends using ceramic salt and pepper shakers as wedding cake toppers. Great idea since you can then actually use them as a daily reminder of your wedding.

flamingo salt & pepper shakerssalt & pepper set

 

Another way to repurpose glass salt & pepper sets? Turn them into bud vases; these would look lovely along a windowsill or as table decorations.

salt & pepper shaker bud vase

Glass shakers also can be turned into mini-terrariums for the small-scale gardener.

glass salt & pepper shaker terrariums

Do you have a particularly impressive salt pepper shaker collection? Is there a particular theme, like with these blue & white salt & pepper shakers?

 blue & white salt & pepper shakers

Let us know your favorite kinds and check out our Pinterest board for more of our favorite salt & pepper sets, both modern and vintage.

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Which Blue and White Vase Celebrates Spring the Best?

I always like to have some fresh flowers in the Emilia Ceramics Showroom, especially now that spring is here. And it often turns out that I use one of many blue and white vases to display these bouquets. The only question is, which vase to use when? Add in tall blue and white ginger jars, the options only grow. Here’s a roundup of flowers and vases to best celebrate spring. Which are your favorites?

Smaller blooms with sturdy stalks do best in short round vases. Think muscari (grape hyacinths) and anemones; they will lean gracefully to balance the vase shape. Blue and white vases are a good choice here to compliment the bold hues of these vivid flowers.

blue and white round vase

For long-stem flowers such as tulips and daffodils, tall column vases are ideal. The shape echoes how these plants naturally grow, supporting the bursts of red, yellow, and orange. Tall vases are also a good pick for mixed bouquets, particularly when in a complimentary color to the flowers themselves.

Spring also means that bulbs are finally blooming. Medium curved vases set off paperwhites and the long-lasting ranunculus beautifully. Another pleasure of the season are bulb vases where you can grow the flowers in a sunny window. Just make sure these vases have adequate drainage for best results.

paperwhites

ranunculus

Finally, large blooms require large statement vases. Tall blue and white ginger jars pair with freesia and forsythia, enhancing the yellow flowers. Large format vases also do well with other branches, such as pussy willow, and dried arrangements.

blue and white vaseblue and white pitcher

For a more casual flower arrangement, pitchers are an excellent choice. Place a blue and white pitcher on your table for spring holidays or tuck it into an unexpected nook for a seasonal splash of color.

Muscari image courtesy Jean-Jacques Boujot.

Paperwhite image courtesy billums.

Ranunculus image courtesy hurley.k.e.

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Deruta Plates: Italian Dinnerware at Its Finest

Deruta has been famous for centuries and after a quick look at its ceramics (both old and new), it’s easy to see why. One of Italy’s largest ceramic production areas, there are more than 300 ceramic workshops in Deruta today. Just as with other historical ceramic centers in Italy, modern Deruta is home to a mix of traditional artists still crafting everything by hand and those now mass producing their work. What’s wonderful about Deruta in particular is that it’s still possible to visit the artists who are following the old ways, in their studios. I’ve visited many artists there over the years while looking for the perfect fit for the Emilia Ceramics collection. Finding the Gialletti family-run studio took a long time, but was definitely worth the effort.

DerutaDeruta jewelry boxes

Ceramics have been made in Deruta since the 14th century. Classic patterns such as Raffaellesco, Arabesco, and Gallo Verde harken back to its Renaissance peak, with each piece of Italian dinnerware painted by hand. Artists train under masters for years, perfecting their technique since majolica is a completely unforgiving medium. You can’t erase the glaze if you paint outside of the pattern. With all those intricate details, I always hold my breath when watching the artists at work. I’m afraid if I make a noise I’ll ruin everything!

Deruta Italian dinnerware
Italian dinnerware

This video by Geribi underlines the epic nature of Deruta as well as shows examples of its long history. Some of the fragments look much like pieces made by Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, which is quite amazing.

Want more Deruta? Check out the area’s history and incredible Italian dinnerware to see for yourself why so many people are just a little obsessed. Pinterest is also full of beautiful Deruta, though it’s a mix of authentic, handpainted pieces and imitation designs that have been mass-produced. With all these beautiful pieces of Italian dinnerware, I’m sure that Deruta will remain loved for centuries to come.

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What Makes Deruta Patterns Unique Among Italian Ceramics?

Deruta is one of Italy’s historic ceramic centers, known for intricate designs and truly amazing Italian ceramics. Vietri dinnerware is famous for its animals, Tuscan majolica for its nature motifs of flowers and fruits. Deruta patterns are intricate and detailed, often combining organic and abstract motifs. The results are similar to the patterns in a kaleidoscope: ever-changing and always beautifully striking.

Italian Deruta

 

Deruta is especially famous for hand painted dinner plates. Patterns go back to the Renaissance when the area manufactured ceramics for popular demand (Faenza catered to the aristocrats and Montelupo Fiorentino to trade outside of Italy). The geometric motifs continue with today’s Italian ceramic artists, many of whom use the same colors and techniques as their predecessors.

Looking at the plates from Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, I see a rough divide in motifs: organic flourishes and stylized geometry. The organic-inspired plates are what many imagine when they think about Deruta patterns: arabesques, plenty of colors, and whimsical figures (like the dragons on these hand painted dinner plates in the traditional Raffaellesco pattern).

Raffaellesco Deruta plate

These Italian ceramics are full of personality and whimsy. Every time I look at the Raffaellesco and Fogliame (inspired by waving leaves) I find something new. The Fogliame design makes me think of waves and breezes, not just curled leaves.

fogliame Deruta plate

The Deruta patterns with stylized geometry have an almost Art Deco feel. Though inspired by natural phenomenon as their names suggest (Nevicata is “snowfall,” Alba is “sunrise,” and “Il Sole” is “the sun”), the patterns feature more angles and repetition.

Deruta patternDeruta pattern

The contrast with deep jewel tones and bright gold also makes these geometric plates stand out. Although rooted in centuries of tradition, this Italian style dinnerware feels quite modern.

Deruta patterns definitely stand out from other Italian ceramics. They also mix well with less intricate motifs, like these boldly striped plates. Much as people did in past centuries, layering Deruta plates is a wonderful opportunity to mix patterns and colors to create a table fit for your most special occasions. And since Italian majolica is quite sturdy, you can use these gorgeous Italian ceramics for every meal, adding elegance to your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s no surprise that people can’t get enough of their favorite patterns for plates, serving ware, and table accessories.

Deruta Italian plate

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Blue and White Gift Ideas

blue and white living room
This gorgeous New York apartment recently featured in House Crush got me thinking about the decorating power of blue and white. Rebecca de Ravenel’s home demonstrates how wonderfully you can add texture and depth to any space with this dynamic duo, mixing patterns and styles to create a unique living space that’s chic and stunning.

Searching for some gift inspiration this holiday season? Here are some winning ideas for anyone who loves blue and white décor (hint: although the colors of the recently ended Hanukkah, this combination fits any celebration. Trust me.):

blue and white plateBlue and white kitchen accessoriesblue and white lamp are perfect for the stylish cook on your list. Think utensil holders, spoon rests, or mixing bowls. Pair these blue and white dishes with wooden spoons or other useful gadget.

For the modern statement maker, a blue and white lamp is sure to update an office or living room. Or try a ginger jar with a graphic blue and white design. But blue and white also has a softer side. Think blue and white throws, pillows, and other home accessories made of fabric.

Who can resist their favorite beverage? Give a blue and white mug to the coffee or tea aficionado, or a blue and white wine bottle holder to the oenophile in your life. A blue and white pitcher is also versatile, serving beverages or acting as a rustic vase for wildflowers.

