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Day of the Dead and Mexican Pottery

El Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is just around the corner (it’s November 1st and 2nd, corresponding with the Catholic All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days). While Day of the Dead traditions originated in the Central and South Aztec Regions of Mexico it is now celebrated in cultures around the world. Decorated Grave in San MiguelThe holiday is a time when people celebrate and pray for friends and family members who have passed away, aiming to help support their spiritual journey in the afterlife.

On the first day of the holiday, people visit their relatives’ graves, decorating them with flowers and candles. It’s a sort of picnic in the cemetery, with friends and family sharing stories about their loved ones buried there. It’s a celebration of the dead, as well as a celebration of the community those loved ones helped to create.

These graveside picnics usually feature food that was enjoyed by the loved ones being celebrated. Popular Day of the Dead cuisine includes tamales and pan de muerto, a special bread. Bakers hide a toy skeleton inside (usually plastic) and it’s good luck if you bite into it. Sweets are another important Day of the Dead tradition, with cookies, chocolate and sugar skulls. By biting into the skull shapes, people symbolically “take a bite of death” and rid themselves of the fear of death.

Right: A decorated grave in San Miguel de Allende
http://davidlansing.com/a-party-at-the-cemetery/

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

Day of the Dead Altar in Oaxaca, Mexico
Above: A Colorful Day of the Dead Altar in Oaxaca, Mexico
http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/special/articles/oaxaca-mexico-day-of-the-dead.shtml

One of the most popular Day of the Dead personalities is Catrina, the skeleton figure of an upper class female in colorful dress. Catrina gained her iconic status soon after the Mexican Revolution in the 1920s and remains a popular subject in paintings and sculptures to this day. Her male counterpart is called Catrin. He often shows up playing in a Mariachi Band or alongside Catrina.

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Catrina Serving Plate’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Serving Plate with Skeleton Couple’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Skeleton Serving Plate’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

On my last buying trip to Mexico I picked out a handful of Gorky Gonzalez pottery with beautifully-painted Catrina and Catrin images. While some people who are unfamiliar with the joyous-element of Day of the Dead might think this holiday or its skeleton decorations are creepy, many of us find them to be fun, colorful, and full of authentic Mexican charm. The Day of the Dead plates by Gorky Gonzalez are not meant to be used and enjoyed solely during the holiday. Instead, they offer a relaxed, whimsical look at traditional Mexican culture that should be celebrated year-round. I love this eccentric Mexican pottery and I hope you do to!

What are your thoughts on this colorful holiday and the traditions that go along with it? Do you know of other Mexican ceramics that celebrates the Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Catrina Square Platter’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Catrina Plate’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Serving Plate with Catrina’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

Day of the Dead Plate by Gorky Gonzalez
Above: ‘Large Serving Plate with Skeleton Couple’ by Gorky Gonzalez
Shop Day of the Dead Ceramics >>

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Buying Trip to Mexico, Part 2: Capelo

capelo_signAlthough I had planned to visit Capelo, I didn’t coordinate with him ahead of time. The previous times I had visited he had just been there — at his beautiful home and showroom perched high on a hillside overlooking Guanajuato. But this time was a bit more complicated. My parents and I were picked up at our hotel in Guanajuato in the middle of the day. The plan was to go up to Capelo’s, buy ceramics, bubble wrap our purchases, and bring them with us, so my friends at Talavera Vazquez (in Dolores Hidalgo) could ship them home for me (you might remember this process from the last time I visited Capelo). Our driver called Capelo and learned that he and his wife had come to town to do some shopping and weren’t sure when they’d be home. I asked the driver to tell Capelo who I was, because I figured that he would want to see me: “Tell him I’m the tall American girl who shows up every few years and buys a lot of ceramics.” Sure enough, after doing a few extra spins around colorful Guanajuato and finding our way out of town and into Capelo’s scenic neighborhood of Valenciana, he was there, waiting for us.

capeloFor all of you Capelo pottery aficionados out there, I have a little secret to share… I have always thought that Capelo was Capelo. I imagined that Capelo was his last name and he just went by that. At Emilia Ceramics, we’ve referred to him as the “Madonna” or “Prince” of Mexican pottery because he goes by this singular name. Well on this trip I finally found out his REAL name: Javier Hernandez. Yep, it’s true, Capelo is Javier Hernandez! But I think for ease (and respect for him) we’ll continue calling him Capelo.

As soon as we arrived, I got to work looking through the piles of bowls and plates on the floor and tables of the showroom, while my parents started their own pile of vases and pitchers they thought I’d like. Every once in a while, Capelo would pick up a piece I had skipped over and nonchalantly ask “not this one?” … or “did you see this one? It is painted so beautifully.” He could see that I was carefully inspecting the design of each piece and he was concerned that I might have missed something. Of course he was right and once I gave these pieces a second look, I agreed that they were, in fact, beautifully-painted and should be added to the Emilia Ceramics collection. At one point I joked that he was a very good salesman, convincing me to buy more and more. But I know that it was just his deep connection with each piece that made him want to be sure I was seeing, inspecting, and considering the best of the best. It’s the same way I am with my customers who I think might have skipped over an especially amazing piece at Emilia Ceramics.

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Not surprisingly, I ended up buying about 3 times the amount I had imagined I would. It was just too hard to resist these beautifully crafted vases, platters, and bowls, each with it’s own unique design of super soft and touchable glaze. Capelo’s work definitely has an attitude all it’s own and I love the diversity and originality it adds to my collection.

Here’s a link to what remains from my last visit to Capelo (the new arrivals will be available soon!) >>

After finishing up the business portion of our visit and while waiting for Capelo’s helpers to safely pack up the goods, he took my parents and I on a tour of his beautiful garden. There were many large tibores (the Mexican version of an urn) that Capelo himself has painted, including the one next to my dad below.

(Part 3 of my trip to Mexico will talk about my visit to Talavera Vazquez in Dolores Hidalgo and staying in the charming city of San Miguel de Allende. Stay tuned…)

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See Part 1 of our Buying Trip to Mexico >>
See Part 3 of our Buying Trip to Mexico >>

Update: New Arrivals are Here!! Shop Now >>

 

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Buying Trip to Mexico, Part 1

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My recent buying trip to Mexico felt a bit like an anniversary celebration. It’s hard to believe, but I started Emilia Ceramics right after my first buying trip to Mexico in November of 2007… That’s seven and a half years ago!! On that trip, I visited six different artists and their workshops. Since then, three of those six have become popular staples in the Emilia Ceramics collections. Not only do my customers love the work of Gorky Gonzalez, Capelo, and Talavera Vazquez, but I love working with these three family-run businesses. They are always welcoming when I visit, interested in my suggestions, and helpful in my quest for new pieces to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection.

mom_and_dad_sqLucky for me, I was able to bring along my two best employees, advisers, and long-time lovers of Emilia Ceramics: My parents! They came with me on my first adventure in 2007, so it was fitting that they’d return on this, my 4th buying trip to Mexico. My parents have a lot of knowledge about art in general and ceramics in particular. They have a great perspective on what customers will appreciate and what they’ll actually use. And like me, they love interacting with the artists, understanding their techniques, and appreciating their skills.

