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French Ceramics: Patrice Voelkel vs Richard Esteban Pottery

The ceramics of Provence are just as varied as the people who make them. Take Patrice Voelkel and Richard Esteban. Both make incredible French pottery with rustic charm, yet they have very different aesthetics which results in extremely different ceramics. For all the fans of French pottery out there, here’s a quick overview of how these two talented artists measure up and what sets them apart from the rest.

richard esteban potteryPatrice Voelkel

Clay types: Patrice Voelkel uses local black clay for the majority of his pieces, resulting in ceramics that have a bit more heft. The dark clay body also makes for colors that are more deep and rich than bright. Richard Esteban pottery uses the rich red clay of Provence, which causes his glazes to pop, particularly the yellows.

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Color palette: Speaking of color, these French artists both rely on a consistent set of colors. Richard favors a wider range, with ceramics in rich reds, yellows, greens, and blues. He loves polka dots and textured patterns. Patrice, on the other hand, loves indigo and all its many variations. Every time I visit his studio Patrice is wearing blue, leading me to think that he just loves the color. His chalk white dishes and deep cranberry pieces are notable exceptions. All of his glazes have a remarkable liquid quality to them.

pitchers by Richard EstebanProduction volume: Perhaps the biggest difference between Patrice and Richard’s pottery is the number of pieces they produce. Most of Patrice’s ceramics are one of a kind, making them unique works of art. Every time I visit I’m always surprised by something new, though he does make multiples of some favorites like his indigo pitcher and mix and pour bowl. The majority of Richard’s ceramics are replicated, which means that I have plenty of polka dot bowls and platters for all his fans. He also has some one of a kind pieces, notably his green fish canister and most of his lamps.

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Studio size and creative team: Both work in gorgeous surroundings; I don’t think it gets much more picturesque than the French countryside. Patrice works with his wife Sylviane at Poterie Herbes Folles, accompanied by their faithful dog named Tina Turner. Richard opened Poterie d’Aigues-Vives after working with a few different traditional studios. His studio is also part of his home, though he has the talented Arnaud and Katia as part of his team. I’m constantly amazed at how many gorgeous ceramics both these studios produce, particularly since every step is done by hand.

Patrice and Sylviana Voelkel potteryWhat do you love about French ceramics? Are there pieces you’d like to see more of? Do you have a preference for Patrice Voelkel or Richard Esteban pottery? Let us know with a comment below.

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Capelo Pottery, a Unique Take on Mexican Ceramics

Capelo's studio and countryside

Capelo’s dedication to Mexico ceramics makes him stand out from other traditional artists. Not only is Capelo himself a talented, multi-faceted artist (he also is an architect, oil painter, and mixed-media sculptor), his dedication to keeping things natural makes his ceramics practically luminescent. His studio is one of the smaller ones in the Emilia Ceramics collection but the ceramics definitely make a big statement. Capelo potterySo just how does Capelo and his small team of artists create the unique Mexico ceramics that have made them famous?

One major factor I think is the land itself. Capelo’s home is high on a hill outside Guanajuato, Mexico, which gives him an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. His almost daily horseback rides and constant contact with such beauty comes through in his work with the colors and shadings of his ceramics. True artists, Capelo and his team take their environment and make it portable through their pottery.

Capelo’s ingenuity is also reflected in the unique shapes he creates. Pitchers with unexpected cutaway tops, fluted bowls, delicately pulled handles, and a willingness to play with scale truly set these Mexico ceramics apart. I couldn’t resist Capelo’s massive serving dishes on my last buying trip—I fell in love with the rounded square serving dish and all its possible uses. The same goes for the fluted serving bowls and smaller plates with kaleidoscope-like designs.

Capelo pitcher

square serving dishCapelo plates

Although Capelo pottery experiments with shapes, there are two things that never change: the use of local clay and natural glazes. Capelo says that his glazes are different because they don’t contain additives like many modern glazes do, using only natural ingredients. Of course, this doesn’t limit his use of color. His Mexico ceramics are rich with deep blue, dreamy green, burnt orange-red, and soft yellow. The resulting majolica is a softer, more subtle Mexican ceramics, almost glowing from within. Add to all this the fact that all of Capelo’s ceramics are one of a kind pieces and you have a recipe for an artist who definitely stands out from the rest.

Capelo fluted footed bowl

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La Dolce Vita

florence1After a long day of train rides, I made it from Nice (where I dropped off my rental car) to Florence. It was actually a longer journey than I had envisioned (in the past, I’ve always stopped along the way) and I arrived starving. About halfway to Florence, I had decided I was going to wait to eat until I could eat real Italian food… so I checked into my hotel, splashed some water on my face, and headed to the nearest trattoria. It was worth it! The fresh tagliatelle al funghi was delicious and the “house red” tasted as good as any wine I’ve had in a long time.

