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The Artists and Stories Behind Handmade Ceramic Artwork

When I started Emilia Ceramics (eight years ago!) my motivation was to discover amazing artists handcrafting beautiful work. While that goal is still important to me, I’ve also developed a strong attachment to the handmade ceramic artwork itself. I love to find original pieces that are useful, but also have a rich story to tell.

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That’s why each piece in the Emilia Ceramics collection is handmade and hand-painted by an individual artist with his/her personal influences and motivation. The added benefit of the piece’s handmade origins is that it carries with it a rich tradition of the culture and history from which it comes.

The origin of each piece says a lot about it: Ceramic techniques differ from one country to another, as do the mindsets of the artists making them. They craft their work with specific cultural uses in mind and they approach the business of making and selling ceramics in unique ways.

Cultural & Historical Uses:

I sell a number of products that are very specific to the cultural traditions that have inspired them (whether or not they’re actually used in the way intended). The most popular of these are ceramic jars (whether called urns, ginger jars, or canisters), made up of pieces from Italy, Spain, France, and Mexico. Our Italian jars are probably the closest to resembling their true “ginger jar” functionality, i.e. using these jars to keep spices and other ingredients. However, the Italian canisters are also the most colorful and detailed in their glazing, making them seem more likely to be used as beautiful decorations for the kitchen than actual spice holders.
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Above: Rinascimentale Canisters by Ceramiche Bartoloni >>

italian_fruit_canisterAbove: Frutta Venezia Canister by Ceramiche Bartoloni >>

From the Spanish artists at Ceramica Valenciana, we have a few unique canisters that really speak to their cultural origins. The “Ajos” Canister (for keeping garlic) is 5.75″ wide x 8.5″ tall. That is A LOT of garlic! Only Spanish people (and maybe Italians) use that much garlic. Another canister by Ceramica Valenciana that I love is the Garbanzos Canister. Of course you don’t have to use this canister for garbanzo beans, but it’s fun to imagine that at some point in Spanish history a jar filled with garbanzos was quite normal and/or needed.

black_and_white_canisterAbove: Ajos Garlic Keeper Canister by Ceramica Valenciana >>


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Above: Garbanzos Canister by Ceramica Valenciana >>

The most popular ginger jars in our collection are made in Mexico. On the Emilia Ceramics website we call these tibores because that’s what they’re called in Mexico. People ask me all the time what these are used for. I really don’t know if Mexicans ever really used them for anything. (If you do know about a use, please let me know!) As far as I can tell, their size, shape, and festive glazes make them perfect for decorating the home and patio. They have been adapted to make beautiful lamps, but a tibor on its own makes a great statement in any style of home.

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Above: Dolores Tibor by Talavera Vazquez >>

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Above: Small Black Striped Tibor by Talavera Vazquez >>

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Above: Black ZigZag Ginger Jar Lamp, by Talavera Vazquez >>

Cultural & Individual Business Practices

As I’ve worked to discover the most talented artists in Italy, France, Spain, and Mexico, I’ve encountered a variety of personalities and had to vary my business expectations constantly. The challenges of working with artists from such different backgrounds can be frustrating, but they are also a part of the job that I love and would never want to avoid. They demonstrate the humanity behind each work of art in the Emilia Ceramics collection. Not only are our products handmade, they’re also crafted and brought to life by real people who all have different values, goals, and artistic ways of life.

To read more about my business adventures with specific artists, check out the following blog posts I wrote while traveling:

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My first visit to Richard Esteban (pictured on the left) in Aigues-Vives, France >>

A visit with Sylvie Duriez in Pertuis, France in 2011 >>

The most recent addition to the Emilia Ceramics’ collection: Gialletti Giulio in Deruta, Italy >>

A memorable visit with Talavera Vazquez in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico >>

Behind the Scenes with Gorky Gonzalez in Guanajuato, Mexico >>

A visit to Ceramica Valenciana in Manises, Spain (right outside Valencia) >>

La Dolce Vita: A Visit to both Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Bartoloni in Montelupo-Fiorentino, Italy >>