We spent the first few nights in Guanajuato, which is one of the most colorful cities I’ve ever visited. All the buildings are painted shockingly bright colors and the jacaranda trees were in full bloom! It was literally impossible not to take tons of photos! Check out my Instagram Feed >>

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One of the best parts of staying right downtown in Guanajuato, is being only a ten minute walk from Gorky Gonzalez’s studio and showroom. That’s where we went the first morning. It took me at least four hours to look through all of Gorky’s beautiful plates, bowls, pitchers, platters, and ginger jars, hand-selecting the best of the best for Emilia Ceramics! Believe me, Gorky fans, you have a lot to look forward to… the new pieces will be available soon!

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After a long morning of pottery-shopping, we went out back, through the lush gardens where a few parrots were talking excitedly in their old-fashioned cages, and into the studio, where the magic happens. There were 4 painters (including Nicolo, in the above photo on the left, working to re-create an antique tile pattern), as well as a woman delicately loading the kiln for its next firing (see photo below). Gorky Jr. is pictured with me in the above photo (on the right). Gorky has learned the trade from his father and now mostly runs the business himself.

I love seeing how each piece, regardless of its size or shape, goes through all the same painstaking stages… being thrown or molded, fired, dipped in a base glaze, carefully hand-painted, and then re-fired. It is no easy task, but requires a lot of time consuming work and tons of artistic skill.

It was a fun and fulfilling first day! I went back the following day to make some final decisions and then we were off to visit Capelo… more on that visit soon!

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See Part 2 of our Buying Trip to Mexico >>

Update: New Arrivals are Here!! Shop Now >>

 

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Have You Heard of Capelo Pottery?

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

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

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

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

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Emilia Ceramics Now on #Houzz and #Dominomag

There are few things better than a site full of gorgeous, inspirational home design photos. Houzz is a perpetual favorite and I couldn’t be more excited about the relaunch of Domino. And now, among the photos of fabulous interiors that range from DIY to professionally designed, you’ll find some familiar ceramics. That’s right, Emilia Ceramics is part of the marketplaces for both Houzz and Domino, allowing us to share some of our favorite pieces with a wider audience.Houzz

I’ve long been a fan of Houzz. With all those photos of homes in almost every style imaginable it’s an addictive and informative hub of home décor. I was definitely excited when Houzz reached out to see if Emilia Ceramics would like to be part of their selection of curated products that users can buy directly from the site. The collection features many favorites from our Mexican artists Gorky Gonzalez and Talavera Vazquez, along with Richard Esteban’s fabulous French polka dot mugs.

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What’s great about Houzz in particular is that the site suggests wonderful pieces to complete a room, from a garden patio to lux kitchen to cozy living room. It’s ideal for getting a diverse point of view from sources you may have never heard of before.

Domino is another old friend that I’m happy to see again. The magazine’s relaunch in 2013 was met with joy from the design following they had gathered during their initial 2005 to 2009 tenure. Domino’s articles are super informative — think a range from how to throw a cocktail party in an hour to DIY an IKEA staple into a customized wardrobe — and the lists of decorating essentials are definitely drool-worthy. Black and white and chic; I couldn’t agree more!


I also enjoy the new feature that allows you to directly shop pieces from the story, like in this profile of Nick Olsen’s New York apartment. Totally easy, totally brilliant.

The Emilia Ceramics collection at Domino offers a wider range of ceramics from France, Italy, and Mexico. Talavera Vazquez’s small blue striped vase has proved a favorite since being featured in the 2013 holiday issue. As with Houzz, I look forward to seeing photos of how people use these pieces in their own homes. It’s always inspiring!

blue striped vase with flowers

 

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Capelo’s Mexican Vases: High Impact Style

Mexican vases
Vibrant and colorful, Mexican vases are a favorite of many interior designers. But while the graphic designs of Talavera Vazquez are wonderfully modern, there’s something truly special about Capelo’s vases that draw me back again and again to his studio outside Guanajuato, Mexico.

Capelo Ceramics
Capelo
himself says that his glazes are distinct because they use all-natural ingredients. But the playful patterning and expert color combinations set these Mexican vases, pitchers, serving bowls, and other ceramics apart from the rest. Even an empty Capelo vase easily becomes a focal point for a room, whether on a sideboard, shelf, or tabletop. A Capelo vase filled with fresh flowers is even more compelling. The variety of motifs—vases adorned with interlocking circle and diamonds, a repeating fleur de lys pattern, or abstract flowers—highlight their one of a kind nature and makes them even more special. No matter the size, the interesting shapes and warm, inviting glazes just beg to be touched and used.

Mexican vase by CapeloThe laid-back vibe continues beyond Capelo’s Mexican vases. His rustic pitchers accent homes with ease on the table or as decor. For example, this large pitcher would be especially compelling used as a vase for long branches or dried grasses. The ribbon accent on the handle gives it the perfect finishing touch.

large pitcherEach of Capelo’s pieces tells its own story, which is what makes them so compelling. I like how the abstract patterns appeal to a wide range of styles, so they seem right at home in a variety of settings. I can’t wait to see what Capelo’s team creates by the next time I visit the studio! They’re sure to bring high style no matter where they end up.

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Blue and White Mexican Pottery Promises Good Luck in 2014!

How would you like some good fortune in 2014? Good luck traditions range all over the world from breaking plates in Denmark to wearing polka dots in the Philippines. I recently learned that in medieval Europe people listened for a dove’s first call since they believed it indicated the luck to come in the new year. If the call came from above, good luck would come; if from below, bad luck was on its way.

I like to believe that all of the doves on the paloma blue and white Mexican pottery collection bring good luck. I love the mix of patterns and textures that surround the subtle shape of a flying dove on these ceramics; they are at once ornate and warmly rustic. The tall blue and white vase is striking filled with colorful blooms or left empty. The smaller round vase works well for small flowers or as a pen and pencil holder on a desk.

blue and white Mexican pottery vase For those with birthdays in January, the versatile oval paloma box makes a great gift, holding jewelry, toiletries, or keys. Another perennial favorite is the paloma oval serving dish.

paloma dish - blue and white Mexican pottery

If doves aren’t your good luck bird of choice, why not celebrate the New Year with roosters? Blue and white Mexican pottery pieces such as this rooster serving bowl possess a unique charm all their own. Another of my personal favorites is Gorky’s large blue and white rooster. He would be perfect as an accent in a kitchen or in the home of any rooster collector. All that personality has got to bring good luck, right?

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Here at Emilia Ceramics, 2014 is sure to bring more beautiful blue and white Mexican pottery pieces, as well as new French and Italian ceramics, and the return of some old favorites. I feel so fortunate to work with such talented artists, not to mention our dedicated and energetic customers (both new and returning). No matter what you do to bring yourself good luck this year, from toasts at midnight to eating grapes to wearing red underwear, here’s to it being fantastic!