The next day I woke up early and headed back to the train station for the 20 minute ride to Montelupo Fiorentino. Montelupo is famous for its majolica because of the town’s location on the old Roman road that brought Moorish traders (and their ceramic wares) from Spain to Florence. During the Renaissance, artisans in Montelupo began elaborating on the ceramic designs, adding realistic imagery and brighter colors, transforming them into the high art form we know today.

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While there are many ceramic artists in Montelupo, I am pretty confident Emilia Ceramics buys from the two best! My first visit was to Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia. Co-owner (and grandson of Tuscia’s founder) David met me at the small train station and we drove to Tuscia. new_piecesWe found Gabriele (the head-painter and other co-owner) working and telling jokes to three other painters. They greeted me — most remembering my first visit 5 years ago — and were very nice when I wanted to take lots of photos while they worked.

As I’ve described before, Tuscia is located in a 2 story brick building, filled with ceramic artwork. Each shelf in each room is stacked with plates, bowls, canisters, and pitchers that look like they belong in a museum.

I selected a number of new pieces to add to the order I had already placed with Tuscia and had an espresso with David — who was expecting a new baby girl at any moment! Then David drove me to Ceramiche Bartoloni, which is in a more industrial part of town. We were greeted by Patrizio and Lucia Bartoloni. Lucia is Patrizio’s wife and helps run the business along with Patrizio’s brother Stefano and his wife. The four of them do almost everything themselves, only hiring extra painters when needed. Lucia speaks some English, so she talked with me about the recent order I had placed and showed me all the new designs and patterns.

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blogOf course, the limoni and rooster patterns are my Bartoloni faves… but there were a few new patterns that jumped out at me. So I added some new styles as well as some more sizes of bowls to my order (expect some great new salad and pasta bowls from Ceramiche Bartoloni). Patrizio was very busy and had to leave soon to pick his son up at school, but he gave me a double-cheek kiss and posed for a picture before he ran out the door. Then Lucia drove me back to the train station and I spent the 20 minute ride back to Florence trying to digest all the beautiful artwork I had just seen.

The next day, after another awesome pasta dinner and a few gelatos, I went to visit Daniela’s ceramic shop in downtown Florence: La Botteghina del Ceramista. Daniella is a good friend of my uncle Gifford (who is also responsible for introducing me to the ceramics from Tuscia and Bartoloni). I visited Daniella’s shop on my first trip to Florence, before I even knew I was going to start a ceramics-importing business. I fell in love with her collection though, which includes ceramics from the Bartoloni brothers, among other great Italian artists. On my first visit I bought the Square Blu Limoni Platter from Daniella and gave it to my brother as a wedding gift.

I’ve been back a few times since and been able to share with Daniella the progress of my growing business. As always, she was very helpful in pointing out new pieces and best sellers, telling me where they were from, and giving me contact names and numbers. It was great to visit with Daniella and watch her in her element, surrounded by the beautiful Italian majolica, sharing it with tourists and local Italians alike. It reminded me what a great job I have!

daniella

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French Finale: Colorful Ceramics at Poterie Ravel

outsideFrom Sylvie’s workshop in Pertuis it is about a 45 minute drive south to Aubagne, where Poterie Ravel is located. Once again I was helped in my navigation by friendly little Poterie Ravel signs located at almost every turn throughout the city.

As you may remember from my previous visits, Poterie Ravel is most well-known for its large terracotta pots, which it sells to premier hotels and shopping centers around France. When you arrive at Poterie Ravel, you are greeted by lots of these sophisticated pots, displayed perfectly amidst colorful patio furniture. The old stone building covered with ivy is where this family run business has been making ceramics since 1837.

Of course they also make smaller items – like the pitchers, platters, bowls, and vases we sell at Emilia Ceramics. It is inside the old stone building that you encounter room after room of inviting and perfectly displayed ceramics in bright, festive, stylish colors. There is a warm hum from the kilns (running almost all the time) and lots of friendly workers greeting you and wanting to help. Similarly to Richard Esteban’s showroom, this is a place I could call home! On this particular visit, I spent about an hour wandering from room to room, enjoying the displays and taking lots of pictures. Finally, I picked out a number of my favorite pitchers and planting pots in bright yellow and teal green (apparently, the colors of the season).

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I was helped by this super friendly young man (above) – I can’t remember his name, sadly. He spoke some English and seemed impressed that I was from California and that I knew to come to Poterie Ravel. He said he had only been working there for a few weeks (during his school break) and that I was the first American he had met. He said it like I was a movie star, which of course made my day!

With Poterie Ravel checked off my list, I’ve completed my French shopping list… so it’s time to head to Italy! Next stop Montelupo Fiorentino, where I’ll visit Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Ceramiche Bartoloni. I’m really looking forward to both… not to mention all the pasta, cappuccinos, and gelato I’ll be enjoying!

