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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.

blue mix and pour bowlyellow French vase

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.

indigo pitchergreen fish canister

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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New Showroom in Boulder, CO!

We’re finally open for business — By appointment, 7 days a week. Call or email and then come visit!

2232 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
Phone: 303.442.0180

It’s been an exciting (and exhausting) summer for Emilia Ceramics. After months of finding the right space, moving hundreds of boxes across country, unpacking, painting, and setting up, we’re ready for visitors! Here’s a photo journal of all the work we’ve done, as well as a little peak at what’s in-store…

May, 3013: My mom and I visited Boulder to find a new location for Emilia Ceramics. After 2 full days of looking at warehouses, shops, and even some dentist offices (which would have required lots of construction), we found the perfect space: 2232 Pearl Street. It’s the green building in the middle. How amazing are the clouds in Boulder?!
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Below: The inside before we moved anything in.

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Of course, before we could make any headway in Colorado, we had to pack up the entire business back in California. Luckily, we had the best 3 packers/movers/helpers imaginable — Thank you Edgar, Thomas, and Estuardo! (If anyone in the Bay Area ever needs any sort of help, from painting and construction to moving, these are your guys. Contact me and I will hook you up!)

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We filled the biggest U-Haul truck there is, a 26 footer! Once full, this truck was expertly driven across 4 states and over some huge mountain passes by the most reliable (and reasonably priced) truck driver I could find: my dad! Miraculously, he arrived in Boulder in one piece and still smiling. IMG_3321IMG_3324
Our next job was unpacking this monstrosity, which proved more difficult than you’d imagine because of how well-packed it was. But “The Brown Family Moving Co.” managed it and pretty soon that nice open space was so filled with boxes you could barely move.

IMG_3337IMG_3368 IMG_3371Somehow, over the last month, we’ve found space for everything. In addition to unpacking, we have painted the inside a soft butter yellow, set up furniture, displayed ceramics representative of all the artists we work with, and most recently, painted the outside of the building a Tuscan yellow with blue trim. Next steps include blue window boxes and a new door to match, plus new Emilia Ceramics signs. Needless to say, it’s been a lot of work… but somehow, it seems to finally be coming together.
IMG_3428IMG_3507IMG_3511Mexican ceramicsMexican ceramicsrooster and owl creamersItalian ceramicsIMG_3557IMG_3558I am so excited to finally be open for business! There’s no way I could have done all of this without the help of my family and friends… most especially my parents who have helped every step of the way. THANK YOU!

So if you’re in the Boulder, Colorado area, please come visit! You can set up an appointment to view the space 7 days a week. Just call — 303.442.0180 — or email me at [email protected].

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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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Last Stop: Italian Ceramics and the Amalfi Coast

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Since my last post I’ve spent some quality time on the Amalfi Coast, seen even more stunning ceramics, flown back to San Francisco, and started packing for my big move to Boulder, CO. It’s been a busy week to say the least.

This trip to Italy has been unlike previous ones since I got to explore new parts of Italy and meet lots of potential new artists to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. Just like their French counterparts, Italian ceramic artists are deeply saturated in tradition yet also find new ways to use elements of their craft to create stunning, contemporary-feeling pieces. My last stop was in Vietri Sul Mare (not to be confused with Vietri ceramic), home to Ceramica Solimene. Solimene ceramics are bright and colorful, with an almost childlike appeal. I toured the factory and was amazed by the diversity of Italian style dinnerware and decorative pieces that Vietri Sul Mare is famous for. And it wasn’t just Ceramica Solimene that was busting with beautiful ceramics… the entire town of Vietri Sul Mare is full of ceramic shops, many with beautifully-painted tiles announcing their names out front. I must admit that after all the Italian ceramics I had seen in Florence, Orvieto, and Deruta, I was beginning to feel a touch of exhaustion.

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Thankfully, the gorgeous beaches of the Amalfi Coast were perfect for my over-saturated senses. A few days of rest and relaxation (including beach time and as many cappuccinos as I could handle) and I was ready to head back to San Francisco. With all these amazing new potential Italian ceramic artists, I’ll be taking some time figuring out what fits best with the current collection and the further logistics of orders in the coming months. Hopefully I’ll have new French and Italian pieces this fall… it seems a long ways away right now, but I know it’ll be here before I know it.

Now that I’m back stateside, it’s time for another round of packing my bags. I’m moving to Boulder and excited about the new Emilia Ceramics Showroom on Pearl Street. Once I get things unpacked I’ll share some photos of the new space. If you have any advice on what to do or where to go in Boulder, please leave a comment below. I’ll keep you posted on how the unpacking progresses.