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The Perfect Mexican Ceramics to Celebrate the Day of the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

skeleton bowlCandy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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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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Gorky Gonzalez, a Lesson in Making the Traditional Modern

Gorky GonzalezWorking with artists that are practicing a craft hundreds of years old, I’m always amazed to see how modern their pieces can feel. It goes deeper than the idea that beauty is timeless. Mixing form and function with elegant shapes, rich colors and patterns has long been the hallmark of majolica ceramics. Just look at Gorky Gonzalez. He basically resurrected an art form that had almost died out, drawing on a mix of other ceramic traditions to make Mexican pottery that is as unique as the artists that create it. Instead of being a slave to tradition, Gorky Gonzalez is an innovator who is constantly thinking up new designs and new pieces with the help of his family and the other artists who are part of his workshop.

The Gogo Mexican pottery line is the perfect example of this new era of Mexican ceramics. Contemporary in shape and colors, the pieces still have the weight of tradition firmly behind them. I quickly fell in love with the serving platters, mugs, and colorful plates designed by Gorky’s son, known as Gogo. (And stay tuned because I just received a shipment with brand new Gogo pieces like fun pasta bowls and dessert plates). Based on our conversations together, here are three tips for taking tradition and making it feel a bit more modern.Gogo Mexican pottery

1. Repeat what works. This is a cardinal rule in business as well. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For Gogo’s Mexican pottery, this means using the same local clay, gorgeous glazes, and firing techniques as more traditional Mexican ceramics. The similar colors make these pieces easy to mix and match with the more decorated ceramics Gorky Gonzalez is known for.

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2. Keep it clean. Too many unnecessary additions can make a ceramic piece feel dated. For example, think about heavy baroque curlicues look today—completely overwhelming. That’s why Gogo’s ceramics don’t have much in terms of ornamentation in either glaze or shaping. Purity of line is much more likely to last, whether in ceramics, furniture, or clothing.

3. Take risks. Of course, you can’t be a slave to tradition if you want to innovate. The single dominant color of Gogo Mexican pottery feels classic, but the shapes are more playful (like Gogo’s espresso cups). Experimentation can lead to lovely design, so give yourself time to play.

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Pinterest Finds: Mexican Ceramics

Love Pinterest? The new look is pretty great, making it easy to find all kinds of incredible things. I’ve been exploring Mexican ceramics to add to the Emilia Ceramics Mexico board and wanted to share some of my favorite findings with you.  The new Pinterest doesn’t have the incredibly easy sharing feature it used to, so simply click on images to take you to the original pin, complete with credentials.

We’ll start with Mexico City.

I love these colorful Mexican ceramic plates, but the majolica toilet might be a bit much.

Mexican ceramics pair beautifully with Mexican food (no surprise, right?). Just check out this salsa set up. And a blue and white plate is the perfect compliment for mole.

Of course, some of my favorite Mexican ceramics are those made by Gorky Gonzalez.

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Mexico itself is a stunningly beautiful place.

I think Capelo‘s unique Mexican ceramics are just as beautiful as the views from his studio!

Capelo Ceramics

Capelo Mexican ceramics

Then there are Talavera Vazquez’s ginger jars

And, of course, there’s always the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) full of colorful and almost friendly-seeming skulls.

Have some Mexican-themed pins of your own? Share the link in a comment below to your favorite pins or boards so we can check them out. And follow Emilia Ceramics for the latest new Mexican ceramics, decorating ideas, and more!

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Mexican and Italian Roosters: Different Takes on an Old Tradition

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

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

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

blue and white rooster tray

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

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

italian rooster pitcher

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We’re Ready for Summer Entertaining with Mexican Serving Dishes

Frog Cream and Sugar SetMemorial Day is just around the corner, and with it comes picnics and barbeques galore. Instead of reaching for paper plates, which can blow away in the wind and cause serving disasters, try using sturdy ceramics, like Mexican serving dishes. Your food will look better and be easier to handle as a result. No more worrying about if your burger will end up in your lap or your mouth.Mexican serving dish

I’m not the only one who loves Mexican serving platters for summer entertaining. As the weather has warmed up, I’ve been seeing a surge in orders for these party essentials. The long platter, part of Gorky Gonzalez’s Gogo collection, is ideal for grilled asparagus, raw veggie assortments, or cheese and crackers.

The handles on Mexican serving platters mexican serving platterby Talavera Vazquez make them ideal for passing meats fresh from the grill. Pasta salads or greens fit perfectly into one of Gorky’s cheerful serving bowls. And with Gogo dinner plates in a rainbow of colors, a fun, festive atmosphere was never easier to achieve.

But my favorite part of summer table décor are Gorky Gonzalez’s whimsical Mexican salt and pepper shakers. These are a fun way to season that corn on the cob or grilled steak. Quirky but not too crazy, I can’t get enough of these fantastic animals for any table setting inside or out. Bonus: use salt and pepper shakers to keep an outdoor tablecloth from blowing away before everyone sits down to feast. The blue and white chickens are quite popular (and lend themselves well to patriotic picnics like Memorial Day and Fourth of July), though all of these handpainted animal pairs has its own personality that’s definitely ready to party.

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I can’t wait for my own Memorial Day grilling to start. With Mexican salt and pepper shakers, serving dishes, and the location set, all I need now is to figure out the menu! Here’s to a fun-filled holiday weekend; hope you enjoy it.

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Behind the Scenes: Capelo’s One of a Kind Mexican 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.Capelo

Whenever I visit Capelo’s studio and home on a hillside above Guanajuato, Mexico, I’m always struck by the beauty of the landscape. The rolling mountains with their winding roads are stunning. Capelo himself definitely appreciates the beautiful setting — he goes for almost daily horseback rides through the mountains to relax and enjoy!

hillsides around Guanajuato, Mexico

Capelo Capelo’s one of a kind ceramics are similarly stunning. They possess an unexpected, organic, and completely touchable quality that really sets them apart from other handmade ceramics. Capelo’s studio is one of the smaller ones that I work with at Emilia Ceramics, with only a handful of artists working alongside Capelo himself to create and paint these beautiful Mexican ceramics. Capelo is also a highly regarded architect and teaches classes at the University of Guanajuato, manages the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and executes special commissions. On my visit last June he showed me the gold “key to Guanajuato” he made to present to the Pope. Capelo excels at oil painting and mixed-media sculpture; he is a true artist — always creating something new and exciting.

One of the most striking parts of Capelo’s ceramics is their unusual shape. He makes something as simple as a bowl or vase seem completely new with curves which are accentuated by the gorgeous hand-painting on each piece.

Capelo insists on using only natural glazes, which give his Mexican ceramics a truly special touchable quality. Like Sylvie Durez, all his ceramics are one of a kind, painted in a recognizable range of signature colors. I always have a hard time choosing pieces from all the gorgeous possibilities available and am sad to see them go (but, of course, glad when they find happy homes). The last buying trip yielded striking statement vases, a collection of serving bowls and planters, massive pitchers, and a set of plates that remind me of an ever-changing kaleidoscope. Just like the landscape around the studio, Capelo’s ceramics is a small slice of Mexico that is hard to forget. I can’t wait for my next trip since I’m sure to find a whole new range of Mexican ceramics to fall in love with and share with all of you.

Capelo statement vase

footed serving bowllittle blue plateCapelo Mexican ceramics

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This Just In: New Ginger Jar Lamps

small blue zigzag lamp

small blue zigzag lampThe new website is launched and the new ginger jar lamps are here! How’s that for timing? Due to the ever-increasing popularity of Talavera Vazquez’s ginger jar lamps I’ve been working with the artists to expand our ceramic lamp offerings at Emilia Ceramics. The results are even better than I had imagined, perfect as a bedroom lamp or accent lighting elsewhere in the home.