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Update on Sylvie Duriez

IMG_2233I spoke with Sylvie about a week ago, before I left home. She had never responded to my email letting her know when I’d be in France, so I was a little concerned she’d be out of town. However, she assured me over the phone that she would be there and would be expecting me. In her quiet, tentative English she added, “but I do not have much.”

This made me a little nervous. You see, among Emilia Ceramics customers there are a lot of Sylvie Duriez fans. People email and call me asking when I’m getting more of Sylvie’s ceramics. Plus, I’m a Sylvie Duriez fan and I suddenly realized I haven’t kept any of her work for myself! All of a sudden I was really worried… What if there’s nothing to buy? None of the favorite subjects we’ve all come to cherish: Whimsical women sitting under trees or staring thoughtfully out windows; Plump pink birds frolicking in fruit trees; Cats and dogs lazily laying on sofas; Bright bouquets of iris and red poppies. What will I do then?!street_corner

Well, you can all relax… After all, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if I didn’t have good news to share about Sylvie and her beautiful ceramics!

After my stay in St. Rémy-de-Provence (and my visit with Richard Esteban), I moved on to Aix-en-Provence. Aix is a bustling university town, which actually reminds me a lot of Sevilla, Spain (where I lived a while back). Both cities seem to be in constant party-mode. The shopping streets in Aix are always teaming with beautiful, well-dressed people, and the cafés and bars are full morning, noon, and night with friends catching up over espresso, rosé or campari. Fresh fruit, vegetable, and flower markets also seem to be everywhere… everyday of the week. Needless to say, Aix is always a fun place to “have” to go : ).

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As much as I’ve come to love it, one of my favorite things about Aix is leaving it to drive the 20 minutes to Pertuis, the little town where Sylvie lives and works. It’s always a bit stressful getting out of Aix (small, one-way streets and lots of roundabouts), but then you’re suddenly out in the country, passing through grassy fields with rolling hills in the distance. This time, it was even more green and beautiful than I remembered. I’ve been to visit Sylvie at her home 3 times now, so it was easy to find. I love her house/studio… so picturesque: 48 Rue du Moulin à Huile!

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Sylvie was the same as I remember her from my previous visits — quiet and soft-spoken, yet very warm. She is much more comfortable speaking English in person than on the phone (which is totally understandable) and quickly opened up about her new plans to move her studio away from her home and experiment with new techniques. She is especially excited about the idea of working with porcelain, which will require a new kiln and different supplies.

To my relief, Sylvie had a lot of beautiful work for me to choose from. Her hesitation on the phone was mostly because she’s not sure if she’s going to continue to make the type of decorative bowls, plates, and pitchers we all know and love. As I’ve explained before, Sylvie Duriez is a true artist, striving to create original artwork. She isn’t concerned with what will sell — she wants to follow her passion. As sad as it makes me that she may not always produce the pieces I have grown so fond of, I do understand. She is so talented and it wouldn’t be the same if she was producing on command.

IMG_2228I assured Sylvie of my support for her artistic decisions and told her I’d be excited to see whatever projects she comes up with next.  Then I went to work picking out all my favorites from her current collection. As usual she acted amazed by the number of pitchers, bowls, and plates I was selecting —  but this time she didn’t complain that she’d “have so much work to do when I left” as she has said in the past. I think she was genuinely relieved to make space in her life (and on her shelves) for what’s to come. And I was more than happy to help!

I’m thrilled with the assortment of Sylvie Duriez pieces I selected to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection — as always each is completely one-of-a-kind and packed full of personality. I feel confident that none of the Sylvie fans out there will be disappointed!

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Behind the Scenes: Patrice Voelkel’s French Ceramics

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

Patrice Voelkel

I learned about Patrice Voelkel from a book on French ceramic artists that Sylvie Duriez loaned me many years ago. Since Patrice lived near where I was staying in St. Remy, I decided to check out his studio one rainy spring day. Thankfully it was clearly marked and easy to find – the French ceramics that covered the shelves are truly unique and unlike anything else in the Emilia Ceramics collection.

rustic blue pitcher

Patrice works with his wife Sylviane to create French ceramics with a modern sensibility that are deeply grounded in tradition. They use local black clay and create everything from design to finished product between just the two of them. Their dog Tina Turner keeps them company in their studio, known as Poterie Herbes Folles, which I think is named after the area’s wild and crazy grass. Patrice has worked with ceramics for over 33 years; he started making French ceramics near Lyon and then moved to the countryside and started Herbes Folles.