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Majolica Madness in Deruta!!

drive_to_derutaAfter a few days in Florence, I was excited to get back to the country. It has been 5 years since I was in Italy last and I had forgotten just how beautiful Tuscany truly is! Especially this time of year — rolling green hills, red poppies everywhere, and little hill towns around every bend in the road. I spent 2 nights in beautiful Montepulciano and then headed even farther south, to the equally beautiful region of Umbria. orvieto_2The most visible difference between Umbria and Tuscany seems to be slightly steeper hills in Umbria… and a different name for the delicious local wine served at restaurants. I was staying in Orvieto, a town known best for its cathedral, its ceramics, and its Classico wine. I was of course there for the ceramics, but I also enjoyed time spent gazing at the cathedral and drinking the Classico.

But back to the real reason I was in Umbria: a visit to Deruta, a small town with a big ceramics industry. There are actually two parts of Deruta: the small old town up on the hill, which is quaint and full of ceramic stores, and the larger “new” area down below, which is a little faster-paced, but also full of ceramic stores (as well as workshops and showrooms). I started my day in the old section, enjoyed a cappuccino on the main square and then strolled around, doing a little window shopping to whet my appetite. Then I ventured down into the more modern town, where I went looking for old acquaintances and new ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection.majoliche

My first stop was visiting my uncle’s good friends Silvana and Marcello who have a small ceramics business at the outskirts of town. I interrupted Silvana in the midst of her work and explained in my best Italian: il zio mio e Gifford (my uncle is Gifford), which was all the introduction I needed. We had a fun catch-up session (which was repeated when Marcello arrived a few minutes later) in which I spoke my few words of Italian mixed with much more Spanish and they spoke Italian quickly with lots of hand gesturing to try to make me understand. In the end, Silvana suggested that I go visit a ceramics shop in town that I hadn’t heard of before. She offered to take me and introduce me to the nice people who worked there.

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And that’s how I ended up at Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, a beautiful shop packed with vases, lamps, plates, clocks, and lots of fun smaller pieces like salt & pepper grinders and oil & vinegar dispensers. I got the royal treatment from Michele—including a tour and explanation of the process (all in amazing English)—and found some great pieces. I am most excited about the colorful, yet sophisticated table settings I am hoping to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection!

My next stop was right nearby — I was meeting with Gerardo Ribigini whose shop Geribi (which I just realized is a combination of his first and last name : ) I visited 5 years ago. I spent quite a while walking around, looking at his beautifully painted pieces and asking about different patterns, styles, shapes, and designs. I’m definitely looking forward to adding some of his skilled work to the collection as well.

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womenThe final place I went in Deruta was another special visit suggested by my uncle Gifford. Over the years that he’s been visiting Deruta, he has befriended Carmen Monotti, an exceptional artist who creates various types of ceramic artwork. My favorites are her recreations of Klimt paintings (on vases, wall-hangings and necklace pendants — photo on the right)… And the tiles she paints, upon request, for the nearby church, La Chiesa Madonna dei Bagni (photo below). When “miracles” happen in peoples’ lives miracles_1(anything from surviving a car crash to having a healthy baby), those touched by the event commission Carmen to make a tile (in Italian called an ex voto) depicting the scene. The ex voto is hung in the church. I LOVE these tiles — there’s something about their soft colors and simplicity that is so charming.

I had a great time hanging out with Carmen, joking about my uncle, discussing my business, and looking at her artwork. On the way out of town I stopped at La Chiesa Madonna dei Bagni. It is a small church, with simple white walls that make the perfect backdrop for the tiles covering every wall. I would have taken more pictures, but my camera had run out of batteries after the long day filled with so many photogenic subjects! Below you’ll see one of Carmen’s most recent tiles that is hung in the church, followed by an older one done by another artist.

I’m off to the Amalfi Coast now for the final leg of my Italian adventure. I’m going to visit Vietri Sul Mare, another ceramic-centric town, where the well-known Ceramica Solimene is located. I’ll keep you posted!

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Poterie Aigues-Vives: Another Great Visit with Richard Esteban

Well, I made it to Provence! It was a long trip, but well worth it… I checked into my new favorite hotel in St. Rémy-de-Provence and took an immediate dip in the refreshing (by which I mean freezing) swimming pool. I had the rest of the day for some much needed r and r, which helped prepare me for the long day to come, full of driving (and getting lost), shopping (mostly for ceramics), and continuously failing to be understood in French! (It doesn’t matter how much I study the “pronounced as” portion of my French translation book, I seem incapable of saying words correctly! I do have merci and parfait down pretty well though, which goes a long way in relaxed Provence.)

poterieThe plan for the day was to head to Aigues-Vives, a little town in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France where I have now visited Richard Esteban four times! After all those visits, I now know that as long as I can get near the town, I can find Richard. That’s because there are “poterie” signs helpfully displayed throughout town directing you to his home/workshop (like in the photo here). You see, Aigues-Vives is mostly on the map because of Richard Esteban’s ceramic work. It is a lovely little town, but I’m not sure anyone would visit unless they had heard of the polka-dot, stripe, and songbird designs painted there… or the charismatic artist himself.IMG_2146

When I arrived yesterday it was quieter than in the past, with just Richard and his right-hand-woman Katia manning the shop. They greeted me enthusiastically, asked about my business and my friend Jessica, who came with me last time I visited. I recently placed a big order with Richard, complete with all the polka-dot mugs, pitchers, and plates that have recently sold out at Emilia Ceramics. I knew immediately though that I’d be adding to that order while visiting the shop in person. That’ll give Richard some more euros to put in his custom-made piggy bank, as he is demonstrating in the funny photo on the right (with Katia)!

