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Fellow Caffeine Fans, French Coffee Mugs Are Back!

I have a confession: I am addicted to warm beverages. Specifically my morning tea (often earl grey with cream and honey), though an early afternoon coffee is hard to resist. Of course, if I want to get any sleep, I have to carefully juggle the coffee/exercise/time equation. And then there’s getting the accessories right: which mug to use is of paramount importance, as is the tea or coffee pot if I’m brewing at home. Sound like anyone you know?

French coffee mugs

Thankfully with all the new French arrivals at Emilia Ceramics, I have plenty of beverage accessories to add to my collection. The polka dots on Richard Esteban’s French coffee bowls remain a favorite; I just love the easy way these pieces mix and match. Richard’s French coffee mugs are another must. There’s even a place to rest your thumb on the handle (good for not spilling as I walk my full cup back to my desk). The barn red is my personal favorite, but just like his French coffee bowls, there are plenty of color combinations to mix and match with abandon. These mugs also hit the sweet spot size-wise: big enough that you don’t have to constantly refill, but not so big that the contents are cold by the time you get to last sips. These are definitely a sure winner if you’re trying to buy ceramics for a caffeine lover.

red French coffee mug

Summer is also almost here, which means it’s time to start brewing iced tea and iced coffee. And that means it’s time for pitchers! Looking to expand your summer serving ware? Try pieces like the quirky Richard pitcher, complete with hat and mustache or one of his polka dot pitchers to match the bowls and mugs.

Richard pitcher

Other fun beverage accessories of the moment: cream and sugar sets (perfect for entertaining) and the modern Ceramica Valenciana coffee pot. Sure, it’s Spanish, not French, but it beautifully compliments the playful chic of Richard’s ceramics. So many coffee mugs, so little time.

coffee pot

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the kettle is boiling… time for another cup!

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Why This Rooster Pitcher Is Perfect for Spring

rooster pitcherHave you noticed April filling up with social engagements, with friends and/or family? Temperatures are rising, the light lasts longer, and it feels like everyone is waking up after the chilly, dark winter months. Call it spring fever; I’ve definitely caught it.

So how do rooster pitchers fit into this time of celebration? Just like other rooster ceramics, they exude a cheer and brightness that’s perfect for spring. A rooster creamer sets the tone for your breakfast table (even if you’re not a morning person). Fill one of Gorky’s rooster creamers with cream for your coffee or tea. Don’t caffeinate first thing? Fill a small rooster pitcher with daffodils or wild flowers and adorn the table or kitchen nook where you eat the first meal of the day.

rooster pitcher

Spring also means it’s time to start reaching for crisp white wines with lunch or dinner. A ceramic pitcher minimizes messy spills, adds a personal touch to your meal, and keeps the wine perfectly cool. Always having two pitchers on the table—one filled with water, the other wine—remains one of my favorite European traditions. Definitely ideal for spring entertaining, don’t you think?

wine pitcher

‘Tis also the season of showers, both literal and celebratory. Bridal showers, wedding showers, baby showers… it seems like there are never enough weekends for all the celebrations taking place! Bored by giving the same predictable gifts? For anyone starting a life together, a rooster pitcher symbolizes good luck for their home. Your friends who throw parties will love rooster ceramic platters and serving plates (the same goes for your family members!). A global icon, rooster ceramics come in so many different styles that you can easily find the perfect pieces for all those you’re fêting this spring.

rooster ceramic

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New Spanish Ceramics, Just in Time for the Holidays

IMG_4026
After all the wait, I’m thrilled to announce that the newest addition to the Emilia Ceramics collection has arrived just in time holiday gift-giving. These handmade Spanish ceramics from Ceramica Valenciana are playful and sophisticated, showcasing a stark simplicity with clean, modern lines. A family-owned business, Ceramica Valenciana is one of the reasons I started Emilia Ceramics years ago. We’re still unpacking the boxes, but here’s a quick look at what has been unwrapped so far.

blue and white mugsThe blue and white mugs are currently some of my favorites. With gently curved handles and handpainted blue glaze, the designs really stand out. I love how you can see the brush strokes on the blue and white checkered mug; the café mug and mug are perfect for anyone who loves coffee or tea first thing in the morning. And the labeled pots for coffee or tea help the caffeine flow all morning long.