French ceramics drying in the sun

Poterie Herbes FollesThe Voelkels glaze their pieces with a variety of liquid-like colors, but I especially love their marbled blue and celadon pieces, as well as those in a contemporary chalk white. (Patrice himself seems to love blue – every time I visit the workshop he’s wearing some kind of blue shirt!) Patrice and Sylviane’s French ceramics are often large, heavy, and make a serious statement. The rustic grittiness truly reflects the little farmhouse and workshop where they are made. On my last visit, I saw pieces drying in the afternoon sun while Patrice worked on the wheel and Sylviane prepared ceramics for their final firing.

Patrice at work on French ceramics

I now have some new French ceramics by Patrice and Sylviane on the website. The one of a kind serving platter, rustic pitchers, and olive oil pitcher all in a rich indigo are ideal for bringing a bit of Provence to your home.

rustic blue platter

From spoon rests to prep bowls to serving platters, these French ceramics are stunning additions for any collection, reflecting so much of the people who made them with care and love. After working with Patrice for so long, I’m very happy I decided to take a detour in the rain all those springs ago.

white serving platter

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Behind the Scenes: French Ceramics at Poterie Ravel

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

The most recent addition to the Emilia Ceramics collection, Poterie Ravel has been around since 1837. A fifth-generation family-run business, this French ceramics studio was founded in Aubugne, France, and made tiles and other terracotta products for the home. When Gilbert Ravel took over the studio from his father in 1935, he changed the direction of the company to make planters that had more modern designs. The focus moved to high-end interior and landscape designers; the result is a world-class workshop full of ceramic artists that handle 8 tons of product a day, most of it creating their famous large-scale pots. The next time you see a giant terracotta planter at a major hotel, airport, or other public place, look and see if you can find the Poterie Ravel logo – chances are you’ll find one.

Today two sisters, Marion and Julie Ravel, run Poterie Ravel. Their ceramics are definitely art, a process that begins with the clay itself, which is extracted from their own quarries. Small pots are thrown entirely by hand (including all the French ceramics in my collection), while the massive planters are molded by a ceramic artist using a plaster mold and a piece of wood. All the pieces big and small are finished by hand for a smooth surface and the terracotta pieces left unglazed. Other pieces, like the unique pitcher vases, platters, and serving bowls, are hand painted in vibrant natural glazes before being fired in one of their four gas ovens.

About 20 ceramic artists work at Poterie Ravel, including Etienne (pictured below) and Gil, who I met on my last buying trip to France.

One of my favorite parts about Ravel’s French ceramics is that every piece is stamped with the Ravel logo, date, and initials of the artist. After I had made my selections of these French ceramics, I found out that Etienne had made some of the platters, Gil some of the pitchers. I love how each piece tells a story; this kind of personal connection is definitely one of my favorite parts of working with local ceramic artists.

Poterie Ravel is one of the oldest ceramic studios in France, and the attention to detail is truly incredible. Anyone looking for centerpiece ideas needs look no further than one of their unique bowls or statement-making pitchers and vases. It took me four years to be able to offer their French ceramics as part of the Emilia Ceramics collection and I think it was certainly worth the wait!

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Ceramics Expert to Speak at The Shop!

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I started taking ceramics classes when I was in 3rd grade… learning to stack coils of clay together and then smooth the surface to build a vase. Soon after I was taught how to use a wheel and slowly form (usually lopsided) bowls. On my first solo trip to visit my uncle in Los Angeles (who is an artist and art professor at UC Irvine) I sculpted a miniature dog… I was pretty proud of myself! IMG_1238My mom, who’s now a fantastic oil painter (I sell her beautiful landscape oils in the Palo Alto Shop), always loved ceramics — she threw a clay tea set for my dolls when I turned 10. Later, I took ceramics in college, as a mental release from the reading and writing that often overwhelmed me. And when I moved to Spain after college, I took ceramics to make friends. I loved throwing bowls, plates, and cups as I listened to Spanish housewives gossip, gripe about their husbands, and worry about their children. Point is, long before I began importing ceramics, I loved creating it myself.

That, however, in no way means that I am an expert. When people ask me about firing temperatures, specifics on the clay composites, or why the glaze used by Gorky Gonzalez comes out looking different from that used by Richard Esteban, I really don’t know the answer. But, lucky for me, my uncle Gifford does! And this Saturday (as in TOMORROW), Gifford is going to be at the shop in Palo Alto to talk about the complex process of crafting and painting ceramics. He’s also going to talk about his experiences working with artists in Italy. Gifford introduced me to Ceramiche Bartoloni and Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia. He’s worked with both for the last 20 years. He’s especially close to the Bartoloni brothers (who he nicknamed the Blues Brothers).Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 6.12.24 PM

Since starting Emilia Ceramics, it’s been really fun for Gifford and I to share our similar experiences meeting, befriending and working with such fun, creative artists around the world. And I am so grateful to have Gifford as a resource to go to with my nitty-gritty ceramics questions. I really look forward to him seeing this year’s pop-up shop — which I think is our best yet — and getting to share his comedic stories and knowledge with my customers.