 

 

blue and white cup and saucer
Blue and white dishes are another crowd pleaser. A few blue and white bowls for your favorite ice-cream loving college student, a stunning blue and white platter for your aunt who likes to entertain, or blue and white plates for a favorite couple are just the beginning. The timeless quality of blue and white dishes make them ideal for traditional or contemporary tastes no matter the recipient’s age.

blue and white platter

When it doubt, say it with flowers. A blue and white vase full of delicate winter blooms makes for a beautiful host present or the perfect way to gift that hard-to-shop-for person on your list. They’ll have beautiful flowers for the holidays and a vase to use for the rest of the year. Our two favorites: The sophisticated Italian Blue Leaf Vase and the more playful, Mexican Large Paloma Vase. Both look great with or without flowers and make a striking, memorable holiday gift.

Have any other blue and white gift ideas? Share your favorites with us and check out our blue and white Pinterest board for even more inspiration.

Blue and white living room image courtesy Vogue.

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The Perfect Mexican Ceramics to Celebrate the Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) was last week, so it’s no surprise that I have had Mexico and Mexican ceramics made by my favorite Mexican artists—Talavera Vazquez, Gorky Gonzalez, and Capelo—on my mind.

day of the dead skullsThe Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2, right after Halloween. The purpose of Día de los Muertos is to remember and celebrate one’s ancestors and friends who have died. The celebration has ancient roots in Aztec, Purepechas, and Totonacs traditions as well as links to the Catholic All Souls Day. Its two days of celebration are full of feasting, traditional foods, and lots of skulls. You’ve probably seen the joyful skeletons, especially the iconic couple of Catrina and Catrin. These dandy skeletons have a long tradition in their own right and are found in all kinds of art from sculptures and dolls to Mexican ceramics.

Mexican ceramicsOne of my favorite expressions of the Catrin figure is on this tile hot plate by Gorky Gonzalez. This smoking skeletons might be associated with the Day of the Dead, but he will bring Mexican charm to your kitchen all year round.

hot_plate_smoking_skeletonThe sugar skulls, cookies, and chocolates made for Day of the Dead celebrations are more than just eye-catching. By eating these sweets, people take a symbolic “bite of death” to rid themselves of the fear of death. Intricate altars are another important part of the holiday, decked in yellow and orange marigolds or chrysanthemums, food, sweets, photos, and religious amulets. Traditionally people also journey to their relatives’ graves on November 1 to decorate them with flowers and candles, then picnic there in celebration of the dead.

Day of the Dead skullsAll parts of this Mexican holiday blend the dead with the living. Maybe next year I’ll host my own Day of the Dead celebration… Invite people over to feast on my favorite Mexican dishes and share our memories of loved ones who are no longer alive. A playful Mexican ceramic skeleton bowl or trivet adds the perfect Day of the Dead touch. I especially love the effect of mixing these special Mexican ceramics with more oridinary dip bowls, serving platters, and pitchers of drinks. Felicidades!

skeleton bowlCandy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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Fall French Meals for French Platters

The cooling days of fall mean it’s time to start eating hearty, warm foods. For me, nothing beats country French cooking when it comes to delicious and warming dishes. While many traditional dishes might seem complex at first glance, many of them actually just require time to simmer or stew. Then, volià, complex flavors for dinner with actually little effort on your part.

French cheese platterHere are four of my favorite French dishes for fall, made even better of course when served on French platters!

Crêpes

Is there anything more typically French than a delicious crêpe? Fill them with cheese, spinach, ham, sauce Mornay (béchamel), sautéed vegetables… the combinations are endless. Julia Child’s recipe for crêpes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking remains a classic. Serve folded crêpes on a large French platter either filled or empty with accompanying sides. Need some help making the perfect crêpe? Check out Julia in the two videos below for mastering the batter, flip, and presentation.

Crêpes with jam and whipped cream also make for a quick and delicious dessert.

Cassoulet

French cassoulet

Hearty and filling, cassoulet is a traditional dish of Provence. Beans, sausages, duck or goose confit, and bread crumbs are the base components. Add lots of time to simmer and soon your kitchen is filled with the most amazing fragrance. There are tons of recipes out there, but don’t be frustrated if you don’t have confit laying around your kitchen. You can still create a delicious dish, like these examples from Saveur and the New York Times. Use a covered casserole dish instead of a French platter so your dinner can come directly from oven to table.French casserole dishes

French Onion Soup

Another classic, the trick is to thoroughly brown the onions for the richest flavor possible. Serve your French onion soup in either individual ramekins or a larger casserole dish covered in melted gruyere or comté. A hand-crafted white bowl filled with even more French bread is the perfect pairing for sopping up all that broth.

Pear Clafouti

A delicious dessert with an usual name, clafouti is an easy-to-make dessert that packs a visual punch and tastes just as good. Pears with ginger and dried cranberries are perfect for a fall clafouti instead of the traditional cherries. Try this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa and serve either in a pie plate or pre-cut on a gorgeous French platter.

French platter

What dishes do you serve in fall? Are you a fan of rustic white platters or French platters in rich colors? Have any favorite sources for French recipes? Let us know with a comment below!

yellow French platterCassoulet image courtesy of stu_spivack.

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The Nostalgia of Blue and White

Remember when you were a kid visiting relatives and how wonderfully different their homes were from yours? Or when guests would come over and suddenly there would be an entirely different set of dishes to serve dinner? My favorite was my grandmother’s etched glassware, which I actually now have and use whenever I have guests over. It always transports me back to her house and the iced tea she made in the sun each day.

blue and white tea partySimilarly, there’s something wonderfully nostalgic about running into plates and bowls that remind you of your childhood. Whether it’s the fact that your parents still have and use the same dishes or coming across a blue and white bowl at a friend’s house, restaurant, or antique shop, the memories can be incredibly vivid. My parents had (and still use) small, delicately painted blue and white bowls — blue and white bowlthey served me soup when I was sick and  held ice cream when I was healthy. I think this is one of the reasons I was immediately drawn to Richard Esteban’s French coffee bowls. They have a similar feel and shape to the bowls of my childhood.

I think this is why people love blue and white ceramics so much. Blue and white is a classic color combination for fine porcelain, but those delicate plates, bowls, and cups aren’t really suited for the contingencies of everyday life. Sturdier ceramics that evoke the same associations are an ideal compromise. Although not every ceramic piece brings up a memory, the link between objects and experiences is definitely a strong one. I came across this intriguing blog post discussing the link between objects and memories if you’re interested in reading more about the phenomenon.

mug_sideIf you think about it, people do the same thing by collecting souvenirs when they travel. The word comes from the French “to remember” since having a thing makes the memory easier to access. Whenever I want to be reminded of my travels, I reach for an Italian mug or a French coffee bowl: suddenly I’m back in European rolling hills enjoying a drink at a little local café.

Of course, the easiest way to keep a link with the dishware from your past is to use it. This is why so many people pass down their porcelain table settings and fine serving pieces as well as other important objects. Having the creamer that sat on your great-aunt’s dining table or the crystal glasses used by your grandparents is a wonderful way to keep the people from your past as part of your present.
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What objects make you remember your childhood? Are there certain blue and white bowls, plates, cups, or other ceramics that connect you to your past? Souvenirs you try and use frequently? Leave a comment and let us know!

Tea party image courtesy of kevin dooley.

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Mexican and Italian Roosters: Different Takes on an Old Tradition

For most of us, roosters conjure up ideas of an idyllic American farm in the country, with a red barn and welcoming atmosphere. But these proud birds carry a rich significance around the world, and one that goes beyond their status as an international alarm clock. Roosters are popular in legends, often symbolizing heroism and courage (such as the French coq gaulois, a symbol of France since Roman times). Unsurprisingly, then, roosters have made their way onto objects ranging from flags to plates to wine bottles, though what they stand for changes vastly with geography.rooster dip bowl

Take Gorky Gonzalez pottery, for example. This Mexican artist has almost single-handedly revitalized Mexico’s majolica tradition rooster platterincorporating Japanese, Spanish, Italian, and Indigenous-Mexican techniques with his studies of traditional Mexican pottery. The rooster, in many ways, reflects Gorky’s pride in his country and his craft. For example, strutting roosters often are featured on the silvered or golden botonadura (the buttons and chains that decorate a dress suit) worn by Mexican charros (horsemen) and mariachis, most likely invoking the tradition that roosters bring good luck. In fact, one of the traditions about white roosters in Mexico is that they bring good luck, so you should never kill them, though a rooster crowing at night is a sign of bad luck coming.