coffee and tea mugs
ceramic coffee pot
Ceramica Valenciana has a whole collection of ceramics that are clearly labeled for easy identification; these coffee and tea sets are just the beginning. Anyone who loves wine will appreciate the vino cups with their rustic flair.

vino cupsThe aqua pitcher and cups round out the set, serving water in an equally stylish manner. Definitely these are great gifts for anyone who loves to entertain.

serving pitcherThe three canister styles are another example of practical Spanish ceramics. Labeled pastas, garbanzos, and arroz, these gently rounded canisters will keep anything looking good on your countertop (including pasta, beans, and rice). I think they would make excellent unexpected cookie jars too.

blue and white canisterWe’ll be getting even more serving pieces from Ceramica Valenciana on the website soon, so make sure and check back for updates as more Spanish ceramics appear over the coming weeks. Otherwise explore our holiday gift ideas as we count down the days until Christmas.

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The Perfect Mexican Ceramics to Celebrate the Day of the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

skeleton bowlCandy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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Spanish Ceramics Coming Soon from Ceramica Valenciana

spanish ceramics from ceramica valenciana
I’ve gotten photos of my new Spanish ceramics from Mari Jose, the third-generation owner of Ceramica Valenciana. After months of waiting, the newest addition to the Emilia Ceramics collection is almost here! I’m incredibly excited and am hopeful that these beautiful Spanish ceramics will arrive before the end of 2013. Luckily, they’re worth the wait!

cocina spanish ceramic Spanish ceramic butter dish spanish ceramic bottlesAs many of you know, Ceramica Valenciana is one of the inspirations behind the founding of Emilia Ceramics. The studio’s full name is La Cerámica Valenciana de José Gimeno and it’s located near Valencia in Manises, Spain. This famous maker of Spanish ceramics has been in business since 1925 and is still family owned. Their work is the perfect combination of innovation and tradition with a uniquely Spanish spirit. Every time I visit their studio I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of patterns, colors, shapes, and unique ceramics that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s truly a wonderful place to spend time.

spanish ceramic salsa bowlsvino wine pitcherCeramica Valenciana is best known for reproductions of traditional ceramics and azulejos (tiles), crafted with love and expertise by their team of artists using traditional majolica techniques. Their modern line still is completely handmade and handpainted, with bowls, plates, serving pieces, canisters, and other Spanish ceramics that have a clean, understated feel. The upcoming arrivals are pictured below being packed up with care. I am trying to not obsessively email reminding them to over pack everything so that nothing breaks. These Spanish ceramics look so great it would be a shame to have them arrive in fragments… so here’s to the magic of good packing material and quality shipping companies. The pitchers and bowls alone are certainly worth waiting for. I can’t wait to share them all with you in the coming months!
packing Spanish ceramics
Spanish ceramics

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For the Love of Rooster Pitchers…

With the new Emilia Ceramics Showroom up and running, I’ve been able to see our collection in a whole new way. One thing that really stands out is just how many rooster ceramics we have in the collection. Right now it’s mostly Mexican and Italian rooster ceramic, though I’m sure to have French roosters and other new additions in the coming months.rooster ceramicRight now, though, I can’t get enough of the rooster creamers and rooster pitchers from Gorky Gonzalez. These ceramics are unique in how they are actually shaped like roosters, full of personality from the colorful feathers to the beak that doubles as a spout. Both rooster creamer and rooster pitcher are fun enough to be a permanent addition to your counter or table. I think they look great filled with a small bouquet of wildflowers or just on their own.

rooster creamerowl pitcherThe new owl creamer is another feathered friend that’s proven popular in just the few short months I’ve had it in stock. Like Gorky’s salt and pepper shakers, these creamers are a great gift for anyone who likes a little whimsy. And for those more traditional rooster fans, there are always the Italian rooster pitchers and creamers by the Bartoloni brothers. The smooth lines and detailed, colorful crowing rooster embody the vibrancy of Italy (and they make waking up just a little easier). Rooster pitchers are a traditional good luck gift, ideal for housewarmings and weddings. I’m not sure if they really do protect the home against danger, but they certainly look regardless!

owl creamerrooster pitcherHave you given a rooster pitcher as a gift? Are you a fan or collector of rooster ceramic? Leave a comment and let us know about your favorites.