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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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Celebrating Mexican Pottery with an ‘Indian Summer Taco Party’

While I enjoyed the “real” winter in Colorado last year, I am having a lot of trouble letting go of summer. Lucky for me, it has been practically perfect weather for the last week in Boulder. Like mid-60s to mid-70s, sun shining and just a few wispy clouds. Plus, the leaves are changing making for a super vibrant color spectrum of yellow, orange, and blue. In honor of this beautiful weather — and the impending cold, dark months to come — I decided to host a little taco party. I kept it pretty simple, focusing on fresh guacamole, carne asada tacos, and refreshing coin style margaritas.

I decided to make this party about celebrating Mexican pottery as well as great Mexican food (and lovely warm weather). I think I spent more time picking out the serving dishes, plates, bowls, and glassware than I did preparing the food! What I came up with was a color pallet that matched the scenery outside: warm oranges and yellows set against crisp blues and whites. These pieces fit the season and they made the food look delicious. Here are a few photos from the evening:

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Here’s a link to all the Mexican pottery featured at my taco party >>

While the “Agua” Cups and Pitcher are actually from Spain, I thought they added a fun and fitting touch for serving and drinking water. I always reach for the El Mar Platter and matching Serving Plate when I want interesting shapes, a subtle color pallet, and a decorative but not distracting pattern. To that I added the La Mexicana Dinner Plates and Dip Bowls (I love this classic pattern from Gorky Gonzalez). Of course I opted for a few bright pops of color, with the rich Pumpkin Bowls and Dinner Plates, the Cucumber Long Platter with Floral Relief and bright orange cotton napkins. The table was super colorful and the food was delicious! I think I definitely achieved my goal of celebrating Mexican pottery and paying tribute to what’s officially my new favorite season: Indian Summer.

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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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3 Reasons Why These Wine Cups Will Improve Your Summer

I have outdoor dining on the brain – blame it on the sunshine and rising temperatures. But decorative dinner plates are just the beginning; drinks are another vital part of any summer meal. Tired of plastic cups that fly away and glasses that shatter due to a guest miscalculating the distance between guest and deck railing? Enter Ceramica Valenciana‘s smart Spanish ceramic drinkware. Here are three reasons why these are the wine cups that will change your outdoor entertaining.

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1. The laws of physics. A lower center of gravity means these cups are less likely to tip, especially when compared to a traditional wine glass with stem.

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2. Durable style. Because of the majolica firing process used to make these Spanish ceramics, if they tip over or drop a short distance, they probably won’t break (like glass would). Plus, their clean lines and simple designs are picnic-perfect chic.

3. Temperature control. Best of all, the solid ceramic helps keep your beverage cool on the hottest day, whether it’s a glass of sparkling water or homemade sangria.

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Outdoor entertaining just got a lot easier. Looking to add more Spanish flair to your summer? Besides the cleverly labeled vino and aqua cups (helpful for telling your wine and water apart), I love Ceramica Valenciana’s serving dishes, pitchers, and platters. Causal and clean, these Spanish ceramics definitely stand out from the rest. Now that’s something worth raising a glass to!

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Surprising Salt & Pepper Sets, from Vintage to DIY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Creating a Great Bridal Registry

angel_platter_2When it comes to putting together the perfect gift registry, the most important thing to remember is: ‘you are what you register for.’ In other words, choose stores and products that speak to who you are (both bride and groom)… and who you are as a couple. If you achieve that, your guests will enjoy buying you gifts and you will love receiving them.

So don’t just list what your mom tells you to list. And don’t just go to Crate & Barrel because everyone else you know did. Think about what you really want and need, what your fiancé wants and needs, and most importantly, what the two of you will truly use and enjoy together. And then list away! Here are a couple of ideas to get you thinking…

For Entertaining

Do you love having people over for drinks, dinner, brunch, or barbecue? Maybe you aren’t a great entertainer yet, but you aspire to be one. Either way, if hosting parties is something that excites you, be sure to include the supplies you need on your registry. The bonus of these gifts is that your friends and family will be able to see them being used and enjoyed when they come to your next dinner party!