Hope you can make it!

11:30 Saturday, December 15th
At Emilia Ceramics — Town & Country Village, Suite 10. For more information, visit us online or call us at 650-257-0292.

Here’s a little more about my uncle:

Gifford Myers is an artist who works with ceramic as well as many different materials and techniques; fiberglass, aluminum, bronze, steel, wood and found objects. The research of Gifford Myers is a continuous development of ideas and new experiences, without convention, utilizing wide vision that goes beyond the rigidity of conventional rules and restrictions.

Myers transforms the reality that surrounds him through wit, a free spirit and a strong capacity for observation. He is continuing his research, a synthesis of new dimensions that express results that are never the same, never repetitive. His work is always something new, something explorative, surprising for its variety, freedom and imagination; from large works to small objects, a form of self-portrait from the imagination of a unique artist that both surprises and draws the viewer in through the strength of expressive ideas.

http://giffordmyers-artist.com/index2.htm

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Finding New Ceramic Wall Plates and Pottery Dishes in Mexico

I’ve been in Mexico visiting artists like Gorky Gonzalez and can’t get enough of the sun, the food, the… roosters. From ceramic dishes to the blue and white rooster that stand alone, I’ve seen roosters (and other fowl) everywhere.

But it doesn’t end with blue and white rooster plates; that’s just the beginning. New triple dishes feature hummingbirds and roosters to join the cactus, palm tree, and fish motifs already in my Gorky collection. I love these ceramic dishes because they’re so versatile: good for dips, condiments, olives, or nuts, they also function as a place to keep jewelry, keys, or the contents of your pockets (no more lost wallets and phones for you!). With both double and triple ceramic dishes, use a variety to add spice to your next fiesta.

With the new black rooster plates from Italy, I’ve been struck at the global nature of animal motifs in ceramic wall art. Chickens, frogs, fish, and flamingos join butterflies (like the pottery dishes by Angélica Escarcega), flowers, and people for quirky and lively decorative plates and bowls. Visiting the artists let’s me not only stock up on popular pieces (like those fun salt and pepper shakers) but also see new ideas from ceramic wall plates to tibors (ginger jars). One of my favorite things is seeing the painted but unfired pottery dishes – the kiln totally transforms them from pale, flat ceramics into the glossy, touchable pieces we all love.

Watching the artists paint every piece is also incredible. Whether it’s geometric patterns or those blue and white roosters, plates, bowls, trays, and other dishes come alive with every brush stroke.

Whether you prefer monochrome or full color decorative plates, look for new arrivals from Gorky, Angélica, Capelo, and Talavera Vazquez in the next few months. There’ll be some old favorites and some new surprises with ceramic dishes that are truly works of art.

Want to see more of my Mexico adventures? “Like” Emilia Ceramics on Facebook for photos and updates.

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My Obsession with Majolica Dinnerware, Fine Italian Ceramics, Spanish Pottery, and More!

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

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

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

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

Portuguese pottery image courtesy of R.Ferrao.

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A Few of My Favorite (French) Things…

Back in September, I took an amazing buying trip to Provence. I revisited my favorite artists: Sylvie Duriez, Patrice Voelkel, Richard Esteban, and the 5th-generation family-run Poterie Ravel. It’s difficult not to overbuy on a trip like that. I was overwhelmed by the creativity of each artist and just kept falling in love with one piece after another. By the end of the trip, I was pretty convinced that I had bought way too much. But as it turns out, that’s nearly impossible. You just can’t buy too much of the beautiful ceramics these French artists are creating. I am constantly blown away by the color and creativity surrounding me in my pop-up shop in Palo Alto and my customers have absolutely loved my French finds. Speaking of the shop, it is closing next Wednesday, March 14th. So if you’re in the Palo Alto area, now’s your last chance to stop by. As for the rest of you, here are a few of my favorite new French ceramics… most of which are now available online.

Pitchers with Personality.

I fell in love with the Three Hearts Pitcher (above left) in Sylvie’s workshop and had to convince her to sell it to me. It is packed with personality (like all of Sylvie’s pieces) and defines one-of-a-kind. It combines fun with authentic and raw emotion all at once. And don’t even get me started on Patrice Voelkel’s large pitcher in (what I’m calling) dark cranberry (above right). The soft glaze on this pitcher is irresistible and the shape is both functional and absolutely breathtaking. These two pitchers are everything a pitcher should be: useful, beautiful, artistic, and individual. In addition to these attributes, they convey a rustic and earthy quality that communicates pure Provencal personality.

Functional and Fun Platters.