The new ceramic lamps feature the graphic zig zag chevron design in black or blue. The smaller size of these lamps makes them ideal for a desk, bedside table, or eye-catching accent in the living room or entryway. The chevrons playfully emphasize the curves of the ginger jar shape, giving a completely different feel than the black and white stripe lamp or blue and white paloma lamp.

 

While these new lamps look great on their own, they also pair well with the larger table lamps or ginger jars from Talavera Vazquez. With blue, black, and burnt orange lamps to choose from, the colors are modern without being too trendy.

Lamps are a practical way to update a space while also improving the light in the room. Of course, these lamps look great even when not being used for lighting purposes. I like to think of them as functional decoration at its best. Paired with the right lampshade, these small ginger jar lamps modernize an office or enliven a guest room; just make sure that your shade is large enough to compliment the lamp’s shape and cover the socket and switch area.

I’ll admit I’ve been looking around my house to find the perfect place for one of these new ginger jar lamps. Maybe even two, I like them so much. What do you think of these these new lamps? Have any ideas for other patterns you’d like to see by the talented artists at Talavera Vazquez? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Truly Unique Handmade Ceramics: Our Favorite One of a Kind Pieces

handmade ceramicsEven though all the ceramics in the Emilia Ceramics collection are handmade and handpainted, some artists focus on one of a kind ceramics more than others. Sylvie Durez’s French handmade ceramics are a perfect example. For her plates and bowls, she etches an original design onto the piece without a plan or pattern — then hand paints the piece, with women lounging, serene landscapes, or whatever else she fancies.

handmade ceramics: bowlmodern handmade ceramics

Every time I visit her Provence studio, choosing from all the many options can be quite challenging; often I wish I could just take them all!

Capelo also specializes in one of a kind handmade ceramics. He and his fellow artists in his Mexican workshop craft pieces with unusual shapes and truly touchable glazes. I especially love his vases. Take the Hawaiian vase: with its floral motifs and range of colors, this piece is beautiful empty on a shelf or full of flowers.

Hawaiian vaseCapelo’s unique bowls and trays are also fantastic examples of his one of kind work. They also make great gifts—with these handmade ceramics, you can be certain you won’t be giving something already in someone’s home.

handmade ceramic tray

Other artists, like Gorky Gonzalez and Richard Esteban, mix one of a kind pieces in with their regular handmade ceramic collections. For example, Gorky’s Catrina plates and the amor plate allow artists to get creative with their designs. I particularly love the El Pajaro bowl with its cheerful songbird. These pieces blend nicely with the rest of Gorky’s collection. They’re incredibly detailed, sharing border motifs, color palettes, and style with his other handmade ceramics.

amor platehandmade ceramic bowl

Richard’s one of a kind French handmade ceramics are also tied together by color and feel. Whether it’s a striking black tall pitcher, quirky polka dot planter, or striped serving platter, these ceramics definitely embody the spirit of his country home with a modern edge. I love his tall teal vase and its etching; this is another example of a vase that looks wonderful empty or full.

tall vaseblack pitcher

Of course, the one downside to all these handmade ceramics is once they are sold, they’re gone. It can be hard to not fall in love with every one, but if I kept them all, I’d have no room left in my home. That’s why I’m always happy to share them with you as well as hear from people about their new handmade ceramics when they receive them. Have a story about some handmade ceramics you love and how you use them? Comment below and please share it with us all!

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Making Handmade Mexican Pottery Truly Your Own

gorky_paintWith a laid-back charm, cheerful patterns, and vibrant colors, the handmade Mexican pottery from Gorky Gonzalez is the ideal blend of tradition and a unique, modern feel. These ceramics always make me think of Gorky’s bustling studio in Guanajuato with ceramics in every stage all over the place. Whether a red plate for serving or indigo bowls, contemporary serving platters or dinner plates with fanciful animal designs, Gorky pottery is one of my consistent best sellers here at Emilia Ceramics and it’s easy to see why given their innate appeal.

Unsurprisingly Gorky pottery is a popular choice for registries. People love using the variety of colors and patterns to create table settings that reflect their own aesthetic.

gorky pottery

Edge patterns, animal details, and solid colors create seemingly endless possible combinations. And since registries work by the piece, it’s simple to request exactly what you’d like: Like one of each color plate or a matched set of the Las Flores dinner plates.

dinner plate

red plate

But what if the pieces you want are out of stock? Or if you love a certain design but want it on a different piece? Then it’s time for a special order. Special orders are easy (especially with Gorky’s pieces), which means you can have your favorite animal design like Gorky’s fish or bird handpainted on your dinner plates or a set of cups and saucers with your favorite blue and white design around the edge; it’s another way to make handmade Mexican pottery your own (though all of the Emilia Ceramics artists can accommodate special orders if Italian or French ceramics are more your style). Just contact me with your desires and we’ll take it from there.

Sometimes I even get ideas for new pieces from customers. Take the Gogo salad plate. These came as a request of Jennie and Sean who were getting married and wanted the cheerful colors in a smaller size. I worked with Gorky and loved these plates so much that I made them part of the Emilia Ceramics collection. The result? Jennie and Sean’s cupboard is full of colorful Gorky pottery since their wedding about a year ago. The rainbow of colors just begs to be mixed and matched, from red plates to yellow mugs to blue bowls, totally fitting their style.

gogo_mugs_plates_bowls

I like to think that Emilia Ceramics makes a personal registry even more personal. With my close relationship with our artists, these kind of special requests are fairly easy to negotiate. Getting customers’ feedback is great because sometimes their idea or request can become the next best design idea or new piece in the collection. I think everybody involved from artist to customer loves it when that happens; I know I do!

gogo_mugs_plates

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Vases for Your Valentine from Around the World

Stuck on what to give your Valentine this year? The saying goes “say it with flowers.” Roses might be cliché, but they are certainly a traditional standby. Tulips are another colorful winter flower, as are daisies, irises, stargazer lilies, and orchids. No matter the flowers you pick, you’ll need the right vase to show off those blooms to full advantage. I think giving a vase with a bouquet is a great way to make a lasting statement beyond when the flowers themselves droop and die.

Of course, choosing the proper vase is its own task. It’s important to choose a vase that suits the flowers – a large vase might be ideal for roses or lilies, but dwarf delicate sprays of orchids. A big round vase balances a massive varied bouquet, but overwhelms a simple arrangement. Style is another key consideration – will the delicate flourishes of Italian vases be more appealing or the graphic boldness of a Mexican vase more appropriate?

With vases available from all parts of the world, it’s important to think about the style of your recipient. Do they tend towards minimalism and clean lines? If so, a solid colored vase with sleek styling, like this big round vase, is a good choice.

For those with a more ornate sensibility, a fancy vase with intricate patterning makes sense. The hand painting on vases from Italy makes them perfect for display even without flowers. I love this large vase with Tuscan fruits and curving handle detailing.

Color palettes also change with location. Mexican vases often have bright colors that really pop. An exception to this norm are vases by Capelo, whose soft colors are dreamlike and extremely touchable. His one of a kind Hawaiian vase with floral motifs and sloping sides makes a statement without taking up much space.