I’ve described before how Richard’s shop is like my personal heaven on earth. So many beautiful works of art — from giant statues of birds and soldiers, to small plates proclaiming Vive l’Amour. Each piece is original, whether in the shade of its rustic glaze or in its hand-molded design and shape. There is so much to see and be amazed by. Add to that the ambiance created by open doors and windows to let the warm breeze through, songbirds chirping in their cages, and pet dogs lazily strolling around or sleeping in the shade.

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Richard was the same outgoing character as in the past — At the end of the afternoon he mustered up his best English and asked “You want drink wine?” Of course I did… but I passed as I was already feeling my jet-lag kick in and needed to drive another couple of hours. It’s a good thing I said no, as the signs leading away from his “poterie” are not quite as clear as those getting there. My early success had given me too much confidence in my directional skills and I proceeded to get very lost on my way back to St. Rémy.  Luckily, that’s what I’ve come to expect on these trips. What’s an adventure in Provence without a little time spent circling roundabouts until you feel dizzy?! I had a great first day in France and I can’t wait for all that’s to come. Tomorrow I go see Sylvie and Poterie Ravel. And next week, andiamo a Italia! I can’t wait — I have high hopes that my Italian pronunciations will be much better! Honestly, they couldn’t get any worse : ).

 

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Off to France and Italy! What French and Italian Ceramics Will I Find?

TuscanyAs some of you already know, I’ve just gotten to France for the first leg of my June buying trip. Visiting Richard’s studio was stunning, as always, and I’ll write about all that I did there soon. But though I’m excited to be reconnecting with my French artists, I’m particularly looking forward to Italy since it’s been a few years since I’ve visited in person. I’ve done some research on things like Deruta patterns, Vietri dinnerware, and other types of Italian majolica pottery, but there’s really no substitute for actually being “on the ground” where these Italian ceramics are made.

There are three centers of Italian ceramics: Faenza, Deruta, and Montelupo Fiorentino. All three of these areas have access to the raw materials necessary for Italian majolica pottery as well as to major trade routes necessary for success in the Renaissance, making them ceramic centers for hundreds of years. Both Ceramiche Bartoloni and Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia are in the Montelupo Fiorentino region, and I cannot get enough of their intricately hand painted dinner plates, servingware, mugs, and other Italian ceramics. Both studios are home to incredibly talented Italian ceramic artists and it’s always exciting to see the new ways they combine traditional and modern elements to create unique, personal ceramics.Italian ceramic platterhand painted Italian platter

But what about Italian earthenware or Italian pots? Vietri ceramics or Tuscan style dinnerware?Italian pots These Italian ceramics, along with the famous Deruta, are what I’m hoping to find. I have some leads on some studios that practice traditional methods with everything made by hand and hope to unearth some new gems to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. I love the geometric shapes that make up Deruta patterns, resulting in breath-taking plates, bowls, and platters. And with all the possibilities for rustic Tuscan style dinnerware, I’m sure to find pieces that fit in with my existing collection. New artists are always a thrill and I can’t wait to start exploring.

Have any suggestions for Italian ceramics I should go after? Know of any artists that would be a good fit for the Emilia Ceramics collection? Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

 

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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.

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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.

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Our Favorite Italian Ceramics, Patterns, and Pieces

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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.

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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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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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Behind the Scenes: Tuscan Pottery at Its Best

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.

It has been way too long since I last visited Italy! I LOVE Italy… the food (every pasta dish is cooked perfectly), the wine (even the house bottle is always delicious), the cappuccinos (consistently 10 times better than anything Starbucks can do), the people (so friendly, so open, so Italian), and of course the ceramics. It’s no surprise that some of the most beautiful, colorful, and high quality ceramics come from Italy… it was 13th century Italian artists, after all, that transformed the tradition of Majolica into the high art form we know today. From relaxed fruit and floral motifs to precise depictions of renaissance characters, fine Italian ceramics continue to set the standard for the craft the world over.