The roosters on Gorky Gonzalez pottery may be silent, but they still make an impact. His rooster plates feature proud birds, whether brilliantly multicolored or monochromatic, caught mid-strut or proudly crowing. On my last visit to Gorky’s workshop, I noticed a proliferation of these birds and was happy to add many of his one of a kind plates, bowls, and even ornaments to the Emilia Ceramics collection.

blue and white rooster tray

Roosters also bring good luck in Italy. A common manifestation of this Italian tradition is a rooster pitcher, often given as a housewarming present to protect against trespassers and danger. The legend goes that an assassination attempt on Guiliano Medici in the 15th rooster salad bowlcentury was foiled when roosters announced the attack. Medici had hundreds of rooster pitchers created by local potters to celebrate. Though the rooster is often found on pitchers, other Italian ceramics such as serving platters, bowls, plates, and mugs are also popular. Bartoloni’s roosters are vivid and lifelike, with rainbow colored tail feathers, and are always painted mid-crow. As I prepare to visit these Italian artists later this month, I will be on the lookout for more of their black rooster plates, another Chianti legend and symbol of the region.

From rooster plates to pitchers, mugs to bowls, these birds are certainly a great addition to traditional ceramics the world over. Do you know of any other traditions associated with roosters from around the world?

italian rooster pitcher

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Set a Rustic Tuscan Table with Ceramic Pitchers and Other Essentials

The charm of a rustic Italian table is unparalleled. Pitchers filled with wines and water are scattered to ensure everyone has plenty to drink. Platters piled with homemade delicacies are passed, then passed again. Exposed wood, ironwork, and handmade Italian ceramics all work together to enhance the flavors and experience.

Want to translate the homey, inviting feel of a Tuscan table to your home? Italian country décor invokes the same materials as Tuscany: large hand painted plates, ceramic salad bowls, Tuscan vases, wrought iron, glass bottles, and natural colors. Now you’re ready to invite over friends and family to feast the night away.

One of the easiest ways to get a Tuscan feel to your table is using ceramic pitchers. The thick clay keeps drinks cool in the summer and makes it easy to pour just one more glass of wine. Detailed patterns also make it easy to distinguish white wine from red wine, or adult beverages from those that are kid-friendly. A ceramic pitcher filled with wildflowers also makes for a great centerpiece, lending casual elegance to your table.

Sturdy serving pieces are also an essential for Italian country dining. A ceramic salad bowl large enough to toss greens for your entire group could also be used for a fragrant pasta dish. Platters stacked with cuts of meat or appetizing vegetables beg to be passed until diners can eat no more. Little bowls filled with sauces compliment everyone’s hand painted plates, large enough to comfortably fit a little bit of everything while adding a festive note to the table.

To feel truly like you’re in Tuscany, look for a wide-planked wooden table built to withstand the feasting of generations. If you’re satisfied with your current eating surface, a handmade tablecloth will transform it for your Italian feast; look for shades of orange and gold to compliment darker dishware. Add a Tuscan vase on the sideboard, some candles in rustic holders, and you’ll have the feel of Italy without getting on a plane. Buon appetito!

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Why are Ginger Jars so Popular as Decor?

Ginger jars may seem like the latest decorating trend, but these ceramics are truly steeped in history. Ginger jars originally were a way to ship and store spices, herbs, oil, and, yes, ginger, in China. While their exact origins are shrouded in mystery, the vessel became popular during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC–207 BC), Imperial China’s first ruling dynasty. Ginger jars became widely popular in the West in the 19th century, though their purpose changed from a functional shipping vessel to a decorative one for fine homes.

Somewhere along the way, ginger jars also became popular in Mexican ceramics. The gentle curves and playful designs differentiate these tibores (their Mexican name) from their Asian counterparts. Today few people use ginger jars to store dry goods or spices, turning these ceramics into decorative elements throughout the home instead. Dina at Honey + Fitz loves their statement piece appeal, particularly with bold chevrons. Natasha at My Luscious Life recently recommended ginger jars as a way to add timeless elegance to a room; with the wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors available they remain a popular choice for decoration.

However, ginger jars can be more than just decorative. Just take ginger jar lamps as one example. I’ll admit it, I’m currently a little obsessed with the decorative possibilities of ceramic ginger jar lamps, given our new arrivals. But I’m definitely not alone! Small accent lamps or large ginger jar lamps are ideal for bedrooms, offices, and living rooms alike.

Ginger jars also function well as vases, anchoring large bouquets beautifully. Bridelicious recommends using ginger jars as blue and white wedding décor, which I think is a great way to incorporate some stylish history on the big day. Ginger jars also work well to store potentially unsightly items out in plain sight. For example, a friend has a large ginger jar in her entryway that keeps a collection of plastic bags handy for when she walks her dog. I’ve also seen ginger jars lining kitchen counters holding flours, sugar, and other dry goods with style, just as they have for hundreds of years. Some design never gets old I suppose.

No matter where you use your ginger jars, you are sure to enjoy the results. What’s your take on these historic ceramics? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Add Instant Sophistication with Italian Blue and White Ceramics

blue and white pitcherBlue and white is a popular color combination, though not all blue and white ceramics have the same feel. I think the flexibility of blue and white explains the combo’s success since it can adapt so easily to any decorating style. For example, blue and white ceramics from Mexico have a quite contemporary feel while Italian blue and white ceramics feel more subtle and refined. Feeling overwhelmed with all the blue and white options out there? Trying to find the perfect blue and white vase or serving tray? Here are some easy ways to pick the pieces that are right for you.shades of blue

First, think about the blue shades that you gravitate towards. Rich cobalt or a lighter slate? Turquoise or teal? Navy blue or sky blue? Peacock blue or periwinkle? If you already have a blue in your decorating scheme, look for something like a blue and white vase in a complimenting shade. Blue is wonderful in that not everything needs to exactly match, but try to group hues together that have similar tonal qualities for the best look. Wikipedia has at least 61 pages devoted to different shades of blue – you’re sure to find at least one that you like!

Italian blue and white lamp

Next think about the blue and white balance. More white or cream, like with most Italian blue and white ceramics, tends to read as more refined and sophisticated. Do you want blue and white mugs that are mostly blue with a touch of white or the reverse? Mixing dominant colors with your blue and white ceramics and home accessories is a good way to keep things textured and balanced. Think white plates on blue chargers with a blue and white pitcher holding water or wine at dinner. Or a blue and white lamp as an accent light in the bedroom or den.

Blue Striped Vase by Talavera Vazquez

Of course, patterning is another factor when adding blue and white home décor. Do you tend to mix prints and patterns or stick with a single motif? Prefer mostly solid colors with some subtle accenting textures? I recommend additions like a blue and white serving platter – the color combination makes food really pop, no matter how ornamented or plain the platter is itself. The same goes for blue and white mugs, plates, and bowls. I tend to mix patterned pieces with solid colors, but there are endless interesting ways to combine dinnerware that will reflect your own unique, individual style.

Italian blue and white mug

Do you prefer blue and white ceramics from Italy, Mexico, France or somewhere else? How do you use these pieces to create sophistication in your home? Check out our blue and white decorating ideas on Pinterest, then leave a comment below and let us know.

Shades of blue image courtesy of Booyabazooka.

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Our Favorite Italian Ceramics, Patterns, and Pieces

Italian ceramics
I’m planning to go to Italy in the spring to look for new artists to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. There are so many traditional patterns used to decorate Italian ceramics, from intricate Deruta patterns to the whimsical animals of Vietri dinnerware. Many of these motifs are nature-inspired, with fruits, flowers, and animals common for Italian majolica pottery.

Italian platters

Lemons, for example, are a widely used pattern. The bright yellow can be paired with deep cobalt blue backgrounds or creamy white, giving a very different look to the piece. Cheerful serving pieces are typical, like the blu limoni serving tray by the brothers at Ceramiche Bartoloni.