The Mexican vases by Talavera Vazquez, on the other hand, use rich cobalt, deep black, vibrant green, or burnt orange for their striped, zig-zag, and patterned vases. French vases by Richard Esteban also use deep colors, though his vases tend to use solid-colored glazes instead of patterning.

 

Will you give flowers and a fancy vase this year for Valentine’s Day? Have another go-to gift? Leave a comment and let us know!

Rose image courtesy of “KIUKO”.

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Rooster Ceramics from Around the World

What’s a motif you’ll find on ceramics almost anywhere in the world? Flowers are a good guess, as are geometric and abstract designs. But there’s another favorite design that might surprise you: rooster ceramics. From Mexico to France and Italy, proud roosters and sometimes chickens grace a variety of ceramics, both decorative and functional.

Italian roosters are probably the most refined of the bunch. Painstakingly detailed with realistic coloring, the Italian rooster pitcher by Ceramiche Bartoloni is a typical example of this rooster type.

Italian rooster pitcher

Even though this rooster looks almost the same on their rooster serving dishes and platter, the hand painting gives each piece a unique attitude with variations in the comb and waddle.rooster bowl

Mexican roosters, in contrast, are more fanciful than their Italian ceramic counterparts. Gorky Gonzalez’s colorful rooster plate is similar to the Italian rooster in details, but feels more like a watercolor sketch, with looser lines (though still definitely proud and tall!).

rooster plate

Then there are blue and white rooster plates, like this octagonal serving dish, which showcase a monochromatic bird on the strut.

blue and white rooster ceramic

Gorky’s three-dimensional rooster ceramics are definitely an excellent mix of fun and realism. The large blue and white rooster sits proudly on a shelf or countertop, and the rooster pitchers and creamers add whimsy and color to the table. Unlike the standard color palette of Italian roosters, these Mexican pieces often have a completely different color combination, making each rooster ceramic totally unique.

Rooster Creamers at Emilia Ceramics

In France, roosters are a mix of refined detail and playful whimsy. Quimper ceramics offer excellent examples of roosters, often in blue. “Le coq gaulois” is an important French symbol that dates back to Roman times and is used today as a sport mascot for French soccer and rugby teams. Some good examples of Quimper rooster plates can be found here and sculptural pieces here. French roosters are fighters and it shows, like in the proud rooster strutting below.

Choisy rooster

What are your favorite rooster ceramics? Are you a fan of chicken décor in general? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Crowing rooster image courtesy of hans s.

French rooster plate image courtesy of Patrick.charpiat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champagne image courtesy of maxxtraffic.

Rosca de reyes image courtesy of From Argentina With Love.

Broken plate image courtesy of Kristian Thøgersen.

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We’re “Bowled” Over by These New Bowls

It’s been a busy past few weeks. I’ve been setting up the Palo Alto pop-up shop, working on a new website design, and also sorting through new arrivals from Gorky Gonzalez and Capelo. Whew!

Some of my favorite new pieces are bowls. Large and small, bowls can be some of the most heavily used ceramics in anyone’s collection. I think it has to do with versatility. A soup bowl also works for cereal, salad, or a massive ice cream sundae. A ceramic pasta bowl doubles as a fruit bowl on a table or countertop; a shallow serving bowl becomes a decorative centerpiece or a mail catchall.

The large serving bowls by Gorky are a great fusion of fun and utility. The one of a kind El Pajaro bowl has a playful exuberance and would look great filled with a fresh salad or hanging on a wall. The skeleton bowl is perfect for fall with colors in warm orange, brown, yellow, blue, and green. Other Gorky bowls like the octagonal bowl with palm trees or the sunburst pasta bowl are equally charming and unique.

Other new Mexican bowls come from Capelo. I have new pieces similar to the Las Flores bowl currently in the pop-up shop (look for them on the website soon!). With its unique fluted corners, these serving bowls are perfect for mixing up cakes, pancakes, or other delicious treats – just use a corner like a spout! There are also some lovely large footed bowls which will be stunning on a coffee table or in the dining room.

Of course, bowls aren’t just for serving and display. The bright yellow of these smaller bowls by Poterie Ravel are sure to brighten any table, while the rich glazes of Gorky’s Gogo soup bowls add a rainbow of hues to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I know that my family’s table will be full of  with our favorite sides and holiday foods. How will you use bowls entertaining this year? Leave a comment and let us know, or simply share a bowl that you absolutely love.

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Behind the Scenes: Gorky Gonzalez’s Mexican 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 handpainted ceramics come to life.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Celebrate Our 4th Anniversary with 15% Off!

I can’t believe it’s been four years since I started Emilia Ceramics. I began by carrying handmade ceramics from just a few artists like Gorky Gonzalez and Tuscia d’Arte and now am proud to work with eleven artists from France, Italy, Mexico, and yes, Spain (coming this fall).

It couldn’t have happened without fantastic customers like you. That’s why this month we’re celebrating with discounts – but you’ll need to work for it (though not too hard, I promise).

Simply send us a photo (or a few photos) of the Emilia Ceramics you already own, in your home. Whether you’re serving dinner on one of Gorky’s plates, displaying fresh flowers in a Vazquez vase, or enjoying your morning coffee in a Bartoloni mug, we want to see it in action!

Here’s how to get your discount:

Option 1: Email us the photo(s) of your loved Emilia Ceramics in action, we’ll send you a 10% off coupon in return.

Option 2: Like us on Facebook and post your photo(s) on our wall. Then send us a private message so we can send you a thank you in the form of a 15% off coupon.

We’ll post all the photos on the Emilia Ceramics Facebook page and our Pinterest album Emilia Ceramics in Action. The best photos will also be featured on our new website, set to launch in October. And who knows, our favorite photo overall might even get a little extra something… wink, wink!

Don’t own any Emilia Ceramics yet? Don’t worry, you have until the end of August to buy that piece you’ve been lusting after, photograph it in action and send/post the photo. Then we’ll send you the coupon. No matter how you get us your photos, you can use the one-time discount through the end of 2012.

The offer ends August 31st, so get your cameras out and send us your photos now!

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Serve It Right with Blue and White Mexican Pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fish and Gorky Gonzalez Pottery: California Style, Mexican Roots

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

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

 

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

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

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

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The Best Ceramics to Buy for Your Collection

I’ve been thinking more about the variety of people who collect ceramics since my last post on Design Miami/Basel 2012. While acclaimed new artists or valuable antique pieces might be ceramics to buy for an established collection, what ceramics should you buy if you’re just starting out?

The first question to ask yourself is simply what do you like? Do you have a favorite color, animal, shape, or country? Many people who buy ceramics online are looking specifically for pieces with Italian roosters, while others have collections that are just blue and white, yellow, or another favored color combination. Maybe you want your collection to reflect your French country décor or make your home feel like a Mexican hacienda. If you’re struggling to find a guiding principal for what ceramics to buy, it’s more important to focus on what you actually like instead of something that’s been designated “valuable” by the dealers.

I don’t think there are any secrets or hard and fast rules about ceramic collecting, but here are my top tips for getting a good start when it comes to buying ceramics, no matter what you like:

Start small.