Five years ago when I went on my first buying trip to Italy, I had the good fortune of visiting two of the best workshops in Tuscany: Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Ceramiche Bartoloni, both of which are located in Montelupo Fiorentino, a small town right outside Florence that is famous for Majolica. I learned of both artists from my uncle, Gifford Myers, who’s a ceramicist in Los Angeles and has collaborated with many Italian artists over the years. Gifford insisted that Tuscia and Bartoloni were the best in Tuscany and would be friendly, fun partners for me to work with. He was so right!

On my first visit, I took the train from Florence to Montelupo and was met by David, who runs Tuscia. David brought me to the warehouse where 3 of 5 local artists were painting that day. 

Gabriel (seen painting above) started working with ceramics when he was 15 years old and is now the principal artist at Tuscia. He is responsible for designing and executing the most intricate designs, such as my favorite, the Square Plate with Oranges.

David gave me the grand tour of the workshop, which was packed with beautifully crafted and painted platters, pitchers, lamps, and planters. It was like a museum, showcasing all the styles, sizes, and designs they’ve created over the years. I took a ton of photos, which I still reference when I’m placing a new order.

Founded in 1982, the Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia building has an old, slightly warn-down charm — it is so picturesque set amidst the rolling Tuscan hills. Patrizio Bartoloni (on the left below) met me at Tuscia and drove me to the Ceramiche Bartoloni workshop, where he and his brother Stefano run their business. While slightly smaller in scale than Tuscia, Ceramiche Bartoloni is larger than life when it comes to the vibrancy of their glazes, the delicacy in their designs, and the pure personality they put into each ceramic piece. Their sophisticated Italian style is clearly evident in the Limoni, Blu Limoni, and Rooster pieces, which have always been favorites among Emilia Ceramics customers.

Patrizio and Stefano started their business when they were 18 and 20 years old, respectively. At the time, their “studio” was a wood shed with a dirt floor in Capraia, a tiny village bordering Montelupo. When they outgrew that space, they moved to their current workshop in Montelupo, about 10 miles outside of Florence.

Patrizio is more of the flamboyant painter and Stefano does more of the intricate designs and lettering. My uncle met them in 1987 in their “studio” in Capraia and has been friends with them ever since. He nicknamed them the “Blues Brothers,” which they think is really funny.

In my opinion, small Italian workshops like Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Ceramiche Bartoloni represent the best Italian ceramics and Tuscan pottery has to offer. In these close-knit, family-run studios, artists are not just reproducing traditional ceramic pieces; they are creating their own unique artwork in a style that their ancestors have spent 600 years perfecting.

I am thrilled to be returning to Italy this coming spring — partially because I miss the great pasta, wine, and cappuccinos so much — but mostly to immerse myself in the originality, vibrancy, and colorful creativity that personify fine Italian ceramics. I’ll visit Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and the Bartoloni brothers, hopefully discovering some new and hidden gems to add to the Tuscan pottery in my collection. But I will also seek out new, undiscovered Italian artists in other parts of the country. My hope is to diversify the Emilia Ceramics collection over time, adding the unique abilities and cultural influences of artists from Umbria, Sicily, and the Amalfi Coast. What are your favorite Italian ceramics and where do they originate? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

                   

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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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Have you heard of Poterie Ravel?

Because apparently they’re quite famous the world over. I wish I could share their beautiful catalog with you. It is a powerful piece of marketing that transports you instantly to refined restaurant patios, well-manicured historic gardens, and chic 5-star lobbies — yes, it’s true, those are the places that Poterie Ravel is! Well, those places… and www.EmiliaCeramics.com. Let me explain…

On my first buying trip to France in 2007, I stumbled upon Poterie Ravel. They are renowned for their terracotta planters and ship to luxury hotels and restaurants throughout France and around the world: “Ravel. A name and now a brand. A promise of true French style. Ravel epitomises all the elegance and the simplicity of a unique and timeless art of living. Ravel creates new forms and new products that blend into a classic decor or embrace pure, contemporary lines.” Such an accurate description (quoted from their catalog) — the clean lines and modern class of Poterie Ravel’s work is unchallenged. But what’s even more exciting, is that they also make smaller, one-of-a-kind pieces for the home, such as pitchers, vases, plates, platters, bowls, etc. I quickly fell in love with their luscious, touchable glazes and soft, subtle shapes. It took me 4 years, but I have finally added these beautifully-crafted pieces to the Emilia Ceramics collection. And unlike Poterie Ravel’s famous pots, I seem to be the only person to whom they’re shipping home-ware. Check it all out here: Poterie Ravel on Emilia Ceramics.