A totally different look, this oval serving platter is subtle, refined, and has a refreshing color pallet.

oval_due_limoni

Cherries are another of my favorite fruit motifs. Mixed with greenery, they enliven plates, mugs, and pitchers of various sizes. The deep red of the glaze is quite striking and gives an almost modern sensibility to this unusual pattern.

Of course, there’s no reason to stop at just one fruit. Mixed fruit patterns are another of my favorites for Italian ceramics. They add elegance to planters and platters alike with colorful peaches, pears, apples, quince, and grapes. I love using this mixed fruit platter as a centerpiece on a long table – it looks fabulous full of food or empty.

Tuscan Fruit Long Platter

new_rooster_bowl_2Roosters are another common motif I’m sure to find on my Italian travels. Invoking the countryside, Italian ceramic artists can’t seem to get enough of these feathered friends. Tuscia d’Arte’s playful blue rooster is almost comical, while Ceramiche Bartoloni’s roosters are more intricate and lifelike. The beautifully painted rooster salad bowl and rooster pitcher will add color and possibly some good luck to your kitchen.

There’s also istoriato ware, a style of Italian majolica that tells a story. Historically these were hand painted dinner plates that featured intricate central imagery of people (though not always) surrounded by a rich border. The style is still popular today, often for wall plates. Tuscia d’Arte’s harlequin plates are a variation on this tradition, as are the figures on Bartoloni’s ceramic canisters and jars.

What are your favorite Italian ceramics and Italian patterns? Have any suggestions for where I should visit when I’m in Italy looking for new ceramic artists? Love Deruta patterns or another Tuscan style dinnerware? Leave a comment and let us know!

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How Do You Ring in New Year’s? Some Traditions from Around the World

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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Find Your Plate Style with the Right Ceramic Dishes

When it comes to plates for dinner, what do you reach for? Large, plain ceramic dishes? Small, intricate decorative plates? Colorful pottery dishes? While white is a universal standard for plates, there are so many other options out there that it can seem overwhelming to think outside the “white plate box.” Looking to update your existing plates or invest in a whole new set of ceramic dishes? Here are three decorative styles for plates, inspired by the homelife buying guide for dinnerware. Which suits your home best?

Your Style: Supreme Simplicity

Elegant lines and simple shapes are the hallmarks of your ceramic dishes. Your idea of a perfect table setting has matching plates that don’t detract attention from your delicious meal. Smoothly glazed serving dishes, like a French chalk white serving plate or ivory footed serving platter, are good choices that blend into your existing tableware. Another approach is to highlight your more subdued dishes with boldly patterned Italian decorative plates for mains and sides. The detailed designs of these serving plates add just the right note of sophistication to your table.

Your Look: Rustic French Country

You want plates for dinner that would feel right at home in Provence, mixing personality with functionality. The butter yellow plates with colored polka dots by Richard Esteban are a great example of this plate style in action.

From dinner plates that say “Vive le bon vin” to dessert plates decorated with stripes or songbirds, these plates find their compliment with polka dot mugs, bowls and rustic casserole dishes.

All you need now is some wine, cheese, and fresh baguette.

Your Preference: Lively Color

You get bored with monochromatic pottery dishes, instead mixing and matching colors, shapes, and textures. Embrace your colorful leanings by having plates in all different colors or sticking to a palette of three complimenting favorites.

Patterned edges on salad plates are ideal for layering over the solid colored dinner plates by Gorky Gonzalez, creating a vibrant table before you’ve even brought out the food. Looking for another way to play with color? Incorporate plates with roosters, fish, or other whimsical designs. They’re a fun way to begin or end any meal.

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Add Style and Luck with Roosters in the Kitchen

Chickens and roosters in the kitchen are a classic theme. The trend is partially because a rooster in the kitchen is thought to bring good luck; and chicken decorations provide the perfect company. Whether your style is rustic farmhouse chic or streamlined and modern, there are multiple ways to incorporate some of these fun feathered friends into your kitchen, no matter its theme. Here are some suggestions for whimsical, fun (not tacky) rooster and chicken decorations in your kitchen.

  • Rooster wall plates: Blue and white rooster plates are classic, invoking fine china and delftware. A traditional black rooster plate from Chianti, or a colorful rooster ceramic platter are other great options to decorate your walls or above your cabinets.
  • Rooster centerpieces: Many spacious kitchens devote some counter space to a decorative ceramic rooster or two. This rustic blue and white rooster is just one example of a more stylized piece. You might prefer a more realistic looking rooster in ceramic, depending on the rest of your kitchen décor and color scheme.
  • Rooster weather vanes: Invoke a traditional countryside feel with an iron rooster weathervane as a wall decoration or countertop centerpiece. This example from Houzz proudly lords over the pantry, pointing the way to the food.
  • Soft rooster and chicken decorations: Why stop at just ceramic roosters? Kitchen towels, potholders, curtains, rugs, and cushions are all ways to expand on your kitchen theme. Big bold graphic prints grab attention, like this rooster rug. Small chicken prints are lively without being overpowering, no matter where you choose to use them.
  • Rooster art: For true rooster lovers, a fowl-themed painting can be the perfect touch for your kitchen (and compliment those blue and white rooster plates nicely).

    Or have a rooster on your backsplash above the stove or sink, like this example painted to look like tile.

  • Rooster utensil holders: With all the unusual utensil holders out there, roosters are a playful addition to your kitchen that’s also quite useful. This blue and white rooster ceramic utensil holder is full of personality, looking cheerful before your first cup of coffee until after you’ve washed the dinner dishes.
  • Rooster salt and pepper shakers: These are definitely a chicken décor favorite and make great gifts. Who can resist the colorful feathers on these handpainted rooster ceramic pieces by Gorky Gonzalez?
  • Rooster pitchers: In Italy rooster pitchers are a traditional housewarming present, meant to protect the home against danger and trespassers. Use a full size rooster pitcher for water or wine at meals or as counter decoration. A little ceramic rooster creamer adds cheer to your afternoon tea or looks sweet filled with a small bouquet of flowers.

Are you a rooster lover? What are your favorite ways to incorporate these roosters in the kitchen?

Rooster kitchen images courtesy of Houzz.

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A Look at French Ceramics, Past and Present

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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Need a Quick Injection of Italian Country Décor?

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have live in Tuscany, where the Italian country décor essentials like wrought iron, exposed wood, and sturdy ceramics are plentiful. But for the rest of us, there are many ways to incorporate this decorating style into the home, whether it’s your kitchen or other rooms. The most basic principle when it comes to Italian country is to think about how to make your home inviting and approachable… everything else comes from there!

Italian country décor is a mixture of comfort and chic that never fails at making people feel welcome. Fresh flowers in a pitcher on the table, appealing chairs and couches, and other soft touches warm the stone, wood, and other uncompromising surfaces that characterize many Italian country homes, both in and out of Italy. This is why the kitchen often becomes the focus of any Italian country decorating – it’s the perfect place to make people feel at home around a substantial wood table, whether for a cup of coffee or a full dinner.

For an easy way to incorporate Italian country into your décor, look no further than ceramic serving dishes. These pieces serve double duty: they add color and interest to your walls when not in active use, then delight your family and guests when you need a large serving tray or bowl for your delicious meal. Pieces don’t need to exactly match, but instead reflect colors and designs that you find appealing. The fruit designs of ceramic serving dishes by Tuscia d’Arte are the perfect example. Rich blue backgrounds and vibrant colors ensure that these large serving trays get noticed however and wherever they’re used.

Of course, the difficult decision can be what shape you need for a large serving tray. These rectangular platters are over 17 inches long, making them a striking centerpiece for their size alone. The fruit motifs add to their Italian country charm, and are sure to be a winner on any table. Equally at home with cheese and bread or desserts, you’ll find yourself creating reasons to keep these ceramic serving dishes on the table. Add other ceramic serving dishes like an oval serving platter with apples or the large serving tray with lemons on a red background and you’re on your way to easy Italian charm… without even having to pack a bag. Benvenuto!Italian countryside image courtesy of SanguineSeas.