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Best Stores for Entertaining Supplies:
– Emilia Ceramics for Unique Platters and Serving Bowls
– Williams-Sonoma for Barbecue Supplies
– Crate & Barrel for Glassware

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For New Homeowners

Does getting married coincide with moving into a new house? Lucky you… what a great time to ask friends to contribute special additions to your home that will become future family heirlooms. When you’re shopping for gifts that will be incorporated into your new home decor, it’s important to pick classic objects that won’t be out of style a year from now.

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Best Stores for Home Decor:
– Macy’s for Bed and Bath
– Emilia Ceramics for Lamps and Vases
– Sur la Table for Pots and Pans

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For World Travelers

Again, you don’t have to be a world traveler to aspire to travel the world… now’s your chance to get help from friends and family who want to encourage your dreams as a married couple. So think big, whether that means new suitcases, camping equipment, or ceramics that mentally transport you to the South of France or the Mexican Riviera.

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Best Stores for Travel-Related Gifts:
– Macy’s for Luggage
– REI for Camping Equipment
– Emilia Ceramics for Worldly Mugs

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The 6 Best Ways to Use Pinterest for Wedding Planning

A friend recently mentioned that she “had her entire wedding planned out on Pinterest,” though she’s not even engaged yet. It got me thinking about Pinterest, weddings, and how pinning has changed how people plan major events. As I quickly found out, I’m not alone.

umbrella wedding photosA look at the Pinterest wedding category shows everything from color palettes to table décor to wedding registries to venues, even when there’s no big day in sight. Just last year Amanda Roman’s boyfriend Ryan Leak planned their entire surprise wedding using her Pinterest board. He overheard when she said to a friend her dream was to be engaged and married in the same day (!!!), and he made it happen. Incredible.

Whether or not your wedding day is set, here are six ways to effectively use Pinterest when planning your wedding (and not let it take over).

  1. Check out boards and see the styles you like. Theme weddings, classically elegant weddings, quirky camping weddings, weddings on a budget, destination weddings… if you can think of it, there’s probably a wedding idea out there for it. Browsing though a variety of boards will let you see what appeals and what’s not right for you and your partner’s big day. Buzzfeed’s top 25 list of wedding Pinterest accounts is a great place to start.muppet wedding
  2. Pin broadly, then narrow down. When starting out, go wild. Pin everything that’s even vaguely appealing. Bridal Guide recommends this technique as a way to get inspiration you may not have encountered otherwise. After you’ve pinned your heart out (give it a few weeks), go back and look for patterns. Chances are you’ll have repeats of everything from colors to bouquet styles to favors, giving you some clear places to start crafting your event.rustic wedding table setting
  3. Pin with your partner. The wedding is for the two of you, so make sure you can both pin onto your boards. Initially keep the categories broad and see where ideas overlap.Bora Bora honeymoon idea
  4. Include a board for honeymoon ideas. You’ll both need something fun to look forward to after the big day.
  5. Include your own ideas. Pinterest is inspiring, but it doesn’t have everything. Upload photos of things that you like, like that window display or save the date card your friend recently sent.
  6. Create a finalized board that fits the mood of your wedding. When you’ve figured out colors, mood, and style, a board with this narrow focus (and fewer pins) will keep the entire event in perspective. Then, as Belle & Chic suggests, stop looking for inspiration and focus on making your wedding truly yours.

Italian Tuscan weddingHave Pinterest wedding boards you truly love? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Also check out our own wedding inspiration board for everything from dresses to cakes to wedding registry ideas and share your favorites.

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Capelo’s Mexican Vases: High Impact Style

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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.

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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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Capelo Pottery, a Unique Take on Mexican Ceramics

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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.

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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.