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Capelo Pottery, a Unique Take on Mexican Ceramics

Capelo's studio and countryside

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

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

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

Capelo pitcher

square serving dishCapelo plates

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

Capelo fluted footed bowl

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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.

platespitchers
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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Mexican and Italian Roosters: Different Takes on an Old Tradition

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

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

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

blue and white rooster tray

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

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

italian rooster pitcher

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

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

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

hillsides around Guanajuato, Mexico

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

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

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

Capelo statement vase

footed serving bowllittle blue plateCapelo Mexican ceramics

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The Staying Power of Fine Italian Ceramics, Past and Present

Fine Italian ceramics are nothing new. Dating back to the Middle Ages and beginning to flourish in the 1400s, the ceramic centers of Italy have been producing incredibly detailed ceramics for literally hundreds of years. I recently came across a little book discussing Italian and other European ceramics throughout history – Maiolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi – and wanted to share some of its beautiful images with you. Just look at the inside of this “loving cup” from circa 1500 Faenza, used to celebrate engagements or as a gift for a beloved:

fine Italian ceramic loving cup

The detailed likeness is strikingly similar to work by Tuscia d’Arte, such as this Italian canister.

Italian canister

Another timeless piece is this plate of a solider from circa 1630:

Italian soldier plate

He looks so jaunty, reminding me of this contemporary Italian ceramic plate with a drummer at its center.

Italian ceramic plate

Italian ceramicsOne of the amazing things about hand painted Italian pottery is that patterns and techniques have been passed down through generations. Artists today hand paint using the same process as those centuries ago, following traditional patterns as well as adding some contemporary touches. Historically important areas for Italian ceramics have stayed pretty constant throughout the years, many of them in the center of Italy. One is Montelupo Fiorentino, outside of Florence in Tuscany. It’s where I get the fine Italian ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection. In a few months I plan to travel to Italy to visit both Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni as well as some potential new artists; I can’t wait!

Other famous centers are Deruta, Siena, and Vietri, examples of which are easy to find at Biordi Art Imports, also here in San Francisco. Biordi has a huge selection of typical Italian patterns that go back to the Renaissance; their walls are stuffed with dinnerware, decorative pieces, and exquisite tiles. If you find yourself in North Beach and want to see some Italian ceramics in San Francisco, check Biordi out.

No matter where hand painted Italian pottery comes from, I love how it connects to the artists that create it. Fine Italian ceramics are usually hand signed, a fitting recognition of all the time it takes to paint as well as form these pieces of art. Italian canisters, Italian utensil holders, or dinnerware pieces, these are all ceramics rich in history and tradition that make it easy to bring Italy to your home.Italian hand paintingWhat are your favorite fine Italian ceramics? Any recommendations for places in Italy I should visit this coming summer? Leave a comment and let me know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champagne image courtesy of maxxtraffic.

Rosca de reyes image courtesy of From Argentina With Love.

Broken plate image courtesy of Kristian Thøgersen.

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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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Just Opened: New Exhibition on French Ceramics in LA

Love French ceramics from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries? Then you need to check out the exhibition that opened last Saturday, October 6, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled “Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection,” it features over 130 examples of faïance, soft-paste porcelain, and hard-paste porcelain used in French daily life.

I found out about this exhibition months ago and wrote about it when comparing French ceramics past and present. For example, the curves of French country pottery pitchers mirror those of antique ewers which traditionally held water for washing in the morning. Other French ceramics in the exhibition include tablewares, tea accouterments, toiletry items, and even pieces used in times of sickness. The sugar bowl and spoon featured on LACMA’s blog is charming, with soft pink accents and a curiously slotted spoon.

Covered Sugar Bowl, 1780, Lunéville, France; and Sugar Spoon, 1775, Lunéville Petit Feu Faïence Manufactory, Lunéville, France; gifts of MaryLou Boone, photos © Susan Einstein

“This exhibition reveals and celebrates both the artistry that exists in the service of the utilitarian and the ability of this discriminating collector to bring together remarkable examples of that artistry,” said Elizabeth Williams, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at LACMA, in a recent press release.