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How Much is Too Much (Italian Ceramics)?

Recently, someone emailed me with a question about Italian ceramics. She has some old Raffaellesco pieces (like the goblet below) from her mother and wanted to buy new Italian ceramics to match. However, she was concerned about going overboard with the design of her table and ending up with way too much of a good thing. Some people might think that I’d never say you could have too much Italian ceramics. But, they’d be wrong. Especially when it comes to the typical Deruta patterns like Raffaellesco, I believe that too much is, in fact too much.

(On a side note, I imagine this is one reason that Vietri dinnerware has incorporated the more subtle single color look, to augment their busier designs. While Vietri pottery is in fact “made in Italy,” it is designed to sell in America which their Italian-style dinnerware patterns seem to do excellently.)

Deruta patterns vary quite a bit from bold floral motifs to the more detailed and geometric (I definitely consider the Raffaellesco dragon pattern one of the busiest). The collage of Deruta patterns pictured at the beginning of the post demonstrates this variety. While I agree that when seen en-mass they can be a little over-bearing, I think that setting your table with authentic Deruta patterns is a great way to celebrate true Italian style and pay tribute to real Italian ceramic artists.

On the other hand, if a full collection of Tuscan style dinnerware is not your goal and you merely want to incorporate the relaxed beauty of Italian earthenware into your home, I would suggest focusing on statement pieces: Italian vases, pitchers, platters, and lamps. Imagine a simply set table with beautifully-painted, conversation-starting Italian majolica pottery, like the Foglia e Frutta Footed Platter with Angel or the Large Limoni Bowl — both work great as a centerpiece or to serve pasta. I always use my Square Plate with Oranges to serve cheese and crackers because of it’s unusual shape and design. Other current favorites include the Large Pomegranate Pitcher for serving ice water and the Blue Fruit Lamp, just because I think it’s spectacular! As you can probably tell, the majolica designs that I am drawn to are much more relaxed than the formal Deruta designs. They are handmade and painted in Montelupo-Fiorentino and convey the more laid-back feeling of the Tuscan countryside right outside Florence.

I love Italian ceramics – all shapes, sizes, colors, designs, and traditions. But for my own everyday life, I prefer it to accent more relaxed pieces (like the Mexican Gogo plates or French polka-dot bowls), so that it can really stand out and make a statement.

What do you think? What’s your favorite way to incorporate Italian majolica pottery into the home? And can you ever have too much? Write a comment and let me know…

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Mas de Mexico!

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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Gorky Gonzalez: Better Than Ever

I admit it… I forgot just how much I love Gorky Gonzalez’s pottery. I first visited Gorky over four years ago and have been importing more and more of his ceramics ever since. I sell a ton of Gorky’s work, I blog about it often, am surrounded by it on a daily basis, and when I’m at my parents’ house, I even eat off it! But still, I forgot the excitement of visiting Gorky’s workshop in Guanajuato and seeing all the creative and colorful genius spread in piles around me. I forgot the pure joy of looking through those piles and discovering the gems: A perfectly painted rooster or fish, a serving dish begging to be filled with fresh guacamole, a new shape or design that I know my customers (not to mention my mom) will love.

Mrs. Gorky Gonzalez met me at the door and brought me upstairs to the showroom. We exchanged pleasantries and I reminded her that we had met about 2 years ago (the last time I was here in Mexico). I asked about Gorky Sr., her husband who founded the business and is renowned for reviving the majolica tradition in Mexico. Gorky Jr. (or Gogo), who runs the business now, joined us a few minutes later. He took me on a tour, visiting about 6 artists, either working on the wheel or painting. I spent a few minutes talking with one young man who said he’s been painting for Gorky for 9 years and still loves it. I was slightly disappointed to learn that he does not use Gorky pottery in his own home!

Then is was back to work… I spent more than an hour digging through each stack in every corner of Gorky’s showroom, selecting on the best plates, bowls, pitchers, and even a few gravy boats I could find.

All I can say is this: Get excited, get very excited! I’m pretty sure these new pieces will remind you just how much you love Gorky Gonzalez pottery. That is, in case you had forgotten.

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Adding French Country Charm to Your Home

Who can resist the unique combination of elegance and simplicity that is French country charm? It’s not just the French manor house or the French country cottage, but somehow both at once. This irresistible combination of seemingly conflicting style elements manifests in French ceramics as well as décor. Colors, shapes, functionality, and charm all work together to make something truly unique, whether it’s a fun polka dot mug or a striking ceramic serving platter.

Want to inject your home with some French country chic? Give these five tips, many inspired by the French Country Decor Guide, a try.

  1. Get regional with color. French country can mean Provence, with warm, sunny colors, or the paler hues of northern France. These regional differences mean that it’s easy to find French country elements that already fit into your existing design aesthetic (French ceramics are a perfect example). The strong colors of Provence can include terracotta reds, dusky violets, Mediterranean blues and turquoises, and soft butter and creamy saffron yellows. Go north for colors with a touch of grey, including soft sage greens, milky whites, creamy pinks, and pale blues.
  2. Mix old and new. Antiques are a hallmark of French country, whether it’s a chair, bed, or accent piece. With a country estate-inspired bedroom for example, gilded edges on the bed make for a soft glow that contrasts with crisp sheets and textured walls. Or reupholster that great chair you found with a lush fabric and add it to more modern furnishings in the living room or study. Rich patina and distressed finishes make everything seem softer and slightly relaxed.
  3. Repurpose with abandon. If something is beautiful, it’s worth holding onto, even if no longer needed for its original use. Repurposed items can be anything from glass jars as table decorations to metal buckets acting as planters. I see this with French ceramics often – a chipped bowl becomes a place for change or a decorative element on a shelf. A ceramic serving platter holds keys and sunglasses by the door. A polka dot mug turns into a pen and pencil holder on a desk.
  4. Show off what’s in your kitchen. Why hide those gorgeous plates behind closed doors? A French country kitchen will often have open shelves that turn your dishware into decoration, as well as make things easier for the cook to access. Display your collection of French ceramics with pride, making them a part of your daily life.
  5. Let simplicity rule. French country is not about clutter or overwrought design. Smooth curves, clean lines, and subdued accents are all its hallmarks. I see this in some of my favorite French ceramic serving platters, whether the curves of the petal platter by Richard Esteban, the stark chalk white of the serving dish with handles by Patrice Voelkel, or subtle white streak on the lemon yellow round platter by Poterie Ravel.

French country kitchen image courtesy of thekitchendesigner.

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Italian Country Décor: Charm for More than Just the Kitchen

Tuscany Country on a Overcast Day
Who can resist the charm of Italian country décor? From stunning patios to rustic kitchens, this is a decorating style that is warm, welcoming, and timeless. Traditionally, Italian country décor showcases simplicity and functionality throughout the home. I find that more and more people are embracing this chic yet comfortable decorating style, especially in the kitchen. So how can you get the look yourself?

Rustic tables, wrought iron racks, and earth tones all contribute to the feel of a Tuscan home. Throw in some Italian country ceramics, glass bottles, and your favorite Italian food to complete the ambiance. Details like ceramic tile floors, fireplaces, and exposed wood beams are architectural elements that also add to the look. Stonework in the living room or kitchen, gorgeous wood floors, and a stunning rustic chandelier continue the Italian country décor into the living and dining rooms. Want to see more? I’d recommend checking out Houzz for some truly inspiring images of Italian country décor from designers world-wide.

Of course, the warmth and friendliness associated with this Tuscan style is closely tied to the Italian tradition of hospitality that goes with it. Italians are experts at relaxed entertaining. It’s easy to channel this skill when you have Italian serving platters and bowls by Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte. In addition to my favorite square serving platters by Tuscia d’Arte (with oranges, lemons and pomegranates), we’ve just received this beautiful oval serving platter with lemons on a red background. Versatile for parties, dinners, or just wall decoration, this ceramic serving dish adds the warmth of Tuscany to any kitchen. Another new cheerful piece is the Limoni serving bowl, perfect for a tossed salad or gracing a tabletop filled with fresh fruit. Blu limoni serving trays remain a popular favorite for gift-giving, whether it’s a wedding, anniversary, or birthday.