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Last Stop: Italian Ceramics and the Amalfi Coast

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

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

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

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

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Majolica Madness in Deruta!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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La Dolce Vita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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French Finale: Colorful Ceramics at Poterie Ravel

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

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

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

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

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

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Update on Sylvie Duriez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poterie Aigues-Vives: Another Great Visit with Richard Esteban

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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footed serving bowllittle blue plateCapelo Mexican ceramics

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

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

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

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

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

Portuguese pottery image courtesy of R.Ferrao.

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Have you heard of Poterie Ravel?

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

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

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

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Emilia Ceramics at Gamble Garden in Palo Alto

It’s a good thing it was beautiful weather, filled with friends, and fairly successful from a business stand-point, because showcasing Emilia Ceramics at the Gamble Garden Spring Tour in Palo Alto was A LOT OF WORK! I’m talking 6 hours of set-up and another 6 hours of take-down, plus an hour each night and morning. (And not just me working all that time, but some amazing volunteers too — thanks Mom!)

Then of course there’s all the time spent selling ceramics: 5-8 on Thursday, 10-4 both Friday and Saturday. But that’s the fun part — I love showing off the beautiful vases, pitchers and bowls I’ve spent so much time collecting around the world. And getting to tell customers about the artists, the towns where they live, and my travels to pick them out. The kind of people who attend the Gamble Garden Spring Tour really appreciate the unique beauty of handmade and hand-painted ceramics. They are well-traveled and creative themselves, so they enjoy the fact that Emilia Ceramics represents independent artists in Italy, France and Mexico, crafting the highest quality ceramic ware.

The weekend was also a great way to catch up with old friends (since I grew up in Palo Alto) and make new ones, like the two women who run Art of the Garden. Their set-up was adjacent to Emilia Ceramics and it afforded us a lot of time to talk about the ups and downs of starting your own company. We traded ceramics for an “M Brace” (their patented product that enables you to build a flower bed without using any nails or hammers). Jill, who invented the M Brace, quickly fell in love with the few Sylvie pieces I have left in the collection and bought two Sylvie bowls for her daughter.

Over all, I’d say the big winner of the weekend was Richard Esteban — his rustic pitchers, cheese plates, and planters were a huge hit. I also sold lots of small, gifty items, like chicken salt and pepper shakers (never a surprise), Gorky’s long serving platters, and wine corks by Tuscia. I had to say good-bye to some of my personal favorites by Sylvie, Richard, and Ravel last weekend (because I sold them I mean) — which can seem sad until I remember they’ve just moved on to grace a new home and bring joy to those who use and love them.

So I guess it was worth the work… just as long as I don’t have to do it again for another 12 months!

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Is the Price Right for Italian Ceramics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Chevrons and Zig Zags: Designs with Staying Power

Lilies on Chevron
Bold, graphic, and classy, the zig zag pattern and chevron craze is definitely not just a 2011 phenomenon. From shower curtains to rugs, and pillows to chevron ceramics, (like lamps and flower vases), there are many ways to incorporate this great print into your life and home in a way that doesn’t feel trendy. Here are some of my favorites:

Chevrons in your hands: The many iPhone cases out there are truly staggering, but these great zig zag, stripe, and other patterned cases featured on Look Linger Love are a class above. You can even get them personalized! How’s that for stylish and unique?

Zig Zags on the wall: I saw this clever chevron wall treatment featured on Made By Girl as Jen transitions to apartment living. Even if it’s a rental, why not invest in a statement with great wallpaper (there are so many removable options on the market now) or a stunning accent wall? Green Your Decor has a fabulous list of other places to make chevrons vertical: curtains, shower curtains, and even paintings are flexible ways to enliven a space large or small.

Chevrons good enough to eat: That’s right, edible zig zags are here. This pattern looks stunning on a modern wedding cake by My Sweet and Saucy. The grey on white is subtle, the overall effect clean.

Illuminating zig zags: Why let the walls have all the fun? A zig zag ceramic table lamp, like this black and white lamp by Talavera Vazquez, is a fun and practical piece. Whether by the bed or in the living room, you’ll literally enlighten your current décor. If chevrons are too much, try a striped ceramic table lamp or a patterned blue and white lamp.