Wine Bottle Cooler (Seau à demi-bouteille). Chantilly Porcelain Manufactory, Chantilly, France, c. 1730-1735. Soft-paste porcelain with glaze and enamel, The MaryLou Boone Collection. photos © Susan Einstein

I couldn’t agree more, especially looking at examples of handmade French pottery today, from French platters to the elegant curves of a French ceramic serving bowl. I was amused to see a French ceramic wine bottle holder circa 1730-1735 as a featured piece on the LACMA website. The Asian influence is obvious, as is the practicality of having something to keep wine cool. Unlike the porcelain jars for pomade, a wine bottle holder is a practical ceramic piece people still use today.

Many of these pieces look like they came from Asia because they were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford. Today’s French ceramics embrace colors, shapes, and textures of a timeless (yet contemporary) French aesthetic. French country pottery is a pleasure not only to see, but also to use, though the delicate artistic touches on Sylvie Durez‘s birds or the edging of Poterie Ravel’s French platters invoke the early examples of this tradition the LACMA exhibition highlights.

“Daily Pleasures” runs until March 31, 2013, so if I make it down to L.A. before it’s over, I’ll definitely check it out. Have you seen this exhibition or know of others that focus on French ceramics in your area? Leave a comment below and let us know!

“Daily Pleasures” images courtesy of LACMA.

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Ceramica Valenciana: Spanish Ceramics Update

Work schedules are very different in Europe and the United States, especially when it comes to vacation time. It’s very common for businesses to close for weeks in the summer or even the entire month of August. What does this have to do with Spanish ceramics? Well, let’s just say that due to vacation schedules, my order from Ceramica Valenciana (a famous maker of Spanish ceramics and one of the reasons I was inspired to start Emilia Ceramics in the first place) now looks like it will arrive in fall, not summer. (Who am I kidding… let’s just hope it’s here by Christmas!)

But even though I don’t have any pieces by Ceramica Valenciana in stock yet doesn’t mean I can’t give you a sneak peak at what to expect in a few months. The full name of Ceramica Valenciana is La Cerámica Valenciana de José Gimeno and it’s been in business since 1925. This family-run business makes a full range of Spanish ceramics. Most famous for tiles (known as Azulejos in Spain) and reproductions of traditional pieces from the 18th century, they also do many modern pieces, from lamps and canisters to dishes and bowls. What I love about their work is how it combines tradition, innovation, and a fun Spanish spirit.

The quality work at Ceramica Valenciana hasn’t gone unnoticed. They won the Manises “Qualitat i Disseny” award in 1994, 1997, and 2000; the Alfa Gold Award in 1980, 2000, and 2002; and the NOVA for craft (the highest award from the Generalitat Valenciana) in 2006. They also worked with architect D. Santiago Calatrava to construct two huge murals for the Palace of Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia. This dramatic performing arts space is truly stunning; check out their virtual tour and see if you can find the two murals inside.

But even with all these modern accolades, the artists at Ceramica Valenciana still stick to their traditional majolica methods. Pieces are all handmade and hand-painted, which gives every plate, bowl, jar, and vase a truly unique character. Archive footage from 1940 shows José Gimeno himself working on large pieces – check out this video (in Spanish) to see more for yourself. The film quality feels to me like a film noir, but covering Spanish ceramic production. (Fun fact: the factory in the film is the same building that Ceramica Valenciana still occupies today. I’ve been to visit 3 times and it is an old but absolutely stunning building housing endless amounts of ceramic masterpieces.)

http://video.google.es/videoplay?docid=3822281691113565574&hl=es

Even though technology has changed in so many ways, the methods to make these beautiful ceramics have remained the same for hundreds of years. Now that Ceramica Valenciana is almost back from vacation, I look forward to finalizing my order and being able to share their gorgeous Spanish ceramics with you in the near future. Here are a few of my favorite pieces to whet your appetite…

Images and video courtesy of La Cerámica Valenciana de José Gimeno.