A great ceramics collection doesn’t happen overnight, even though you can buy ceramics online. Pick a few pieces that appeal to you and that you’ll use. Coffee mugs are ceramics many buy to start off a collection – with all the personalization it’s easy to find a few that you like (and find the space to keep them).

Reward your rituals.

Mugs are also popular ceramics because people tend to use them every day. Think about your daily rituals and what ceramics to buy that you can easily incorporate into these rituals. Morning toast is more special on a handmade ceramic plate; cereal tastes better in unique small bowls. When you buy ceramics that you actually use, your collection will grow organically and you’ll be able to enjoy it everyday.

Have pieces to share.

There’s nothing better than having friends or family sharing a meal together. When thinking of ceramics to buy, a few great serving dishes are simply a must. Large serving platters handle entrees or lots of little appetizers.

Serving bowls are ideal for salads or pasta dishes. And then there are cheese platters and footed platters (perfect for displaying fruits on the table).

Think about display.

Don’t keep your ceramics collection hidden deep in closed cupboards! Hanging ceramic platters on the wall when not in use or keeping mugs on a rack or exposed shelf allows the ceramics you buy to become a daily part of your décor. Large collections can take over a china cabinet, kitchen wall, or sideboard, adding some personality to any space in your home.

Do you collect ceramics? What ceramics do you buy? Leave a comment to let us know!

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Summertime Zig Zag Pattern Love

There’s something very summery about the zig zag, especially blue and white zig zags, which remind me of the ocean (like waves) and Mexico itself (where it always feels like summer). While I was visiting Talavera Vazquez recently, I couldn’t help noticing all the zig zags: From tall vases to pieces destined to become ceramic table lamps, chevrons are one of their favorite patterns to paint… And I couldn’t be happier. So in addition to all the other fun patterns and designs I couldn’t resist, I added even more blue and white, orange and white, as well as black and white zig zag ginger jars to my stock! Perhaps it’s because Talavera Vazquez was my last stop in Mexico, but I still can’t seem to get their creative zig zags out of my head!

The classic and popular large blue and white ginger jars are an obviously place to start. With the addition of extra large blue and white ginger jars that measure 21 inches tall, these are statement pieces that work well indoors or outdoors. The artists at Talavera Vazquez make even taller ginger jars, which are truly massive (not to mention heavy). Customers regularly buy black and white zig zag jars, and I think it’s because the clean lines and bold pattern make them elegantly modern.

These ginger jars (or tibores in Spanish) are so popular that I started working with the artists to turn them into ceramic table lamps a few years ago. The blue and white lamp (whether stripe or zig zag) sheds light beautifully next to a bed or as a living room accent. One of my personal favorites is the burnt orange and white zig zag pattern lamp. The contemporary color adds warmth (along with the glow of the light itself) to any space, large or small.

But while blue and white ginger jars and lamps are popular, I think zig zags add something unexpected to plants. From tall vases with stunning blooms to a playful planter, these bright and bold ceramics are great indoor accents. Looking at all the vases in the studio, it’s difficult to narrow in on the ideal blue vase. There’s the blue striped vase and the intricately patterned blue and white Cristina vase, both with graceful curves. Another tall vase is the narrow Paloma, a blue vase with slim elegance. All of these look fantastic filled with flowers or empty on a shelf or table, no matter the season. I’ve given up trying to choose the perfect one, enjoying the personality of each.

With planters, the round zig zag pattern has returned, along with a charming sunflower pattern, stripes, and other geometric patterns. Drainage holes ensure function, not just fun with these planters, giving your porch, window, patio, or garden a special kick this summer. Why not make your plants as fashionable as you are?

What zig zag pattern uses are your favorites? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Summer Recipes to Fill Your Favorite Bowls

In these carb-conscious times, pasta bowls seem to be a true indulgence. That pile of pasta with a delicious sauce, from a homemade Bolognese to pesto to primavera, is delicious, but perhaps too heavy during the hot summer months. So what do you fill your favorite ceramic pasta bowls with in this season of swimsuit conscious eating?

From salads to ice cream, the fresh produce of summer just begs to fill up even the biggest ceramic pasta bowl. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started celebrating the season, no matter what bowl type or size you have.

Mini bowls. Little bowls are perfect if you’re having a Mexican-inspired feast (now that I’m back from Mexico, I can’t stop eating food that reminds me of the trip).

These bowls hold spices, cheeses, and dips for taco parties or just chips and salsa. I often fill a small bowl with guacamole – fresh lime juice, salt, chopped tomato, avocado, and some spice makes for a simple, pleasing dip that disappears quickly!

StrawberrySmall bowls. These bowls beg to be filled with ice cream sundaes, but if you’re trying to eat a little healthier, then turn to the fruits of summer. (Though check out these ice cream pies if you want to get truly decadent). Something like strawberry shortcake is always a winner, especially if you go heavy on the strawberries. These strawberry and cream biscuits by Smitten Kitchen would fill up a bowl nicely along with whipped cream and maybe even more berries on top.

Pasta bowls. For those who can’t resist the lure of pasta, something unusual like nettles makes for an inspiring summer dish. This recipe by 101 Cookbooks has feta, almonds, and garlic to accompany the green (though kale or spinach would also work) and looks great in a large serving bowl. Green summer salads, full of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, sprouts, and other seasonal delights are a lighter choice for lunchtime that’s also bowl-friendly. And then there’s classic potato salad… or a new twist on it: I love tzatziki, so this potato salad recipe seems perfect to try out at my next cookout.

Have any summer-inspired favorite foods that fill up your bowls? Post your recipes below and enjoy!

Strawberry image courtesy of Manchester-Monkey.

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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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Mas de Mexico!

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

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

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

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

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Gorky Gonzalez: Better Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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Historical Roots of Blue and White Mexican Pottery

Archeologists recently discovered a kiln more than 1,300 years old in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Used by the Zapotecs to make ceramics, it’s one of the best-preserved kilns found to date, says Mexico Today. Not surprisingly, a strong pottery tradition still exists right down the road from the discovery, and in fact, throughout this region of Mexico. From the all black pottery associated with Oaxacan artisans, to the multicolored and blue and white Talavera-style made in Puebla and Dolores-Hidalgo, Mexican pottery is definitely thriving. Modern day artists have put their own stamp on the craft, while adhering to some techniques the Zapotecs would have used over a thousand years ago.

This link between past and present in Mexico creates truly unique pieces, from serving dishes to pottery platters. Reading about this kiln made me think of Gorky Gonzalez pottery, which combines traditional Mexican techniques with Japanese, Spanish, and Italian influences. The resulting fusion is something unique, yet still invokes an ancient pottery past.

Of course, being tied to the past doesn’t need you mean to be stuck there. Nothing exemplifies this concept more than the Gogo line, created by and named for Gorky Gonzalez’s son. When it comes to blue and white Mexican pottery, Gogo serving pieces might not be what you expect. Sleek and modern, these contemporary pieces speak to a design aesthetic of today while staying true to techniques honed for hundreds of years.

But serving ware needs to have more than an interesting past. For me when it comes time to choose pottery platters or serving bowls, I’m concerned about how the piece will look and function with food on it. Blue and white consistently looks clean and sharp, making Mexican pottery in these colors great for showing off your favorite dishes.