While pure aesthetics and beauty may first attract you to Poterie Ravel, the history behind this company is sure to keep you interested/wanting more. It is a 5th-generation family-run business that dates back to 1837, when the earthenware and pottery studio was first founded in Aubugne, France. In 1935, when Gilbert Ravel took over the pottery studio from his father, he changed things up a bit… focusing more on modern, exciting designs aimed at high-end interior and landscape designers. Two sisters, Marion and Julie Ravel, took over in 1994. I met Marion when I was last visiting in September (see photo below) and can attest to her passion and genuine love for growing the business. I leave you with another quote from the Poterie Ravel catalog: “The rare and authentic expertise of one of the oldest terracotta studios in France has been forged by five uninterrupted generations of family history. The style, shape, and body of Ravel pots make them perfect for setting the scene in gardens and terraces, on squares and indoors. The way they are finished and fired afford them unrivaled quality and color, and make them unique to the touch.” I could not agree more. Enjoy!

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What Makes French Ceramics So Special?

I still have some French ceramics that haven’t quite made it onto the website yet, and it might just be because I love them so much and am not sure I can part with them! French country pottery has a whimsy that’s unlike other pieces I’ve seen. That plus fabulous, rich colors, unexpected play with textures, and versatile functionality set handmade French pottery apart.

The recent shipment from France included great pitchers, fun platters, and some truly wonderful pieces of art that just happen to be bowls as well. French bowls are always popular, from Richard Esteban’s playful polka dots to sturdy prep bowls by Patrice Voelkel. Add to these pieces by Sylvie Durez with languid scenes that are painted directly onto the base glaze to create one of a kind artwork. There’s no lack of variety when it comes to the personality found in French ceramics – all these artists have a unique style that makes their pieces easy to identify.

While Sylvie’s work is full of whimsy with intimate and personal scenes, I think most French ceramics have a certain playfulness about them. Fanciful shapes, animal motifs, and directives like “Vive le bon vin” (which roughly translates to “Long live good wine”) are all hallmarks of French country pottery. These are pieces that definitely get people talking at a party or a dinner.

Thick glazes and rich colors are also trademarks of handmade French pottery. Think warm butter yellow, jewel-toned spring green, and vibrant blues. Then there are the reds, from a barn red to dark cranberry. The contrast between smooth glaze and the roughness of exposed clay add textural appeal to pieces like this pitcher by Richard. It’s a delight to multiple senses, whether filled with flowers, wine, or water.

Like this pitcher, French ceramics beg to be seen and used daily. Whether it’s a platter that hangs on the wall or a vase that decorates a shelf when empty, these are pieces that people love to have around in their homes. Add to all this the truly personal handmade touches, and it’s no wonder that people just like me consistently fall in love with French ceramics.

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Is the Price Right for Italian Ceramics?

Have you ever watched “The Price is Right,” the game show where people guess how much things cost and then win them if they’re correct? After spending a few months in our pop-up shop explaining pricing to customers, I feel like I could be a big winner on that show, especially when it comes to Italian ceramics. People often ask – why are they so expensive, particularly when compared to pieces at big box stores like Sur la Table or Williams Sonoma?

There are many factors that go into the price of Italian ceramics, but the major ones are materials, the manufacturing method, and quantity of production, particularly for majolica style ceramics. Supplies for Italian ceramics include clay, glazes, and temper, as well as all the tools and equipment from kilns to potter’s wheels. Rising costs and inflation in recent times have affected ceramic artists just like they have everyone else (especially in Italy). When materials cost more, the product itself becomes more expensive. In fact, many of the larger Italian ceramic manufacturers have sadly gone out of business in the last 5 years.

Artists then face the tough choice between cutting costs and compromising on quality or raising prices and keeping to a high standard. It’s a phenomenon that’s not limited to Italian ceramics – designer clothes, handbags, even peanut butter have all seen rising material costs over the past few years.

Manufacturing method also makes a major difference in pricing. Handmade ceramics require skilled craftsmanship to create, whereas mass-produced pieces require workers to operate machines. I’ve talked about the difference in these Italian ceramic types before, particularly the trend of pieces being made somewhere else and only finished in Italy with a “Made in Italian” signature. There are lots of “Italian ceramics” on the market currently with dubious origins, often actually made in China or Portugal.

The last aspect of Italian ceramic pricing is quantity. At Emilia Ceramics, we work exclusively with small manufacturers, some of which are made up of a single artist. At Ceramiche Bartoloni, for instance, it is just the Bartoloni brothers (Patrizio and Stefano) who do all the ceramic artwork. And because our orders are selective, requesting one of a kind pieces with their own unique character and style, they are relatively small. Importing these small productions of handmade Italian ceramics means higher shipping costs than larger manufacturers sending over boat-loads of a manufactured product.

With all these factors in mind, I think it’s more important than ever to support artists that are continuing a craft that’s generations in the making. And I feel good about cutting out all the middlemen and paying my money directly to the hardworking and talented artists in Italy. While there might be ceramics “inspired by” Italian methods, nothing quite matches up with the real thing. And to me, that’s worth every penny.