Whether you’re going for Italian country décor or another style completely, remember that decorating goes beyond getting the furniture or ceramic serving dishes that fit your theme. It’s about making a home that’s yours — One that’s welcoming to your family and your guests. Let us know what you think about Italian country décor by leaving a comment below!

Tuscany image courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.

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Gorky Gonzalez Pottery & California: A Perfect Match

Why is Gorky Gonzalez pottery so popular in California? Is it the rustic design? The playful motifs on Gorky’s traditional pieces? Or maybe the sleek contemporary feel of the Gogo line? I think it’s all of these things and more. Gorky Gonzalez makes pottery that perfectly fits a relaxed California vibe, a refreshing idea regardless of whether you live in the state! Let’s look at some reasons why:

Rustic. From beach culture to farmlands, California has plenty that’s a little rough around the edges and a lot of California design reflects that. Gorky Gonzalez pottery is all handmade and hand-painted, lending individuality to each piece. The animal and human subjects on plates, bowls, and platters fit easily into a more relaxed design feel, making them fantastic gifts that work equally well at a dining or picnic table.

Playful. Check out the salt and pepper shakers; they’re a perfect example of why Gorky Gonzalez pottery is so ideal for California. In our Palo Alto pop-up shop, the bunnies, frogs, chickens, and roosters are flying off the shelves.

From swimming fish to a man on his horse, Gorky Gonzalez pottery has real personality. These pieces are an easy way to make everything from breakfast to dessert more fun.

Southwestern. The desert is definitely part of California. The cacti, soft colors, and unique shapes make some pieces of Gorky Gonzalez pottery feel right at home in a California home with southwestern flair.

The La Mexicana motif with bright fruits and leaves fits this style perfectly (and with all the pieces available from mixing bowls to serving platters, it’s easy to create an entire matching set).

Contemporary. Gorky Gonzalez uses techniques deeply rooted in tradition, but he isn’t stuck in the past. His son Gogo has created a line with the same quality craftsmanship but a more modern and contemporary feel. The bright solid colors mix well with more patterned pieces, whether bowls, plates, or platters. The Gogo espresso cups are another fun and unexpected shape that’s sure to get compliments. These pieces of Gorky Gonzalez pottery easily fit into a range of aesthetics, both in and out of California.

Eclectic. That all said, there’s something completely one-of-a-kind about Gorky Gonzalez pottery. The fusion of modern and traditional motifs, an inherent dynamism, and effortless charm make it perfect for an entire kitchen set or just a few pieces. Gorky pottery gives you the freedom to layer your favorite patterns and colors for a style all your own.

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Blue and White Rooster Plates: Beyond Function and Decoration

When it comes to decorative plates, the sky is the limit in terms of designs. Animals, fruits, flowers, and abstract designs, as well as ornate or simple patterns – I’ve seen them all and appreciate the creativity and skill that goes into each one. Some of the most successful that I’ve seen combine multiple themes, say blue and white along with roosters. On a plate. That can hang on your wall. Or be used to serve and enjoy meals. Talk about multitasking!

When it comes to decorating in a specific theme, committed collectors show just how much of a certain theme exists out there. I was amazed that the fine folks at Cock-a-Doodle Café in downtown Oakland could find all those different rooster pieces. It’s obviously a labor of love. Recently, thanks to the Internet, I found an incredible Henriot Quimper blue and white rooster plate that’s actually more like a basket. The design is playful, simple, and almost childlike but becomes more sophisticated with the ornate branch detailing and scalloped edging. It’s a quirky piece from the 1960s, but it got me wondering – what other kinds of blue and white rooster plates are out there? Is this a niche that I’ve overlooked in all my rooster love?

The joys of Etsy are myriad and their rooster selection is quite eclectic. Decorative plates abound from incredibly detailed to free-form designs that vaguely look like fowl. There are full color plates, red rooster plates, blue and white rooster plates, plates that are actually shaped like roosters (or rooster heads), and even a clever rooster plate meant to hold deviled eggs. That’s what I call a specialized piece!

The personality behind some of these truly unique rooster plates reminds me of the ceramics by Gorky Gonzalez. The blue and white rooster is proud in its octagonal serving dish; it seems almost a shame to cover him with salad or another delicious main dish. My customers also love the companion blue and white rooster bowl as wall decoration, adding rustic charm to the kitchen.

But for those who like ceramic wall plates with more color, look no further than the playful little rooster plate by Ceramiche Bartoloni. These rainbow-tailed roosters are bright and cheerful, adding an authentic Italian charm to the table or wall.  The colorful Gorky rooster bowl also looks great displayed upright in a shelf or while serving a fun Mexican-inspired meal.

No matter your preference, when it comes to the decorative plate, here’s to finding the pieces that fit exactly what you’re looking for, whether that means roosters or some other animal-themed ceramic wall plate. What plate, bowl or mug theme are you currently on the hunt for? Comment below with your favorite design themes.

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What Sets Fine Italian Ceramics Apart?

There are many diehard lovers of Italian ceramics out there, and for good reason. Whether it’s Tuscan pottery or a piece from Sicily, there is just something about Italian ceramics that sets it apart from the other other forms of maiolica-type wares being made elsewhere.

The majolica technique itself still flourishes throughout the world, seen most often in Portuguese, French, Mexican, and Spanish pottery. While the majolica process varies little between countries and hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, there’s definitely a wide variety of results.

Both Spanish and Portuguese pottery have long been recognized for their gorgeous tiles, in addition to their tableware. Called azulejos, these glazed tiles decorate large swathes of Portuguese buildings from churches to houses to train stations and their use dates back to the 15th century. The geometric patterns and later figurative motifs create stunning mural-like decoration in the most unexpected places. Truly beautiful and useful, the tiles also help with temperature control.Igreja da Misericórdia de Tavira - Azulejos

The tradition behind both Portuguese and Spanish pottery (as well as most of the Mediterranean region) started when Arabs introduced the technique in 711. An important coastal town for centuries, Valencia remains a major center of Spanish pottery and I’m still hoping to start carrying pieces by some artists from there in the near future (stay tuned).

So how is Italian Majolica different? I believe it is a combination of excellent artists (many of whom have dedicated their entire lives to perfecting the craft) and the traditional designs which generations of Italians have enhanced, individualized, and improved upon. Tuscan pottery is what many people picture when it comes to fine Italian ceramics. From the noble tradition behind the wares made in Montelupo Fiorentino to more commonly found pieces from Deruta, the bright colors, practical shapes, and ineffable charm truly put Italian ceramics in a class of its own. Who can resist the cheerful lemons, proud roosters, and rustic flowers that decorate plates and other majolica dinnerware from Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni?

Italians are masters at blending art and function to create masterpieces that are beautiful and unique. But just as Italian ceramics stay near and dear to our hearts, there’s no reason to overlook the gorgeous producers of ceramics in Portugal, Spain, France and Mexico. Among all these individual traditions there’s sure to be a majolica-inspired pottery that’s just right for your home.

Azulejos image courtesy of Concierge.2C.

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Blue and White Rooster? Red Rooster? Find the Right Rooster for You.

Not all roosters are equal when it comes to decorating, as any true rooster fanatic will tell you. Like other fun decorative accents, there is a range of rooster styles to choose from. A traditional motif for Mexican and Italian pottery, you can easily find roosters on everything ceramic: serving platters, cups, pitchers, and plates are just the beginning.