DIY chevrons: My newest blog discovery, The House of the Smiths has a lot of great DIY tutorials, and I love this one about making a chevron rug perfect for spring. Who knew zig zags could be “beachy”?! Like to knit? This Missoni-inspired chevron pattern by Zakka Life is fun for a scarf or blanket. With a stencil or tape, you can make almost anything chevron.

Zig zag patterned home décor: Whether a large blue zig zag ginger jar or chevron blue vase, I love combining the boldness of zig zags with the subtlety of blue and white. Chevron pillows, chairs, and rugs represent great textile versions of this combination, like these examples by Platinum Blonde Life. Chevron tall vases, zig zag wine bottle holders, ceramic canisters, and even planters are all ways big and small to join the fun.

What’s your favorite way to use chevron or zig zag patterns? Leave a comment and let us know.

Yellow chevron image courtesy of maureen lunn.

iPhone case image courtesy of Look Linger Love.

Chevron cake image courtesy of My Sweet and Saucy.

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Salt & Pepper Sets Flying off the Shelves

When setting up the pop-up shop in Palo Alto, I always wonder what that year’s best sellers are going to be. Vases? Planters? Mugs? Platters? When giving gifts these are all popular favorites for sure. But this year the best sellers have been small but mighty: salt and pepper shakers lead the way, closely followed by cream and sugar sets.

Why the salt and pepper shaker frenzy? For one, salt & pepper sets are small. It’s obvious, but if you’re shipping presents across the country or just trying to find a great host gift, little things make a big impact without weighing too much. Ceramic salt and pepper sets like these by Gorky Gonzalez are sturdy enough to travel well, but not clunky or bulky. One customer said she was going to use the rooster salt and pepper shakers she bought as a stocking-stuffer for her in-laws. They’re the perfect fit. What a great idea!

But salt and pepper shakers aren’t just small, they’re also practical. The same goes for cream and sugar sets – people can really use these items whether it’s everyday or for special occasions. Functional gifts are always appreciated instead of a knick-knack that just adds to clutter. Multiple salt and pepper shakers mean you can have a set in the dining room, kitchen, and patio table in the summer. Another customer told me when he gave the bunny salt and pepper shakers to some old friends they immediately said they’d use them in their second home on Cape Cod. There’s always room for one more set somewhere.

I think though the reason people gravitate towards ceramic salt and pepper and creamer sugar sets is that they’re just so much fun. The spots on the bunnies, the wide-eyed chickens, the squinting roosters, and the grinning frogs are totally full of personality and charm. Since each set is hand painted, no two are exactly alike. Their originality makes salt and pepper shakers great for any collection as well. From people who collect Italian ceramics to those that love roosters or chickens or bunnies or frogs, these small additions always bring a smile to people’s faces. And best of all, you don’t always have to give them away – the perfect salt and pepper shakers make a fun gift for your home too. Now just to pick out your favorites!

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

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

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

Rustic Roosters

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

Modern Roosters

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

Blue and White Roosters

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

Vintage Roosters

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

Kitchen RoostersRealistic Roosters

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

Functional Roosters

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

Realistic roosters image courtesy of srqpix.

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Blog Round Up: Ginger Jars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Italian-ize Your Holiday Entertaining

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week? The entertaining season has officially begun and will not wind down until New Year’s, so it’s time to take a deep breath and get ready to party! From blue Italian vases to fun rooster serving ware, having the right accents for a dinner party (or any gathering) will help make it an instant success. One of my secrets is to use the festive colors of Tuscan ceramics to bring instant warmth to any space. By making your guests feel warm and comfortable, you ensure that your party is a success.

At our upcoming family gatherings, there are three pieces that will definitely get a lot of use: Tuscan pitchers, Italian vases, and, serving platters. Here’s a quick rundown of how this trifecta of entertaining essentials can help your next party be something you actually enjoy as well.