 

Continuing the theme of soft and inviting glazes, Richard Esteban’s platters are beautiful pieces to look at, but even better to use. The large petal platter (above right) is just begging for a selection of charcuterie or a main dish like roast chicken. The cheese plate (photo on the left) boasts a fresh, spring-inspired glaze with rustic flecks of brown around the edges. If appetizers of cheese and fruit are your kind of thing, then this serving platter is perfect. I love the way the green makes a relaxing backdrop for the more elaborate Limoni plates and mugs by Ceramiche Bartoloni.

Everyday Pieces You’ll Want to Use… Everyday.

  Whether for cereal, ice cream, snacks, or dipping sauces, the polka-dot bowls in 3 different sizes will bring a smile to your face all day long. Our new arrivals from France also include polka-dot mugs, creamers, plates, and pitchers. Mix and match the polka-dots with plates depicting birds, houses and dogs for a dinner table that is as interesting as the people gathered at it.

Artwork You Can Eat Off, But May Not Want To.

While hand-thrown with the intention that they get used as serving dishes, bowls, pitchers, and creamers, nobody can deny that Sylvie’s pieces are first and foremost works of art. The bowls pictured here are perfect examples – whether depicting birds chatting happily on a flowering branch or expressive (and oh-so-French) women lounging on a lazy afternoon, her soft, watercolor-like glaze transports us much like a painting on a canvas would do.

One reason I have always loved Sylvie’s pitchers is simply that they can be looked at and used simultaneously. Both the mini pitchers and small pitchers are great as creamers or to hold a small bouquet of flowers. The whimsical paintings are pure delight.

I always suggest Sylvie’s one-of-a-kind artwork to customers looking for the perfect birthday or Mother’s Day gift. They are unique, expressive, and unfortunately, almost completely sold-out after my extended season in the pop-up shop! Click here to see what’s left.

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Guest Blogger: Jessica!!!

When Emily asked me to join her for her 2011 France buying trip, I quickly said “Oui! Oui! I’ll figure out how to get the time off, I’ll find a cheap ticket, I’ll move a couple mountains, but YES, I’m coming.” (I sadly had to miss her trip last year, and spent the week painfully longing for France while reading her blog and seeing her lovely photos, and  just couldn’t miss out again.


So, I knew we’d see lots of beautiful pottery, and I’d get the chance to make my French useful talking to the ceramic artists for her. I also knew there’d probably be lots of croissants in the mornings and lots of wine in the afternoons. These were all accurate assumptions. What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would adore the artists.

Patrice, who has a little pottery workshop and store right next to his home in the little town* of Gordes, was like a character from a French film. (Which admittedly sounds cliche, especially since this is how I’d describe everyone we met—expecially the old man having a smoke and beer at 10am at a cafe with a little dog on his lap.)
*Note: This little town, like many in the region (including our hotel) has no street address. The business card just shows it as a dot off tiny little highway between two towns. This made for interesting arguments with our GPS.


With a dog named “Tina Turner” who liked to lay, back down and frozen, begging to be pet on her belly, Patrice invited me into his workshop to take photos (“If you want photos, you take”) while Emily chose pieces from his shop. He explained to me how for his square shapes, he turns each plate, partially dries it, and then trims the sides to make it square rather than round (if I understood him correctly). He was patient with me as I asked questions about his work. He’s been a potter for 33 years. First near Lyon, and now here in the country. His business’s name is Herbes Follies, which means “crazy grass”, which Emily and I guessed was because his place was in a very unmanicured area. Though really, even the most unlandscaped scenes in France seem to be picture perfect. We loved smelling the lavendar in the front yard.

Next, we drove to Aigues-Vives to see Richard Esteban. Em had told me we’d be staying in his guest room, which it turns out is a guest house in a dreamy backyard just a few meters from the pottery and store. Quite the compound.


Richard, another character from a French film, or more aptly from the book A Year in Provence, was so pleased to see us. With his big grin, little round glasses, and three kisses on the cheek, I knew we’d be happy there for the next day.

Even happier to see us was Arnaud, the other potter at Richard’s shop, a young cutie with a warm welcome:

“Vous voulez du cafe?” (Do you want coffee?)

“Oui, merci. Si ce n’est pas un problem” (Yes, please. If it’s not a problem”)

“Vous avez traverser la monde pour nous voire, je peux faire du cafe.” (You traversed the world to see us, we can at least make you coffee.”


Arnaud showed us how he makes the scalloped bowl edges with his fingers. It was incredible to see him whip together several bowls on his wheel while talking to us. (Em got a video of this she’ll share later.) We also met Katia, who also works with Richard to manage the pottery shop and helps with some of the more decorative pieces. So so nice. And beautiful.