But where to find the right roosters? While Vietri pottery is well-known for its Italian pottery, I find their collection of roosters disappointing. Rustic rooster plates and cups should have personality, not look manufactured. But even though Vietri pottery might not be the rooster destination I desire, there are many other options out there. Here’s my quick list of some rooster styles and pieces suitable for a variety of homes:

Rustic Roosters

Straight from the barnyard, rustic roosters work well for homes with a hint of country. The blue and white rooster on Tuscia d’Arte’s utensil holder is playful and practical. The hand-painted aesthetic of Gorky Gonzalez’s roosters, like this rooster salad plate, adds color to the table.

Modern Roosters

A stylized rooster sculpture by Vietri pottery is a good example of a modern interpretation of ceramic roosters. Sleek, streamlined shapes and clean lines let the bird blend into any kind of minimalist décor with ease. Another great example is Gorky’s set of salt and pepper shakers, portraying wide-eyed and funky roosters, which definitely appeal to a more contemporary aesthetic. 

Blue and White Roosters

Yes, I love blue and white, and roosters are no exception. The simple color-combination lends a subdued, more sophisticated feeling to the rooster motif. A long-time favorite, El Gallo Azul (the blue rooster) looks great perched on a kitchen counter — adding a subtle, yet fun vibe to the everyday kitchen routine. Of course, blue and white rooster ceramic serving platters or bowls are another useful option.

Vintage Roosters

The timeless popularity of rooster ceramics make them a great addition to any vintage collection. A blue and white rooster plate like this one on Etsy adds charm with china. Try antique stores and flea markets for other one-of-a-kind finds.

Kitchen RoostersRealistic Roosters

Looking for a rooster that makes people do a double-take? Sculptural pieces are your best bet when it comes to ceramic roosters that look lifelike. A stand-alone piece works like El Gallo Azul as a striking accent to a table, counter, or shelf. You can also try something like this realistic rooster cachepot, perfect for your favorite flowers or plant.

Functional Roosters

Don’t use roosters just for decoration, but also practicality. Rooster salt & pepper shakers, rooster creamers, rooster sugar bowls, rooster mugs, and rooster pitchers are all excellent additions to the breakfast table, adding some real personality and flair.

Realistic roosters image courtesy of srqpix.

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Montelupo Fiorentino and the Tradition of Majolica

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the food. I love the family traditions that surround the day, even as they evolve with expanding and changing family structures. So as I reflect on Thursday’s feast of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, I’m reminded of another place where family and tradition rule the day: Montelupo Fiorentino in Italy.

In world of Tuscan ceramics, Montelupo Fiorentino is famous for its quality majolica (it is one of a few major historical centers of Italian hand painted ceramics). Located on an important crossroads between the Florentine area, the Apennines, and the Tyrrhenian coast, Montelupo Fiorentino has the perfect access to clay, water, and transportation that ceramics needed to thrive in the Middle Ages. The Florentine Republic took over the area in 1204, enlarging the defensive castle (you can still visit its remains today). Construction of walls in the 14th century helped protect the town and the Priory of St. Lorenzo, and helped it grow into a thriving city and production center for Tuscan ceramics in the 15th and 16th centuries.

But none of this really explains why Montelupo Ceramics are so famous. The craze for majolica in the Renaissance brought in wealthy families who needed beautiful, sturdy dishware. Montelupo Fiorentino became the center of production for the Medicis (who built the Villa dell’Ambrogiana nearby) and other noble families.

The detail and craftsmanship of Montelupo ceramics led to its distribution around both the Mediterranean (Greece, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, and France) and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic (Southern England and Holland). Talk about being internationally renowned! You can see beautiful examples of Montelupo ceramics from this era at the Museum of Montelupo.

The production of Montelupo ceramics was hit hard by the plague that ravaged Italy in the 17th century — creating a shortage of labor and an economic recession. Luckily for us, there was a revival in the 19th century of the art form, and today Montelupo Fiorentino is once again a major center of beautiful, quality, handmade majolica combining innovation and modern style with the traditional techniques that originally made it famous.

Many consider Montelupo Fiorentino to be the best of Tuscan ceramics. You can celebrate the traditions of the region at the annual International Ceramics Festival, held on the last week of June. There you’ll find great examples of the art, as well as see masters at work, hear live music, and sample traditional Tuscan food. If you can’t get to Italy next summer, add a touch of Tuscan elegance to your home with gorgeous Montelupo ceramics by Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte.

Villa dell’Ambrogiana drawing image courtesy of Sailko.

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Blog Round Up: Ginger Jars

Why do so many people love ginger jars? Also called a ceramic urn or tibor (in Spanish), these timeless vessels have definitely been making a splash in the decorating world lately. I love the versatility of ginger jars with a lid when it comes to decorating possibilities: take off the lid and it’s a vase for a stunning bouquet; put the lid back on and it looks perfect on a shelf, end table, or in a favorite nook.

But I’m not the only one who loves ginger jars. Perusing recent posts on design blogs, I’m amazed how many people are talking about ginger jars — from antique Chinese ginger jars to modern tibores by Talavera Vazquez. Here’s a quick roundup of great ginger jar finds; it’s fantastic how they can really work with so many different kinds of home décor. What’s your favorite?

Color. Curated by Color and Love Design are into blue and white. Cooper Grey loves the striking qualities of black and white. Both these combinations feel clean and fresh, no matter the setting from living room to bathroom, entryway to kitchen (or even on the patio). Blue and white can be nautical or sophisticated, black and white minimalist or causal, and ginger jars blend into both of these arresting color schemes easily.

Shape. Is there a difference between temple jars or ginger jars? Houzz explains the subtle difference in these shapes as well as their various uses. What we often call ginger jars have been used to keep the ashes of loved ones, ginger, salt, and other spices. Seaside Style talks about her mother’s collection that started her own obsession with traditional ginger jars. She’s mixed a Chinese ginger jar with seashore-inspired accents as well as more modern piece with antique furniture. I’d also agree with Dressing Rooms about the “timeless elegance” of ginger jars both old and new.

Graphics. Stripes, zig-zags, chevrons, and other organic inspired designs makes for ginger jars that feel modern yet not too edgy or minimalist. Shop Sweet Things loves the variety of patterns available in modern ginger jars. California Home and Design adores chevrons and mentions pottery ginger jars as an easy way to incorporate this pattern into your home without being overwhelming. And Jen Ramos of Made By Girl keeps one on her office bookshelf as a stylish graphic counterpoint to her collection of bookends, vases, and other great art work. So many uses for ginger jars, so little time!

Look for more blog roundups as we finish up 2011, definitely a year of great design.

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Feliz Día de los Muertos!

I love visiting Mexico. The people are so friendly, the food is delicious, I get to use my Spanish, and on top of all that, I can see Mexican artists make ceramics, weave all manner of gorgeous cloth, work metal or leather, and create other beautiful traditional crafts. With Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) starting today, my mind is wandering both to Mexico and my favorite Mexican artists — Talavera Vazquez, Gorky González, Capelo, and Angélica Escarcega. I have heard so much about the colorful festivities surrounding Day of the Dead and have always wanted to experience the nation-wide celebration in person!

What is the Day of the Dead exactly? First off, it’s actually two days (November 1 and 2) during which people remember and celebrate ancestors and friends who have passed away. This celebration has roots in Aztec, Purepechas, and Totonacs traditions as well as the Catholic practice of All Souls Day. People visit their relatives’ graves on the first day, decorating them with flowers and candles. It’s a sort of picnic in the cemetery, with friends and family sharing stories about their loved ones buried there. It’s a celebration of the dead, as well as a celebration of the community they helped create.

These graveside picnics usually feature tamales and pan de muerto, a special bread. Bakers hide a toy skeleton inside (usually plastic) and it’s good luck if you bite into it. Sweets are another important tradition, with cookies, chocolate and sugar skulls. By biting into the skull shapes, people symbolically “take a bite of death” and inoculate themselves against the fear of death.