Tuscan Pitchers

Big or small, pitchers are super versatile, being both decorative and functional. Larger ones are perfect for serving wine or water at the table. A Tuscan pitcher allows your favorite red to breathe and keeps a chilled white cool on the table. Not only does it add an element of Euro-cool to your party, it also keeps wine from dripping down the bottle and onto your special tablecloth.  

Having friends over for brunch? Fill up the rooster pitcher from Ceramiche Bartoloni with mimosas to start the day off right; it also handles milk or plain orange juice with Tuscan flair. Use smaller Tuscan pitchers to create a relaxed accent with a simple bouquet. I love having one on the kitchen counter for an unexpected splash of color that still feels natural in the space.

Italian Vases

I always have fresh flowers when I have company over; whether it’s a truly stunning bouquet or multiple smaller, single color arrangements, flowers make for a conversation piece at a fancy cocktail party or informal get-together.

Large Italian vases support the stems of robust flowers beautifully. Of course, these statement-making Italian vases look great empty too, perfect on a shelf or side table.

I like arranging buds in small Italian vases to add color to the table without blocking the view for your guests. These bud vases also make fantastic hostess gifts –  adding a sweet touch of Tuscany to a bathroom counter or bedside table.

Italian Serving Platters

What’s a party without well-plated food? Having the perfect serving platter for your hors d’oeuvres encourages guests to nibble at will and shows off that great cheese you found or those tarts you slaved over. I like using unusual shapes of serving platters and visually enticing colors to really show off the menu. This year, why not use a large Italian serving platter for slices of turkey after you carve the Thanksgiving bird? Of course, they work well with any kind of roast meat year-round.

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The Roosters Have Landed!

We just received a huge shipment from Gorky Gonzalez and among other things, I am happy to announce the arrival of the adorable Rooster Creamers. Although we ordered more than a dozen of these darling creamers, the fact that they were hand-painted means no two are alike. Each is decorated with its own unique pattern, from the color of the beak, to the handle and plume. Some have long and colorful eyelashes, while others have alert and fully-dilated pupils. The artists at Gorky’s studio must have had fun painting these! In fact, the only thing the roosters have in common is an immense amount of personality. I recommend using your favorite rooster to serve cream with the more subdued Gogo mugs — or filling it with a small bouquet of flowers on the sink in the bathroom.

I have to admit that I don’t consider myself a true rooster fanatic (while I can attest to the fact that there is a formidable group of them out there), but this time of year, I am drawn to game birds of all sorts: roosters, turkeys, chickens, and hens. There is an obvious synergy between these birds and the upcoming holiday, which happens to be my personal favorite.

Whether you’re decorating your own table for Thanksgiving or going to a friend or relative’s house to celebrate, here are some awesome rooster-inspired pieces — they make great hostess gifts!

1. Salt & Pepper Shakers: The perfect finish to any table setting, rooster or chicken salt and pepper shakers are colorful, functional, and always fun! My favorites are the big headed roosters with huge, mascara’d eyelashes.

2. Blue and White Rooster Serving Bowl: Great for passing a green salad, mashed potatoes, or stuffing.

3. Octagonal Rooster Bowl: Perfect for a smaller side dish, like green beans. This is one of my favorite pieces in Gorky’s entire collection. I love the unique shape and colorful rooster design. It’s one of those pieces that can be equally enjoyed on display and on the table.

4. And then there’s the rooster that speaks for himself: El Gallo Azul. This proud bird makes a fun statement as a centerpiece or on the kitchen counter. I love the idea of placing him amongst the many dishes on a Thanksgiving buffet to watch over the action.

Not into Gorky’s rustic roosters? Ceramiche Bartoloni in Tuscany make a more refined Italian ceramic rooster – choose from bowls, pitchers, plates, and mugs! I love the rainbow of colors the Bartolonis include in each rooster’s feathers. Okay, so maybe I am a bit of a rooster fanatic after all!

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Gifts We Love for Wine-Loving Friends

Know any oenophiles? An oenophile is a lover of wine, oenophilia the love of wine, and oenology the study of wine and wine making. Others prefer the term wine connoisseur, aficionado, or the more general, wine lover.