Shape also matters when it comes to unique serving dishes. Round pottery platters are versatile; use them for main dishes, finger foods, or even as a charger to give your table a pop of color.

The length of this white platter is striking filled with fruits or snacks at a party. And an oval serving dish handles a roast or an array of cupcakes with equal ease. Having a variety of shapes is a simple solution that certainly packs a design punch.

By mixing blue and white Mexican pottery together, you’ll create a distinctive table or party spread perfect for so many occasions. Historic, stylish, and modern – now those are some unique serving dishes!

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Gorky Gonzalez Pottery & California: A Perfect Match

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Countdown to Holiday Parties with Mexican Ceramics

Can you believe it’s already December? After the shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, now we hit the fun part of this time of year: holiday entertaining. Cocktail parties, sit-down dinners, and cookie swaps vie for the round of work and family parties, leaving us ready to put our feet up come January.

Here, we’ve put together some original ideas to help you entertain with style. Plus, we have suggestions for memorable host gifts to bring to events outside your home. Here’s a countdown of Mexican ceramics with flair – they’re perfect for holiday entertaining, whether an intimate dinner or blow out bash.

5. Platters. Start off a party right with delicious appetizers arranged on ceramic serving platters. Having food stations spread throughout your home keeps the party from clumping around a central food table and makes food easier to replenish when items get low. Use a rectangular serving tray to keep two-part foods (like spreads and dips) together visually and physically. Large serving platters are great for a spread of meats and cheeses next to fresh bread. Try a rectangular serving tray for vegetable crudities or to showcase sweet treats at meal’s end.

4. Mugs. Warm drinks need the proper equipment, so have festive Mexican ceramic mugs on hand. They’re both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Whether it’s a gran taza filled with hot chocolate as you prepare the night’s meal or mugs filled with spiked coffee after dinner, a mix of mugs means your guests won’t get confused as to whose drink is whose. Mugs also make a great host gift since everyone can find a use for them, no matter their hot drink of choice.

3. Serving dishes. If you’ve been slaving over a gorgeous roast, show it off with the proper ceramic serving dish. An oval serving dish is perfect for meats and the handles make it easy to get it to the table. Ceramic serving platters and dishes are also perfect for centerpieces; this Vazquez serving dish looks fabulous on the table, whether filled with fruit or left empty.

2. Ceramic salad bowls. You need something cool and crisp to compliment a hearty meal, so fill ceramic salad bowls with a mix of greens that goes with everything. A substantial salad bowl can double as the perfect place for chips before dinner or cookies afterwards.

I love this ceramic salad bowl with barely visible handles that make it easy to pass. Because it’s so versatile, this is another Mexican ceramic piece that’s great for gift giving.

1. Trivets. Protect your surfaces in style with colorful Mexican ceramic trivets. These spice up an empty table even before the meal begins; you can mix and match the variety of colors for holiday cheer. Small and portable, these trivets have quickly become a favorite small gift for anyone who loves Mexican ceramics, entertaining, or cooking.

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Feliz Día de los Muertos!

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

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

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

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

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

Day of the Dead altar image courtesy of Ute Hagen.

Candy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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A Closer Look at Mexican Ceramic Art

There’s such a rich history of Mexican ceramic art: Like how Talavera Vázquez started a revolution that continues today, how Mata Ortiz pottery was first developed by Juan Quezada, and how Gorky Gonzalez revitalized the Mexican tradition of majolica. There’s always something more to learn about and while Mexican ceramic art has been around for thousands of years, you can see striking similarities between what archeologists have found and the ceramics being produced in Mexico today. Let’s take a closer look at some additional examples…

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Oaxaca

Located in the south of Mexico, Oaxaca ceramics are distinct because of the black clay found in the region. The “barro negro” (black clay) pieces have a beautiful black finish that started out matte but have been polished to an almost metallic sheen, a technique created by potter Doña Rosa in the 1950s. The other striking ceramics of this region are the green-glazed pieces from Santa María Atzompa, another tradition that started after the Spanish conquest.

Jalisco

This tradition of Mexican ceramic art also goes back thousands of years, but modern production uses high temperature firing techniques to create both ceramic and stoneware pieces. The Jalisco “bruñido” style is characterized by a piece that is burnished (rather than glazed) to make it shine. These are often jugs or jars with slender necks. Traditional designs are quite detailed and multicolored, though the antique pieces are faded because of not being fired after painting. Modern stoneware ceramics are brightly colored with a variety of global influences, making Jalisco another rich contributor to Mexican ceramic art.

Majolica

While not a region in Mexico like the others, this technique is widespread in the artistic cities of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende. A versatile form decorated with rich glazes, and continually incorporating modern influences, I think this is the most timeless of all Mexican ceramic art. The thick glaze looks and feels super inviting, whether it’s a vase or a coffee mug!

No matter the origin, Mexican ceramic art is traditionally made by hand, often in family-run workshops. The wide range of cultures and mix of traditions present in Mexico truly sets its ceramics apart. I believe it is an art form that is always worth further exploration.

Oaxaca image and Jalisco image both courtesy of AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

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Butterfly Migration in Mexico: An Impressive Tradition

Reading up on monarch butterflies, it’s not surprising that they play a special role in Mesoamerican cultures. Every fall there is a massive migration where millions of these delicate creatures congregate on every available surface in forests throughout central Mexico. The butterflies mate in late February and then, after their winter of rest, the females take off for Canada.

“The miracle of the monarchs’ migration lies not only in the distance that the fragile animals cover, but also in the fact that no single butterfly knows the way from experience,” Ben Harder explains in National Geographic News. Since a butterfly only lives for a few months, each year’s migration is several generations of butterflies removed from the last one. Scientists have studied these fantastic creatures for years, trying to unlock how the migration happens and why.

But of course, monarchs were making the trek to Mexico way before scientists began studying them. The forests of the central Mexican state of Michoacan have hosted these flying wonders for thousands of years and butterflies play an important role in traditional symbolism in the region. The Aztecs considered monarchs sacred and incorporated butterfly motifs on shields and in other crafts. Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of love and beauty, was portrayed with butterfly wings and accompanied by birds and butterflies. In Michoacan, the native Purépecha Indians believe that these butterflies represent the souls of their dead ancestors since the monarchs arrive just in time for la Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) on November 1 & 2.

It makes sense then that butterflies (and monarchs in particular) often show up on Mexican ceramics. While there are many examples of Mexican folk art ceramic with butterfly motifs, I’ve never seen pieces quite like Angélica Escarcega’s. Angélica takes traditions of Mexican folk art ceramics and raises them to a whole new level. Mariposa (butterfly in Spanish) designs are her specialty, but what makes these ceramic butterfly pieces unique are their raised designs. The monarch on her mariposa tibor (ginger jar) looks ready to fly off for its migration. The covered dish adds a whimsical note to any table or counter top. Both highlight Angélica’s light-hearted and personal take on Mexican folk art ceramics.

Like other kinds of Mexican folk art, ceramics enable traditional symbols and patterns to be passed along from one generation and culture to another. I can only imagine how many artists throughout history have been inspired by the butterfly migration. What better way to celebrate this gorgeous creature than by bringing a Mexican folk art ceramic butterfly piece into your home?