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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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Who You Calling a Square? Why Shape Matters

Shape matters. Don’t believe me? Think about all the thought that goes into the design of everyday objects: your cellphone, car, computer, and countless other objects have all had teams of designers that work on melding style with functionality. So what about something like Italian blue and white ceramics? Are teams of experts working round the clock to make them sleek, sophisticated, and fashion forward?

Strangely enough, I think when it comes to pieces like serving trays and platters the answer is yes. Ceramic artists have to consider not only how a piece will look but also how it will function. Is the lip too curved to let food sit near the edge? What kind of food can be served with this rectangular serving platter? If it’s too big or too small, no one will use it. Can serving trays be made to have multiple functions (like decorating a wall when not in use)? How thick is sturdy without looking too clunky?

One of the joys of handmade ceramics is how they truly set your table and home apart, matching your style and personality. While many of my customers gravitate towards Italian blue and white ceramics, the patterns, motifs, and styles vary widely from geometric designs to intricate pictures. I love the variety of platters and serving trays out there, especially those with a surprising shape. Who said that all plates needed to be round anyway?

For example, one of my favorite square serving trays is this one with oranges. While still an Italian blue and white ceramic piece, the warm orange and yellows of the fruit make them look good enough to eat. Looking for square serving trays with some more zest? Try one of the many with lemons, guaranteed to brighten the wall as a hanging piece or the table as a serving platter.

There are many other shapes for serving trays and platters from circles to rectangles. Continue the fruit theme with this magnificent rectangular serving platter perfect as a centerpiece empty or filled with fruits, snacks, or desserts.

Big or small, rectangular serving platters can be used as key or jewelry trays, a spoon rest, or even a way to keep toiletries stylishly arranged in the bathroom. Use a mix of shapes to keep things interesting, adding surprising texture throughout your home. You’ll never look at squares the same way again!

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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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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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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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Handmade Italian Ceramics: How to Shop Smart

I talk a lot about my love of handmade Italian ceramics, but let’s take a look at the alternatives. There are many stores and sites that sell “Italian ceramics” – but are they really what they claim to be? What should you be aware of when looking for stores that sell Italian ceramics? And what are really the differences between hand painted Italian ceramics and manufactured ones?

The alternative to handmade Italian ceramics (or handmade ceramics of any kind) is ubiquitous, impersonal mass produced home decor. I came across “Deruta-Style” dishware like this the other day at Sur la Table. Sure, the plates don’t claim to be handmade Italian ceramics, simply “inspired by” the region. It makes me think of the arguments made against buying counterfeited designer goods. Companies (and in the case of ceramics, small family-run businesses) work hard to build up their reputation and create unique products of the highest quality. When those ideas are stolen, sold at a fraction of the price, and with a fraction of the quality, not only do the businesses suffer, but consumers do as well, explains a recent opinion piece in the Times & Transcript.

In a way Sur la Table is selling knockoffs of a style that artists have made famous through a tradition of craftsmanship for generations. And they’re not alone when it comes to stores that sell Italian ceramics – many will make claims that pieces are made in Italy for the cachet when they clearly came from elsewhere.

But when you’re investing in the beauty of true Italian handcrafted ceramics, how can you spot a fake? Just like leather handbags or designer shoes, there are lots of them out there! Here are some tips for shopping at stores that sell Italian ceramics to make sure you get what you really want.

  • Flip it over. All authentic ceramics should have some mark of origin on the bottom. There are guides to these marks for antiques, but anything that’s genuine handmade Italian ceramic will have something there. And beyond just stating the country, hand-painted ceramics is usually signed by the artist.
    Clearly made in Japan, not Italy.
  • Touch test. Along with a mark, the bottom or foot of the piece should be unglazed if its authentic Italian handcrafted ceramic. This will look like a ring of rough, unglazed clay with a brown-orange color to it. You should feel the glaze as well for the natural variations that occur.
  • Brushstrokes.
    From 16th century Italy; can you see the brushstrokes?

    This along with crazing is another true test of hand painted Italian ceramics. If a pattern looks a little too perfect, it probably was manufactured on a machine. There’ll be some variations in color and pattern too.

    Modern piece by Tuscia d'Arte; look at the brushstrokes here as well.
  • Know your source. If pieces are legitimately hand painted Italian ceramics, the seller should know something about the people that make them. I am always shocked when a shop owner knows nothing about the artists behind the work. It’s a pretty good bet that if a shop stocks generic “Italian ceramics” it’s probably coming from a large factory on Italian soil or, as I mentioned earlier, is merely “Italian inspired.” This is one of the reasons I frequently visit my artists in person; I see the entire process in motion and love to share photos and stories about the artists with my customers. Aside from traveling to Italy and buying directly from the artists (which I definitely recommend), it is the best way to buy with confidence that they are 100% handmade Italian ceramics.

Ceramic mark image courtesy of Grannies Kitchen.

16th century jar image courtesy of F B.