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A Look at French Ceramics, Past and Present

Think you know French ceramics? Many people picture porcelain when they think about French ceramics, such as the famous Sèvres porcelain. Louis XV became the owner of this producer in 1759 and it was a major maker of French porcelain throughout the eighteenth century (according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Most of these early porcelains were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford, though there was plenty of French innovation once the new processes got traction. Because of a lack of essential materials to make a clay body that was the same as the Asian pieces, all of the French ceramics made before 1770 were soft paste porcelain, not hard paste. (For those that are wondering, soft paste porcelain requires a higher fire temperature and is much harder to form than the more plastic and malleable hard paste porcelain, which contains minerals like kaolin and quartz.)

Technical talk aside, these old French ceramics are certainly beautiful to see. If you’re in the LA area, an upcoming exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art will feature examples of porcelain from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France that have a whole range of style and function. What’s particularly interesting about this collection is that it also features faience, which is simply another name for tin-oxide glazed pottery… also known as majolica.

Flash forward to today where faience/majolica is still going strong in French ceramics. Sturdy, rustic, yet also refined, this ceramic tradition continues to grow with modern sensibilities while staying true to its roots.

Just look at the curves of the pitchers by Richard Esteban and Poterie Ravel. Simple and elegant, their rich glazes are enticing for hands and eyes alike. Compare a faience ewer circa 1700 (like the photo above) to Richard’s barn red milk pitcher – they have the same clean lines and visual appeal with tall, stately spouts.

Poterie Ravel’s fancy pitcher, stunning in mustard yellow or creamy ivory, also reflects shapes and function from the past that fits in with today’s aesthetics for French ceramics.

Then there are French ceramics like those by Patrice Voelkel and Sylvie Durez. Patrice does so much with colors like white or blue, creating pieces that are deceptively simple. His large serving dish has a delicate rim that exposes the black local clay of Provence, while the white irregular glaze gives it real character. Sylvie goes a completely different direction, treating her bowls, serving platters, and pitchers as canvases for playful animals, dreamy women, or pastel landscapes with a surreal feel.

No matter your style, the variety of French ceramics being made today are sure to be just as sought after in hundreds of years as those that were made in the 1700s. So which French ceramics suit you best?

French faience ewer image courtesy of Sean Pathasema/Birmingham Museum of Art.

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5 Ways to Create an Instant Café Experience with French Coffee Mugs

Did Bastille Day make you long for France? It did for me! I keep thinking about my favorite French experiences and near the top of that list is whiling away the morning or afternoon at a sweet Provençal café. From croissants to French coffee bowls, here are my top tips for creating your own French café experience, no matter where you are or what time of day it is.

  1. Pick the cup to suit your drink. Whether you love strong espresso or equal parts coffee and cream, the right vessel makes all the difference. Tiny espresso cups allow the ideal amount of crema to cover the shot for the best taste possible. Like American style coffee? Then treat yourself to a polka dot mug for your brew. And for you hot chocolate and tea lovers, there’s nothing better than French coffee bowls for capacity.
  2. Try using a saucer. At a café in France, every beverage is served on a saucer that holds a tiny spoon, perhaps a lump of sugar, and a small sweet. French coffee mugs with saucers do the same at home, giving you an easy way to transport your cup to your favorite chair or seat on the patio. The saucer also provides protection for your table and won’t go missing the same way a coaster always seems to.
  3. Eat fresh. In France people usually pick up croissants or pain au chocolat from the local boulangerie or pâtisserie when they are only a few hours old. This makes for flakier pastry that tastes even better with a coffee at the local café or breakfast table. While you might not have a bakery right down the street, pair the contents of your French coffee bowl with the freshest breakfast possible, from fruit that’s in season to treats you picked up from the bakery the night before (shhhh, we won’t tell anyone).
  4. Pick up a newspaper. When traveling in Provence, I always see people reading their favorite newspapers at cafés, particularly in the mornings. It’s an easy way to slow down and truly savor what’s in your French coffee mug, whether it’s your first or fifth cup of the day.
  5. Don’t neglect the details. From interesting sugar cubes to those tiny spoons, the right details make your French coffee mug feel even more authentic. Recreate a French breakfast with Nutella or jam spread on toast or a croissant; then dip it into your French coffee bowl and enjoy the delicious results. Whether it’s a playful polka dot mug, gently steamed milk, or a cheerful cream and sugar set on the table, these little details will make any cup of espresso, coffee, or tea seem like someone else made it for you.