Another important aspect of the Day of the Dead are the intricate altars constructed and dedicated to deceased relatives. These are often decorated with yellow and orange marigolds and/or chrysanthemums; yellow is the Aztec color for autumn as it’s the season when nature begins to die. There are both home and public altars, where people leave offerings of favorite foods of their loved ones who have passed (candy skulls are a popular choice), photographs, and religious amulets. The altars show the cycle of life and death as part of the human experience. Day of the Dead celebrations also can include processions (like this one in San Francisco), music, or dancing; but the main idea is to celebrate life and death together.

While I won’t be in Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead this year, I will be surrounded by the festive pottery of Talavera Vazquez. I’m especially inspired to bring out my Vazquez pottery this time of year — the bold beauty reflects traditional Mexican decorations and the bright colors evoke the change of seasons. While you might decorate for many different fall events (Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving come to mind), putting Mexican artist ceramics like a Vazquez pottery vase or ginger jar into the mix makes for the perfect fall touch. Felicidades!

Day of the Dead altar image courtesy of Ute Hagen.

Candy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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We’re into Blue! Are You?

What’s the most popular color in the world? A recent post on Apartment Therapy describes a survey conducted by Dulux paints to learn what colors people love and hate. The big winner? You guessed it: Blue, followed by red and green.

But what’s better than just blue? Blue and white of course! This color combination continues to be one of my favorites, perfect for an entire room or just accent pieces. We know that it’s a classic pairing, in part because there’s so much versatility. For example, just look at these gorgeous pieces of blue and white Italian pottery.

  • Lamps. Now your blue and white Italian pottery can literally illuminate your room. This Blue Leaf Lamp works wonderfully with both traditional and contemporary décor. The playful movement and subtle accents of green and yellow are great compliments to the predominantly blue and white glaze. A smaller version of this lamp works for a bedside table or creates soft lighting in a hallway. Looking for a more subtle blue and white Italian pottery lamp? With delicate tracery, the Rouen Blu Lamp is both elegant and understated.

  • Vases. For me, the best vases are ones that look beautiful both empty and with flowers. I love the Blue Leaf Vase for a great example of blue and white Italian pottery that always looks fantastic. The handles invoke classical amphora, but the style is definitely perfect for a contemporary home with textured layered glaze and shading.
  • Mugs. What could be a more practical and stylish example of blue and white Italian pottery? Whether it’s your first or eighth cup of coffee (or tea), it’ll be extra delicious coming out of a handcrafted mug like this one by Ceramiche Bartoloni. Mix and match blue and white mugs with other color combinations for diversity or choose a matched set, whatever fits your style.
  • Bowls. I can’t resist the charm of a rustic bowl like this one by Patrice Voelkel. The functional shape is perfect for salads, mixing, or even as a fruit bowl. Or opt for one of Gorky Gonzalez’s inspired blue and white bowls — great for bringing elegance and sophisticated charm to any table setting.

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The Value of Handmade

Here at Emilia Ceramics, we talk a lot about our pieces being individually handmade instead of coming off a mechanized factory-line. And I guess it’s just assumed that the label “handmade” means that a piece is special and should be valued accordingly. But why is that really? What makes handmade better, more special, and more valuable?

It’s the hands. They are not just hands after all, but the hands of creative and artistically-gifted people, who often come from a long line of artists and a culture known for its traditional artistry.

After a week of visiting, watching, and appreciating the work of local artists throughout Provence, I have been reminded that it really is the people, the artists, and their lives that give value to handmade ceramics. Here are two great examples:

Sylvie Duriez (throwing a pitcher in the photo here) was taught to throw pottery by her mother, who in turn had learned it from her father. Sylvie is famous in her small town for turning out one-of-a-kind plates, pitchers, and bowls that are expertly crafted and finished in her own unique style. She does the complete process herself: throwing and firing the clay, decorating it with fine lines and then painting it with a water-color-like fluidity. Her style is ever-evolving and she loves to play around with new techniques. What ties her work together is that each of her ceramic pieces is a product of Sylvie herself, as a daughter, mother, artist, and friend. They are original expressions of her life and her experiences, shaped into a plate, bowl, or pitcher with her own hands.

When you spend a little time with Richard Esteban (left), here’s what you learn: He is a playful father of three, a devoted husband, and an excellent cook. He loves to joke around, poke fun at his family and friends, and share good wine with guests. He has practically adopted Arnaud, a young artist who grew up without a father, married young and has two children he loves to brag about. He has worked as a sort of “apprentice” to Richard for the last 15 years. Then there’s Katia, who’s equally part of the family. She’s the godmother of Richard’s oldest child and has worked for him for 20 years. She manages the shop and helps decorate platters with intricate little designs — all with a smile and a cigarette!

It’s easy to appreciate the irresistible charm of Richard’s polka-dot bowls and rustic French pitchers. What’s more difficult is remembering what gives them that charm, that Provencial authenticity, that je ne sais quoi. It’s Richard himself. And Arnaud. And Katia. It’s their individual backgrounds and creative inspirations, their sensibilities and their experiences. Through their hands, each piece receives a touch of their personality, charm, warmth, and love.

And that’s the value of handmade. It’s visible in the finished product because of the people creating it. Their hands mold the clay, but their experiences and lives affect it as well. They craft each ceramic piece with love and attention, which we are then fortunate enough to enjoy on our tables, in our homes, over our family dinners and parties with friends. It is a transfer of one life to another which can only happen through human hands.

Now that I’m home from France I recognize that the importance of my buying trip was much more than just the “buying” I did. I am reminded yet again of the value of the handmade ceramics in my collection. It goes beyond a beautifully crafted vase, a functional bowl, or a perfectly glazed platter, to the story behind that piece. The artist, their life, family and history is what really gives it value.

Far left: Arnaud playing around on the wheel.

Right: Katia stocking the storeroom shelves.

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The Allure of the Majolica Plate

Originality is an important quality when it comes to all ceramics. But with the wide variety of majolica plates out there, I’m always looking for something that’s fresh and new. Not to say that I discount tradition – just look at examples of Italian ceramics from Umbria or Faenza Italian ceramics. (Faenza, by the way, is where we get the term faience for majolica ceramics.) These rich ceramic centers in Italy are hugely important historically as well as stylistically.

Underlining the importance of Faezna in the larger world of Italian ceramics is the city’s International Museum of Ceramics. I visited a few years ago and got a firsthand look at the majolica plates in their collection, which date from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Exquisite details are on these pieces that have been found through excavations and other acquisitions, dating to the 1400s. Obviously the allure of the majolica plate is nothing new.

But beyond its rich history, what draws people to majolica plates? Of course there’s the obvious explanation of function: plates are great for eating and serving meals. But majolica raises the bar on other functional plates. Let’s look at a few different examples to see how:

  • Design. The large flat surface of a plate is like a canvas. Majolica plates range from being a solid, simple landscape to detailed, complex works of art. Repeating motifs are common but plates became more complicated with scenes in the istoriato tradition. Introduced in the 16th century, this style literally means “with a story in it” and marked the transition of majolica plates from purely functional to decorative pieces. The harlequin plates are a great example of this tradition – the lifelike figures are uniquely Tuscan and so playful! I love the scene of the serenade with its story in progress (above right).
  • Shape. Majolica plates are often round because it’s an easy shape to make on a potter’s wheel. This serves to make other shapes all the more striking, like squares or rectangles. I love serving food on these obscure shapes, but they work equally well as colorful wall hangings. A personal favorite is the square plate with lemons; the lemons are so inviting, their blue background so rustic, and the pattern around the edge adds a light and whimsical feeling. Curious to know which Italian town is most famous for lemons and ceramics? So am I since it seems so many make the claim.
  • Unexpected Details. Going hand in hand with these other qualities of majolica plates is adding a little extra, like a foot. Footed platters literally elevate their contents, making them perfect for fruit or dessert, whether as a centerpiece or a gorgeous accent on your kitchen counter. As I mentioned in a recent post, Ceramiche Bartoloni’s Foglia e Frutta Footed Platter with Angel is a great example of this, as is Tuscia d’Arte’s Footed Platter with Tuscan Fruits. There’s always fruit in this bowl-like plate, even when it’s empty, creating a great mix of form and function.