So what do you get an oenophile? It sounds like an easy question – wine. But what kind? From where? If you’re like me and don’t know a lot about wine yourself, picking out wine for an expert can be daunting.

However, help is on the way. Here are a few great wine gift ideas to fit any budget and occasion. I hope they help you fill your oenophile gift needs!

  • A tasting trip: When you want to celebrate something truly special, like an engagement or important wedding anniversary, why not treat your wine aficionado to a tasting in a region they love? A trip to taste Bordeaux in France or Malbec in Argentina would definitely be memorable. If that’s a stretch, investigate regional possibilities; there are more and more wineries throughout the US that produce delicious bottles (not just Napa Valley either). You can make this gift extra lux with overnight stays, dinners, and guided tours along with tasting opportunities.
  • A home tasting package: Brix26 has saved me on more than one occasion with a great selection of California wines. I love their wine gifts: you can buy 2, 4, 6, or 12 bottles and they’ll ship their latest discoveries direct to your wine loving friend. It’s a great way to try new bottles that have been recommended by an expert.
  • Useful wine accessories: Here you have a range of choices. A ceramic wine bottle holder is stylish and practical, keeping whites cool on the table with ease. I also like how ceramic wine bottle holders complete a table’s look when it comes time for a dinner party. Also consider decorative wine corks, an aerator (it helps wine breathe quickly), or charms/tags for wine glasses.

black striped wine holder  paloma wine holder

Of course the easiest way to learn more about wine for yourself is to taste. Why not organize a home tasting with some friends? Everyone can bring a different bottle (perhaps based on a theme or region) and talk about what they have in their glass. Ceramic wine bottle holders easily mask labels for blind tasting possibilities, letting you discover what you truly enjoy… and have fun while you do it.

Wine bottles image (top) courtesy of Procsilas Moscas.

Wine gift image courtesy of Brix26.

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Creative Gardening with Blue and White Planters

For those of you with a green thumb, fall brings a whole new phase for gardening. If you live in a cold winter climate, it’s time to tuck everything in that will winter over as well as bring inside your outdoor planters. Fall is also the time to plant bulbs, like daffodils, tulips, crocuses, and hyacinths. One method is to just push as many bulbs into the ground as possible, says The Vancouver Sun Blog In the Garden. By March and April, these colorful flowers will show up, making any garden bright and Spring-ready.

But what if you don’t have space outdoors for a bulb garden? I love this article’s ideas about bulb novelty planting – suggesting decorative and creative ways to showcase bulbs, like putting them in shoes, blue and white planters, even designer shopping bags!

Bulbs in planters let you move them around as well as make unexpected accents on your patio or porch. All you need for container gardening is adequate drainage and enough room for the plant to grow, so bulbs really are just the beginning of your imaginative gardening. I’ve seen red, green, blue, and white planters used to add contrast to roses, ferns, even vegetables! I like how planters work in all kinds of environments, from apartment window boxes to accenting a sprawling home garden.

Ready to make your own bulb planter? Plant bulbs pointy side up and make sure to put them deep enough in the ground. You can choose a wide variety of flowers, either filling your blue and white planter with only bright scarlet tulips or mixing different colors, sizes, and types. Miniature varieties would work well in a hanging or wall planter. Think too about planting tall flowers in the center of a round or square planter, with shorter ones around the edges for maximum appeal.

I’ve talked before about some different ideas for blue and white planters; it’s a color combination I can’t get enough of. My herb garden is still going strong, but why not think about creating a living spring bouquet in a favorite blue and white planter of your own? Happy fall planting!

Tulip image courtesy of Duncan Harris.

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Ceramic Table Lamps = Great Home Design

Scanning design blogs and magazines regularly, I find that a great lighting fixture is a common statement piece when it comes time to decorate… and also one that is often difficult to find. Function and beauty combined is definitely appealing. In fact, it’s an essential part of what makes good room design and lighting is a key factor for creating atmosphere: you can create a wide variety of effects all with clever and deliberate lighting choices. So what about ceramic table lamps for the bedroom or living room? They’re definitely an easy way to add a touch of color and class to any space. Let’s look at some factors when it comes to choosing ceramic table lamps.