Interested in more coffee rituals? Check out our Pinterest board for coffee and tea lovers and let us know what you think.

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New Italian Soap Dish from Ceramiche Bartoloni

Do you get excited about Italian soap dishes? Have you ever even thought about Italian soap dishes? Believe it or not, these little ceramic pieces can be quite exciting. I wasn’t much of a fan myself before I visited Ceramiche Bartoloni on a buying trip years ago. The beauty of their hand-painted Italian soap dishes was astounding and the variety of shapes and sizes was a revelation. Practical and decorative, I found that these small accessories add big style throughout the home.

Our newest Italian soap dish at Emilia Ceramics is no exception. In the ever-popular blu limoni design, this square Italian soap dish is too pretty just to stay in the bathroom. It’s also perfect for holding sponges, hand soap, or other cleaning supplies by the kitchen sink. More alternate uses for this Italian soap dish include using it as a small serving dish; it holds lime and lemon slices for drinks or taco night, olives or nuts for appetizers, and any other garnishes for your meal. I’ve also seen these Italian soap dishes used to organize rings, as a place for depositing keys, or even as a stylish spot to store a cellphone.

With so many uses for this small piece, an Italian soap dish is the perfect go-to hostess, housewarming, or birthday gift. Pair this square Italian soap dish or one of the round ones with a luxurious bar of soap and voilà! The vivid blue, yellow, and green of the blu limoni pattern works in both modern or traditional spaces, making this Italian soap dish truly versatile in both usages and design aesthetics. Who knew that soap dishes could look this good and do so much?

Stay tuned for more new ceramic arrivals on the website in coming weeks as I get through sorting all the new pieces arriving from Mexico. Check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages for photos and updates as they happen.

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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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Stay Tuned for New Ginger Jars Coming Soon!

Ginger jars are everywhere now and it’s not hard to see why. Called tibores in Mexico and sometimes referred to as urns in the U.S., these traditional ceramics are a stylish way to add visual interest to any space. The ginger jars by Talavera Vazquez are so popular that I’m often afraid of running out of stock. With the graphic stripes and zig zag chevrons, these are definitely pieces that look good in a variety of spaces.

Emilia Ceramics ginger jars are so popular, in fact, that I’m working with Talavera Vazquez to introduce some new colors (coming soon to the website). Look for neutral tones like gray and yellow zig-zags to join the existing cobalt blue, black, and burnt orange. I cannot wait to see the new ginger jars myself, let alone offer them to my customers in a wider color range.

Talking with the artists, I was reminded of when we began to work together to make the ginger jar table lamps. These bold ceramics are extremely popular and I think it’s because ginger jar table lamps combine style with function in an original way.

One of my favorite things about these pieces are how customizable they are. A blue and white ceramic lamp takes on a new look when paired with a large blue or small white shade (or anything in between). The shade brings personal style to the ceramic and makes for a truly personal statement.

The different patterns on these ginger jar lamps also create a variety of effects. The striking chevrons of this blue and white ginger jar lamp are bold and eye-catching. The blue and white striped ceramic lamp makes a softer graphic statement while smaller blue and white ginger jar lamp features organic motifs and a playful feel. Same color combination, three totally different blue and white ginger jar lamps that all bring sophistication to your home.

I love all the flexibility and fun that ginger jars and ginger jar lamps represent, whether it’s flanking a staircase, acting as a bedside lamp, or making a statement on the patio. So here’s to the new Vazquez ginger jar collection… coming soon!

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A Few of My Favorite (French) Things…

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

Pitchers with Personality.

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

Functional and Fun Platters.

 

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

Everyday Pieces You’ll Want to Use… Everyday.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Why Buy Ceramics for Valentine’s Day?