Butterfly cluster image courtesy of Agunther.

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6 Unique Uses for Your Gorgeous Ceramic Bowls

How do you make delicious food even more appealing? Serve it in something gorgeous. Unique dishware, like a handmade blue and white bowl or serving platter, adds flair to any table. Whether it’s a family dinner, cocktail party or casual barbecue… any get-together is made more festive when decorative details are included – how do you think Martha Stewart built her empire?

When it comes to serving and eating from ceramics, I am especially drawn to unique bowls. Maybe it’s the round shape, so lovingly thrown by hand on a potter’s wheel. Or maybe its the various uses for bowls, which differ from one culture to the next. Mexican ceramic bowls, French coffee bowls, Italian pasta bowls, really bowls of all shapes, sizes, and origins cry out to be brought home and enjoyed. And because I believe it is important to really use these beautiful vessels, here are some creative ways to get the most of your ceramic bowl collection.

  • Drinks. French coffee bowls are an obvious choice for a large café crème or a chocolat chaud. Nothing beats dipping a fresh croissant into your favorite warm beverage of choice. Then again, I know kids who love having their chocolate milk served in a bowl – it always seems bigger that way.

  • Fruit. I love the complimentary beauty of citrus fruit displayed in blue and white bowls. Whether its a rustic blue bowl from the south of France or a blue and white floral pattern from Mexico, ceramic bowls are perfect for highlighting the natural beauty of oranges, lemons, and limes.
  • Jewelry. Use mini bowls to keep rings, earrings, or even necklaces. One of my customers told me she uses Mexican ceramic bowls like these by Gorky for her cocktail ring collection.
  • Snacks. If healthy food is readily accessible, you’re more likely to eat it. So why not load up Italian bowls with fresh fruits or nuts for an afternoon pick-me-up? A series of small Mexican ceramic bowls can also be great for serving dips for crunchy vegetables or a trio of salsas for your taco dinner.

  • Salad. A large green or fruit salad really comes to life when you serve it out of a big and beautiful Italian bowl. Traditional pasta dishes are also an obvious way to get the most of a large ceramic bowl. 
  • Dessert. While some may actually use their French coffee bowls for coffee, I am much more apt to use them for ice cream sundaes. Whether Greek yogurt with honey, nuts, and fresh figs, or piping hot cobbler à la mode, an assortment of ceramic bowls compliment a delicious finish to any meal.

Coffee bowl image courtesy of St0rmz.

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The “Science” Behind Buying for Business

Recently, a friend asked me how I decide which pieces to buy for the Emilia Ceramics Collection. I had trouble with a concrete answer because the reality is most of my decisions are based more on gut reactions than a set of rules. There are however, a few guidelines (listed below) that definitely impact my decisions. As with every part of my business, I am still learning… but lucky for me, traveling to meet artists and pick from their work is a pretty fantastic way to learn!

1. Classic Shapes. People gravitate to the shapes they are accustomed to seeing and using, such as oval serving platters, deep salad bowls, and full-bodied pitchers for drinks or flower arrangements. These classic ceramic pieces make fantastic gifts as they are universally useful and can be added to any existing collection. For that very reason I like buying these functional shapes in multiple color schemes and styles… so they can fit into any aesthetic.

2. Original Shapes. The counter-effect to classic shapes, these pieces surprise and challenge the norm… and that’s why I love them. Squared edges are a great way to add originality to a utilitarian piece. My favorites are pictured below: The square platter by Tuscia d’Arte is perfect for serving cheese and crackers, Gorky’s octagonal bowls inspire Mexican fiestas, and finally Vazquez’s square planter adds dimension to the garden or patio.

3. Blue and White. Simply put, people will always love this classic color combination. I definitely gravitate to other colors as well, like warm earth-tones and fresh greens and yellows. But when blue and white ceramics is an option, I buy it. It is the closest thing I’ve found to a sure thing.

4. Functionality. Probably my biggest buying mistakes have come when I just fall in love with a design or piece that is not actually functional. While it may be exceptional artwork, that’s not always enough. To appeal to a larger audience a piece needs to be both beautiful and functional. Examples? Vases that look just as stately with or without a floral arrangement, plates that can be hung on the wall or used to serve dinner, lamps that add color and sophistication to the bedside table, and of course, probably my best seller of all-time, Gorky’s darling salt and pepper shakers!

5. Pure je ne sais quoi. When I am lucky enough to come across an artist that is creating original works of art that are striking, fun, thought-provoking, and useful, I know I’ve hit the jackpot. Prime examples are Angélica Escarcega in Guanajuato and Sylvie Duriez in Provence. These two women are talented, creative artists who work in their own personal styles to craft artwork that is imbued with personality and character. There is no rhyme or reason behind my purchasing their work… it’s just something I know is right. And my customers seem to agree.

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Mata Ortiz Pots: What’s the Story behind this Phenomenon?

When a friend said I’d like Marta Ortiz pottery, I assumed it was an artist’s name. Google, however, proved my assumptions (and spelling) wrong. Mata Ortiz (not Marta Ortiz) pottery is a unique art form from a small village of that name in Mexico. Here a revival of an ancient art form has transformed a community and truly enriched contemporary art.

This pottery sensation began when Juan Quezada found pieces of ancient Casas Grandes pottery in the nearby ruins of Paquimé. The form and designs intrigued him so much he began experimenting to see if he could discover how to make this exceptional pottery. Using local clay and trying different techniques with ash, firing, and formation, these pots are made without a potter’s wheel. Instead, they are hand built using a traditional coiling method that is then burnished, sanded down, and painted with natural pigments. Every step relies on what is readily available, from the hair used for the brushes to the cow manure and wood that provide fuel for the firing. It took Juan at least 16 years to get each step right, and he still experiments to this day with techniques and forms.

So how did Mata Ortiz pots find international acclaim? In the mid 1970s anthropologist Spencer MacCallum found some pots in a store in Deming, New Mexico. Their design and quality struck him, but the owner didn’t know who had made them. So Spencer set out to find the potter and ended up meeting Juan Quezada and his family in Mata Ortiz. A partnership was struck and slowly but surely a market built up for these truly one of a kind creations, revitalizing the village as more and more residents became potters in this impressive tradition.

Today there are tons of dealers and galleries for Mata Ortiz pots, both in and out of Mexico. Because the pieces are one-of-a-kind, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what you are going to get though when buying from a dealer online.

For my own collection, I tend to be more drawn to ceramic artwork that is functional.  As much as I love the organic, swooping forms of Mata Ortiz pottery, as well as the history and elaborate process behind it, it’s not very practical for daily usage.

It is the convergence of local tradition, innovation, and functionality that continues to draw me to the work by Talavera Vázquez. This 4th generation, family-run studio in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico, experiments with forms and traditional designs to make contemporary, beautiful pieces that are truly sophisticated. A lamp or vase adds authentic Mexican flavor to any room, but does it in a functional way. I also love their small pieces like candle holders, tissue boxes, and spoon rests that offer handmade Mexican artistry that is actually useful… making it an easy way to incorporate unique ceramics into your everyday life.

Mata Ortiz pot images courtesy of Ant Ware.