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5 Tips to Help You Buy Ceramics

There are many reasons to buy ceramics. Perhaps you need some coffee mugs or a stunning vase as a special present. Or maybe it’s not about needing anything at all, but more about falling in love with a certain ceramic design or shape. With the wide variety of ceramics available though, how do you decide what to buy? Here are my tips of what to consider when you’re shopping for ceramics:

  1. How will it be used? Are you looking to buy ceramics for decoration or daily use? Some pieces are versatile when it comes to usage (like ceramic bowls) while others are just as beautiful, but slightly less functional (like ginger jars). When buying a gift, think about how the recipient will use a piece – a wine lover would find a wine bottle holder useful while platters can be used to serve food or hang on a wall to brighten a room.
  2. Handmade ceramics or mass-produced? Mass produced ceramics are ubiquitous and impersonal. Occasionally ceramics that are mass-produced end up becoming collectors’ items, but they still lack originality. As for me, I’ll pick handmade any day of the week. I love knowing that my ceramics come from human hands and it’s important to me to support talented artists themselves instead of big manufacturing plants. That way, you know your ceramic piece is totally unique – a one-of-a-kind work of art that can never be reproduced.
  3. How durable is the piece? My grandmother had teacups that she only used on special occasions – the china was so fine I was afraid that if I breathed too hard I’d chip them. Thicker, more sturdy ceramics are better for everyday use (hence my grandmother’s solid mugs that she used everyday). When you buy ceramics, think about who will use them and let that help your decision-making process. Thin, delicate pieces are better for decoration than function, especially if children or pets are anywhere in the picture.
  4. Are you adding to a collection? Some people buy ceramics as collectibles, which makes discovering a unique piece all the more fun. For instance, I have an ever-growing collection of ceramic mugs, all of which I use! My mix of Portuguese, Italian, Mexican, and French ceramic coffee mugs is a testament to years of experiences, making my morning coffee like a trip down memory lane. If you’re buying for someone else, find out first if there’s a particular focus to their collection; they may have a thing for pitchers or anything decorated with roosters or glazed in blue and white.
  5. Where does it come from? When it comes to craftsmanship and quality, the source is hugely important. I love being able to see the brushstrokes and feel the irregularities in the glaze that make handmade ceramics truly special; forming personal connections with artists simply deepens my appreciation for the pieces. Choosing ceramics from artists with a strong dedication to their craft makes it easy to buy with confidence, knowing your pieces will stand the test of time.

What do you look for when you buy ceramics? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Majolica: More than Just Italian Ceramics!

Even though majolica (or maiolica) has been around for over 500 years, the process remains the same in today’s manufacturing of Spanish, Mexican, French, and Italian ceramics in this style. There are five basic steps to create majolica:spanish_artist at potter's wheel

  • Formation – The potter forms the piece by hand and/or with a potter’s wheel and lets it dry in the open air. Dried pieces usually are a light grey color.
  • First Firing – The dried pieces are loaded into a kiln and fired at 1890° Fahrenheit to reach the bisque stage, turning a terracotta red color. Care must be taken that temperatures don’t change too rapidly as they heat up or cool down as this causes the pieces to crack.
  • Glazing – Traditionally the bisque piece is dipped into a white powdery glaze that quickly dries. This provides an ideal surface for hand painting.
  • Painting – Here is where artistry is key. Artists paint the piece with mineral-based glazes that leave no margin for error. Once this glaze is applied it cannot be removed or covered over. An artist might paint freehand or follow a pattern, depending on the piece. Often the glaze colors look totally different than they will on the finished piece.

painting Majolica

  • Second Firing – Here again the kiln is loaded, though the temperature for this second step is only 1690° Fahrenheit. This firing can take up to 24 hours to give pieces 12 hours of constant heat. After cooling, you have gorgeous, vibrant majolica ceramics.

With a process so labor intensive, how has majolica remained popular for so many years? Long before it was transformed by the Renaissance and became synonymous for Italian ceramics, the majolica process was used in 9th century Baghdad and Mesopotamia. The technique made its way through trade routes and the port of Majorca to Spain and Italy, where it inspired local potters.

In the late 15th century and early 16th century fine Italian ceramics meant one thing only: majolica. The form was perfect for practical items like tableware and apothecary jars, mixing function and art with ease. Even more incredible was majolica’s role in social change: instead of people eating off common large wooden platters they now used individual dishes, often decorated with a family’s coat of arms. As you would imagine, dining customs and hygiene changed greatly as a result.

But majolica doesn’t stop there. Victorian majolica, manufactured in the 19th century in Britain and the United States, follows the same process, though the glaze is different. Wedgwood and Mintons were major manufacturers, creating whimsical, creative forms for both decorative and daily use — everything from tableware to umbrella stands and candlesticks. The International Majolica Society is devoted to collectors of this exuberant period of majolica ceramics.