Placement: When choosing a ceramic table lamp, it’s important to think about the room and where the lamp would fit in best withing the existing space. The great thing about choosing multiple light sources instead of a single overhead light is the flexibility it creates in terms of mood. Recessed and track lighting are popular because you can target where the overhead light goes. I like floor and table lamps as they add interesting depth to living room design since the light comes from different angles.

Size: Influenced by placement, it’s important to choose ceramic table lamps for a bedroom or living room that match your lighting needs. A tiny desk lamp won’t work well for ambient lighting, while overheads don’t function for tasks that require focused lighting, like reading or writing. I like how ceramic table lamps like this blue striped lamp are large enough to be a versatile light source, but don’t dominate a room design.

Style: I’m a sucker for blue and white, so the ceramic table lamps for my bedroom follow suit. I particularly love the Las Flores lamp for festive yet relaxed sophistication. People love it too as a ceramic lamp for their living rooms: its charm is hard to beat, particularly on a stylish side table.

Shades: Like accessories for an outfit, choosing the right shade really makes any ceramic table lamp shine. Bedrooms call for reading lights that don’t shine directly into your eyes, so experiment with placement as you choose the right shade for a bedside table. Double check too that ceramic table lamps for the living room have shades that allow for the brightness and color of light you want.

Art: Just like any other kind of ceramics, table lamps are functional art for any room. Ceramic table lamps in the living room are a great conversation piece, adding sophistication and originality.

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The Value of Handmade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far left: Arnaud playing around on the wheel.

Right: Katia stocking the storeroom shelves.

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The Allure of the Majolica Plate

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

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

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

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

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Handmade Italian Ceramics: How to Shop Smart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceramic mark image courtesy of Grannies Kitchen.

16th century jar image courtesy of F B.

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Function’s nice, but how ’bout some originality?

We talk a lot about a ceramic piece’s function: How a platter is perfect for appetizers or a vase is great for displaying cut flowers. But we all know there are millions of serving platters and ceramic vases that function well. Thanks to Ikea and Target, we can buy functional ceramic pieces for less than 10 bucks! And at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, we can get Italian-like ceramics for less than $50. So why spend $185 on Tuscia’s Oval Serving Platter with Lemons or $110 for Vazquez’s Large Paloma Vase? Sure they function well, but the real reason we love them is their originality.

When a piece of ceramics is handmade and hand-painted, it is intrinsically unique. It is one of a kind because a human hand crafted it and a human hand applied the glaze… not to mention the fact that a very imperfect firing process was also involved! All this to say that even if the same artist tries to recreate the same piece it will undoubtedly look different. Of course, pieces made simultaneously look the most similar, that’s why I encourage customers who want a whole set to special order it at the same time.

To some, these inconsistencies might seem inconvenient. But as far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t want it any other way! I love that the artists I work with put their own human touch into each piece. Sure some days their lemons are larger or more ripe-looking than others. Some mugs have thin handles, while others are more thick. But isn’t that the fun of it all?! Knowing that when you pick out a particular plate or fall in love with a pitcher, you’ll be the only one in the world to have that plate or that pitcher? It’s a one of a kind… a complete original. The artist made it with love and now it’s on your table or serving appetizers at your party. That one piece is special and that’s what gives it value. Sure it also serves it’s function perfectly. But as appose to the platter that came off a factory line, it’s got just as much personality at it does functionality.

A great example is one of my favorite pieces by Ceramiche Bartoloni, the Foglia e Frutta Footed Platter with Angel (left). I have ordered this platter from the Bartoloni brothers many times and each one they send me is different: Sometimes the little angel has fruits in his hands, other times he has a musical instrument, a flower or a leaf. Each platter has its own personality and tells its own story, just as an original work of art should.