My Love Comes Bearing GiftsI’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day recently (as those of you who get the newsletter already know). If you have a special someone to celebrate it with, it’s time to come up with a plan. It’s probably one of the worst times to try and go out to eat (reservations fill up fast and set menus don’t usually showcase a restaurant’s best dishes). Roses are cliché, the same goes for chocolates. But what about buying ceramics online for your sweetheart?

Think about it. Ceramics are durable (just like your love). They’re timeless (just like your love). They look good for years and can be used as a daily reminder of your love, whether simple coffee mugs or an elaborately-decorated vase. Of course, when you buy ceramics online, you’ll have many options – here are some ideas to help you decide what’s right for your Valentine’s Day gift:

Seeing Red: Valentine’s day is full of red and pink. If your sweetie loves those colors, bonus! Red ceramic platters, mugs, and bowls are just some ceramics to buy that fit personal tastes and the holiday. I think red’s cheerful year-round, but if it’s not a favorite, think about classic blue and white, warm yellows, or even rich greens. A gift that reflects personal taste is always best, no matter the occasion. From clean, graphic ceramics to rich Tuscan and French country pieces, there’s something for everyone.

Shipping: When you buy ceramics online, check out the shipping policy before shopping around. Is there an express option to get your gift delivered before February 14? What’s the policy on breakage? With a week to go, most places should be able to deliver your gift with a day to spare.

Special Touches: Traditional gifts are sweet, don’t get me wrong. But why not add something a little extra? A vase with a note saying “For all the flower bouquets to come” sets up a year-long romantic gesture that’s sure to be appreciated. For wine lovers, this black and white striped wine bottle holder would work well with a bottle of Lucky Night wine by Swanson Vineyards. Love someone who loves coffee or tea? Find the perfect ceramic mug for their daily cup along with some of their preferred brew. The Gran Taza ensures they have enough for the morning at home or the office.

      

When Size Matters: Good things come in both big and small packages. When choosing ceramics to buy, think about your sweetheart’s space and preferences. A statement vase might be beautiful, but take up too much space on a small shelf. If space isn’t an issue, try a bold planter for the window or patio. Even better, complete this gift with a flowering plant, so your Valentine can enjoy flowers long after February 14th.

Pink package image courtesy of Vincent van der Pas.

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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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Feliz Día de los Muertos!

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

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

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

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

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

Day of the Dead altar image courtesy of Ute Hagen.

Candy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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French Coffee Bowls: Adding Provence to Your Morning Routine

french coffee bowl

After my recent buying trip to France, I’ve been craving café crème and chocolat chaud like never before. Coffee culture is such a mainstay of French life; it’s easy to lose count of the espresso drinks you’ve consumed during the day. Even the tiniest town will have a café that makes incredible coffee, stuff that you’d only find at a high-quality place in the USA. Perhaps the tradition of an aperitif before dinner is to counteract all the caffeine of the day. On second thought, most people have another coffee after dinner as well… Never mind!

You don’t see French coffee bowls much in cafés or restaurants; mostly they’re used in the home. Every family member has a preferred bowl for their breakfast ritual, whether it’s filled with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or even chocolate milk for the kids. They are the perfect pairing to a traditional tartine (toast with butter and/or jam) or my favorite, a croissant. The French love coffee bowls because you can easily dip your breakfast into your drink. If you’ve never tried this, I definitely recommend the experience.

Something else I love about French coffee bowls is that you have to use both hands to drink out of them, unlike a handled mug. On chilly mornings this is a perfect way to really experience a morning drink with all your senses. Because the bowls are so wide, it is difficult to see or do anything else while drinking. It’s a moment of Zen, encouraging you to slow down for complete enjoyment.

Of course, French coffee bowls are for more than just coffee. But there’s something elegant, yet comfortable, about being able to dip with ease into your beverage of choice, whether at breakfast or having afternoon tea with cookies and scones. French coffee bowls are also perfect for soup sipping, a bowl of yogurt with fresh fruit, ice cream sundaes, or even just cereal. As I transition back to life in San Francisco, I know that I’ll be using them to bring a bit of Provence to my kitchen and my day.