And today? Majolica continues its popularity in Spanish, Mexican, French, and Italian ceramics, combining tradition and modernity, as well as functionality and beauty. In fact, modern majolica shares many common motifs with Italian antique ceramics and Victorian majolica. Rooted in the natural world, both traditional and modern designs often depict flower patterns or raised shapes of fruits and animals, regardless of where or when they are made. It seems clear that the timeless beauty and durability of majolica continues to make this painstaking process well worth the effort.

Victorian majolica fish image courtesy of Leon Brocard.

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Can You Identify Handpainted Ceramics?

While the beauty and function of a ceramic piece is important, its origin has equal value in my mind. That is why I get to know artists personally, visiting their workshops in small towns, watching them work and discussing the techniques, glazes, and firing styles they employ. For me, there is no substitute for the knowledge that a bowl or plate I’m using was lovingly crafted and painted by human hands.

But what is the real difference between handpainted ceramics and their mass-produced counterparts? When Italian authorities began investigations to fight against fake handmade and handpainted ceramics several years ago, they obviously thought it a difference worth noting. In 2010 they ended up seizing over 2000 pieces bearing the “Handpainted in Deruta” signature that was in fact a decal transfer, not handpainted at all, says That’s Arte. These ceramics were being sold to tourists as well as exported as authentic Italian handpainted ceramics. Clearly there is money to be made here.

Art fraud or really any replication of a luxury good is becoming even more popular. From paintings to watches to handbags, it’s important to know the signs of the genuine article before making a purchase. Here’s what to look for when it comes to ceramic hand painting:

  • Brushstrokes. Ceramic hand painting will always show its true colors with brushstrokes, even if they are small. Often these come in a series in areas of solid color, but look carefully for the slightly darker areas that show overlap. (Can you see them in the image below?) Sometimes fakes will have a hand-painted rim on a plate or cup, so inspect multiple areas. Manufactured printed pieces often have a pixelated look instead of the even brushstrokes created by a human hand.
  • Crazing. With majolica pottery, this is a sure sign of authenticity. Crazing is the effect by which little hairlines appear over time (like in this photo blow); it’s a natural part of the aging process, which means it is only apparent in older ceramics. Pieces with bright white backgrounds and no texture should be suspect; authentic majolica made with ceramic hand painting will have more of a creamy white color instead.
  • Texture. The complex firing process of majolica produces slightly raised lines where the ceramic hand painting occurs. This “fat glaze” gives it such a wonderful hand feel; something mass-produced will have a flat surface. Another test is to scratch the piece with a coin; the glaze shouldn’t be affected at all.

Of course, the surest way to confirm a piece’s authenticity is to get to know the artist. This guarantees that you are buying handpainted ceramics. I visit my artists’ studios as often as possible, seeing the entire process in motion. That way, I know that my collection represents high quality and one-hundred percent handcrafted work.

Crazing image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass.

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The Case for Handmade Ceramic Pottery

There’s nothing quite like holding well-crafted ceramics in your hand, whether a mug, bowl, plate, or large decorative vase. Yet some believe handmade crafts like painted ceramics are endangered, as stated on the Mexican Pottery and Crafts blog.

As with other artistic professions, a ceramic artisan is not focused on speedy production – there are machines now for that – but instead on creating quality work that follows long-standing tradition. The artists I work with at Emilia Ceramics have all chosen to follow a path that doesn’t bring easy money or involve mass production. For them it is a labor of love, aimed at giving satisfaction to both artist and customer alike. Each piece of painted ceramics is the result of hours of work, from beginning to end. So the question is, as our society becomes more and more streamlined, is there still a place for this kind of intensive labor?

I believe that there is value in the tradition and culture behind handmade ceramic pottery, which mass-produced pieces just don’t have. I love seeing a fingerprint or other slight “imperfection” on a piece — it is evidence that the bowl or plate was crafted by human hands. It is definitely true that you “can feel when there was a person with enthusiasm behind an object and not simply a machine.” That connection is completely different from the feelings engendered when you buy a piece off the shelf at a big box store.

The idea of being part of a long-standing tradition is also critical, as a culture’s values are often passed on through its artwork. I think about artists like Gorky Gonzalez, Richard Esteban, and even Juan Quezada of Mata Ortiz fame. These men chose to pursue and truly revitalize ceramic traditions that had either disappeared or were on the verge of disappearing. They are great examples of the genius that results from combining traditional craftsmanship with a new and creative modern aesthetic. These artists respect the past, but aren’t slaves to its forms or designs.

Just look at painted ceramics like a graceful vase, a simple bowl, or even something as basic as a mug. These gorgeous, practical examples of handmade ceramic pottery appeal to all the senses, invoking rich traditions and celebrating life’s simple pleasures. And for that reason alone, I think we’ll be able to keep the tradition of handmade artistry alive, even in an increasingly technological world.