The shop was impressive. SO much beautiful pottery, so well displayed, with birds chirping in sweet cages here and there. I wandered the shop for hours helping Emily ask Richard questions and serving as a sounding board when she was deciding between colors and styles.

That evening we enjoyed an incredible meal with Richard’s family (wife and three kiddos) and Katia. The kids practiced their English. I practiced my French. It was lovely. And we ate right off the plates made just meters away. C’etait parfait.

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Second Stop: New Artist for Emilia Ceramics

Wow, what a day! By the time we made it to our destination, the pottery shop was closed for lunch. So we took the hint and went to find our own lunch spot. We drove into Cassis, a picturesque little town nestled into a harbor on the Mediterranean, often described as the poor man’s St. Tropez. It was a beautiful day and we were able to soak up some sun while enjoying our crepes.

Then it was back to work and today I was planning to really put Jessica (my friend, who’s acting as French translator) to the test. We went to Poterie Ravel, a 5th generation family-run business that employs 20 artists in the small commercial town of Aubagne. Most of their work consists of large planters that they sell to high end hotels and stores (most recently Louis Vuitton!). However, when I visited 4 years ago I was struck by room after room of simply glazed pitchers, bowls, platters, and vases, which they only sell to visiting customers. I took a ton of pictures during that first visit and have looked forward to the time when I could return with a plan of how to get this beautiful French pottery back home.

Jessica quickly befriended a saleswoman named Patricia. She explained my business and my hope of buying their pottery to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. Patricia approved! She told us that her boss was in a meeting with the town Mayor but that as soon as she was done, she’d come meet us. Well at this point there was nothing to do but start shopping!! We cleared a table and I went to work, quickly filling it with pitchers and bowls that had been carefully crafted and dipped in soft, touchable glazes ranging from subtle aqua and white, to bright yellow and orange.

Just about finished, Jessica and I were adopted by Gil who took us on a tour of the atelier. He showed us the molds used for the large planters, the wheels where smaller pieces were thrown, the glazes used to create such brilliant colors, and a kiln that was packed to capacity and ready for firing. We were introduced to Ettiene (pictured below) as well as a few other artists, who explained how after making a piece, the artist is responsible for stamping it… first with the Poterie Ravel stamp, then with the year’s stamp, and finally with their own initials. Gil’s GS was stamped on the yellow pitcher I’d picked out, Ettiene’s EP was on the white platter, and so on. Such a nice and personable touch!

As we finished our tour, we were met by Marion who runs Poterie Ravel along with her younger sister. She is outgoing, personable, and speaks great English! Marion approved of my selections and assured me that she’d help facilitate the pick-up and pack-up of my pottery. Everything had turned out great: Jessica’s French saved the day and the pottery was just as lovely as I had remembered. I drove away ecstatic to be able to add Poterie Ravel to the new Emilia Ceramics French Collection!

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First Stop: New Work from Sylvie Duriez

It has been 4 years since I happened upon Sylvie Duriez and her artwork at a pottery market in Marseille, France. I remember her as being quiet, tentative to use her little English to communicate with me, and completely modest about the beautifully-painted plates, bowls, and pitchers that I was gushing over.  Since then I have emailed and called her a few times a year and visited her twice. While there now exists a nice familiarity between us, Sylvie remains the same shy Frenchwoman and humble artist I met in Marseille.

My good friend Jessica came with me to France this year to act as my French translator. We arranged to visit Sylvie in her atelier in Pertuis, a small town about 15 minutes outside of Aix-en-Provence. It took Sylvie a few minutes to get to the door as she was busy unloading the kiln in the backyard. As Jessica and I began looking around, Sylvie brought in brand new bowls that were still hot to the touch. “Fresh out of the oven” I said and Sylvie laughed shyly, repeating the words in English as she acknowledged that she understood their meaning.

Sylvie had cleared off the same table for me that I had so easily filled with pieces last year when I visited. I spent a few minutes just soaking up the subtle beauty of her work, then decided I needed to dive in and start choosing what to buy. I was smiling ear to ear as I began picking pieces — reminded immediately that this is the best part of my job!

 

As those of you Sylvie-aficionados know, each one of her pieces is a complete original. She personally hand-throws each bowl, plate, and pitcher, allows it to dry and then fires it. After dipping the piece in a base glaze, she uses a needle-like tool to sketch out an original drawing with women, flowers, birds, cats, rabbits and/or dogs. Sylvie then fills in the sketch with color and fires the piece a final time. Her characters are simply drawn, but full of personality, expressing sentiments of thoughtfulness, loneliness, relaxation and playfulness. As a friend once described them, “Sylvie’s subjects are not historic or monumental, but speak to the everyday and often fleeting moments to which we can all relate.”