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A Closer Look at Mexican Ceramic Art

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

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Oaxaca

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

Jalisco

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

Majolica

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

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

Oaxaca image and Jalisco image both courtesy of AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

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The Allure of Gorky Gonzalez Pottery

Packing boxes as I prepare to head to France for my buying trip this month, I’ve found myself handling a lot of Gorky Gonzalez pottery. I love the mix of fun and technical sophistication that’s a Gorky pottery trademark. Each piece combines elements from Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and Indigenous-Mexican cultures, giving it a unique depth and character. When it comes to Mexican artist ceramics, Gorky Gonzalez pottery has a richer and more compelling story than any I know.

In fact, I think what really draws people to Gorky pottery is its fusion of modern accents with traditional motifs. Dishware is an easy way to brighten every day, particularly if it’s something fun and playful like the La Mexicana motif. With vibrant leaves, bright fruits, and an inherent dynamism, these pieces are some of my favorites in the Gorky Gonzalez pottery collection.

From salad plates to mixing bowls, serving platters to tibores (or ginger jars), you can create an entire set in this motif alone.

But why stop there? The beauty of handmade pottery is layering pieces to reflect your own style, and Gorky’s patterns and colors are meant to be mixed, adding depth to the table and home. That’s one of the reasons ceramics make such good gifts – they add dimension and a note of pizazz where it’s least expected. Mixing a motif with solid colored pieces is easy to do with Gorky pottery, particularly with its wide array of platters, dishes, bowls, and mugs.

Take the Amor Platter, one of my most popular pieces. The not-quite-oval, not-quite-rectangular shape makes it versatile enough to serve appetizers or use as a centerpiece on the table. Its central depiction focuses on love, something that never goes out of style. Unsurprisingly, this piece is a popular gift for engagements, weddings, and anniversaries, adding an original and festive note to the theme of love. Like the idea? Check out the Amor octagonal serving dish and oval serving dish, other beautiful examples of the traditional couple design with a variety of functions. No matter if it’s a gift for yourself or someone else, you’re certain to enjoy these distinctive pieces of Gorky Gonzalez pottery for years to come.

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The Case for Handmade Ceramic Pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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Got Rooster Fever? You’re In Good Company

Maybe it’s because I’m not human before my first (or perhaps second) cup of coffee, but roosters fascinate me. They’re so excited to be awake so early. And they don’t even drink coffee! It’s no surprise then that Roosters are a popular motif for kitchen décor, bringing warmth and cheer first thing in the morning and all day long.

Roosters have a range of meanings, from the unofficial symbol of France to one of the 12 parts of the Chinese zodiac, symbolizing honesty and fortitude. In many cultures they have been associated (unsurprisingly) with the sun. So how to get some crowing cocks into your own décor? Perhaps with a hand painted rooster bowl or pitcher? Or something small and unique like salt and pepper shakers?

A rooster cookie jar is a fun way to hold baked goods and bring a sculptural element to your kitchen counter. Of course, why limit yourself to one rooster canister? Extend the theme with a rooster mug, sugar bowl, even dessert plates. Individually hand-painted, the roosters on these pieces have their own personality and add instant charm to your kitchen counter and breakfast table.

A rooster pitcher is an Italian tradition, often given as a housewarming present to protect against trespassers and danger. According to legend, an assassination attempt on Guiliano Medici was foiled when roosters announced the attack. To celebrate, Medici had hundreds of rooster pitchers created by local potters. Good for milk, juice, wine or flowers, these are great gifts for the person who seemingly has everything.

Of course, not all roosters need to be big accent pieces. Rooster salt and pepper shakers bring these fowl to your table in a variety of vibrant colors. Another item I think it’s hard to have too many of, salt and pepper shakers can change with the seasons and always make a thoughtful small gift.

There’s also no rule saying rooster décor should come in shades of yellow and red. Gorky’s blue hand painted rooster bowl is a twist on these typical color choices, large enough for a salad or other serving purpose. Other hand painted rooster bowls like those from Ceramiche Bartoloni use color inside and out to make a striking statement at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

No matter how you choose to incorporate roosters into your kitchen or dining room, they’re sure to be a hit with both family and guests alike! And best of all, you can be sure they won’t wake anyone up by crowing at some early morning hour.