I can happily report that Sylvie fans will not be disappointed with the new collection! Sylvie has added to her work a whiter base glaze (the old one has a more rustic, yellow hue to it) that really makes her watercolor-like paintings stand out. I was especially drawn to her new pieces depicting floral bouquets (my favorites are those with iris), fields of wildflowers, and birds happily playing in the branches of flowering fruit trees. In fact, I would describe the new collection as having a more nature-based theme. Don’t get me wrong, I am always a sucker for the languid French women reclining against a tree or in a cozy armchair. But Sylvie’s new pieces have a more earthy quality to them which I love. I feel pretty confident that you’ll love them too!

Check back tomorrow… Jessica and I are headed to the Riviera to visit the famous French workshop Poterie Ravel. I fell in love with their soft glazes and beautifully-crafted pitchers and platters on my first visit to Southern France 4 years ago. I am hoping to add some of these oh-so-French pieces to the Emilia Ceramics Collection.

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Richard Esteban: A French Ceramics Superstar

Richard Esteban is not only a fabulous ceramic artist; he’s also known throughout the small town where he lives as a kind, warm-hearted, and generous father, neighbor, and to top it all off, a great cook! His playful ceramics capture this spirit and have thus extended his fame beyond the locals in Aigues-Vives, making Richard Esteban a big deal in the larger world of French ceramics.

An apprentice at age 16, Richard learned to throw on a potter’s wheel at Foucard-Jourdan in Vallauris, the last traditional ceramic producer in a town famous for its ceramics. Perhaps his precision can be traced back to this time, as the owners would walk around to inspect the potters’ work. If they saw any mistakes, the work being done would be crushed by their walking sticks as they passed by.

Richard’s next step was apprenticing with Philippe Sourdive at Cliousclat Sourdive. Working so closely with one of the few potters maintaining the tradition of glazed pottery, Richard learned about glazes and firing in a wood oven. He also developed his unique, whimsical style that is the hallmark of his ceramics.

In 1979, Richard struck off on his own and la Poterie d’Aigues-Vives was born. Influenced by both his apprenticeships and his walks through regional museums, the studio is a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation. Richard’s method stays true to the old ways of Provencial pottery: from the rich red local clay to hand-throwing every piece to firing in an antique kiln. His workshop is small, but the work is painstaking and simply stunning.

Richard Esteban’s work definitely draws on influences from all over France, both in form and designs. In 2000 he even opened a museum to display his massive collection of glazed French pottery from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. He is certainly not a “copyist” though. Many of Richard’s original designs and pieces have garnered both national and international attention. If you read French, you should enjoy looking at the extensive press section on his website.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of Richard Esteban and his work. His playful polka dots, fantastic hanging lanterns, whimsical animal designs, and rustic glazes are just a few of the reasons I am so attracted to French pottery in general.

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The Best Place to Buy Italian Ceramics: It’s Closer than You Might Think

So you’re on a whirlwind vacation in Italy and want to buy some ceramics? Think again. I know what you’re thinking, while there are some things you can’t bring home – the espresso in the piazza, the incredible pizza, the sun glinting on canals – but beautifully-painted Italian ceramics seem like a great, tangible souvenir that will forever remind you of your Italian adventure. However, there are some solid reasons why importing Italian ceramics yourself is just not worth it.

I hear horror stories from customers all the time that go something like this:

“We visited a small town known for its ceramics and shopped around until we found the most interesting artist. We fell in love with the work – it was so unique and perfect for our home! After developing such a strong connection with the people at the workshop, we thought that splurging on an entire set of dishes would be the perfect souvenir.

“The seller told us they could ship directly to our home and that we would avoid paying VAT because of the customs regulations. It was definitely pricey, but we figured it must be cheaper than what we’d pay in the US; even when we found out the handling and shipping fees it still seemed worth it.

“Imagine our frustration when we received our package (a few months later) and found almost half of the pieces broken! I can’t even tell you how upset and disappointed we were.”

Besides the complicated dance that is getting an Italian VAT refund and paying duty at US customs, there’s nothing more upsetting than finding a box of broken shards after you’ve invested hundreds of dollars. Many people just don’t realize how well ceramics need to be packed to make the long journey. I know this from personal experience, you can be sure. I spend a lot of time (and money) researching packing and shipping methods so that everything arrives in one piece, wherever my artists may be located. I hate the idea of letting even one of these works of art break in transit.

Tuscia d'ArteSo what’s the answer? I recommend touring the workshops while in Italy, meeting the artists, gaining an appreciation for the craft, and identifying your favorite designs and styles. Then, once you’ve returned to the States, find a reliable place to buy Italian ceramics. Enjoy your Italian experience and then let someone else do all the legwork that goes into importing. You can buy Italian ceramics online from a reputable source – inquire about their shipping methods and policies before you buy. And think about bringing some less breakable souvenirs home from your next Italian vacation.

Photo of Grand Canal courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.