Ceramic household items that spark the imagination
The love of humans for ceramics has lasted for millennia. They fill our galleries and museums, as well as our homes. From simple earthenware pots to the classic Greek amphora and delicate pewter-glazed earthenware, styles have evolved and gone into fashion.
But what unites them, as well as their craftsmen, explains Éléonore Trenado-Finetis, owner of the Greek gallery Mon Coin Studio, is “this feeling of continuity and unity, which extends from the oldest times to our days “.
Over the past two decades, the love of craftsmanship has been “let’s say abandoned,” Trenado-Finetis says, as mass-produced ceramics dominated the market. Now, she says, Greek ceramics are in demand again.
In fact, across Europe, artisans and galleries are reporting a resurgence of interest in their work. Globally, the ceramic tableware market has grown from $59.1 billion in 2017 to a forecast of $75 billion by the end of this year, according to a report by Marketresearch.com.
In part, demand has been spurred by young shoppers’ desire to post perfectly styled scenes on Instagram: #ceramics has over 17 million posts and retailer Matchesfashion.com reports that ceramics and tableware are the hottest items. top sellers in its homeware category. .
Trenado-Finetis suggests it’s the craft’s rich history that piques the interest. While many believe that ceramics in Europe begin with the Classical Greek and Roman periods, the earliest discovered pieces date from 29,000 to 25,000 BC, found at a site at Dolní Věstonice in the Czech Republic.
Even in Greek history, Trenado-Finetis is keen to celebrate the work of a period before the classical period (5th and 4th centuries BC) – especially potters, or tsikalades, on the island of Sifnos, in the Cyclades Islands. His exhibition, Ceramic journey around Greece: Sifnosopens this summer.
“The pottery tradition of Sifnos dates back to 2500 BC, during the Cycladic period, and has been passed down from generation to generation, without interruption, until today,” she says. Today, 16 modern workshops still work with traditional techniques.
Sifnos is not alone in being proud of its ceramic history. Puglia in southern Italy prides itself on its pottery in majolica, a pewter earthenware technique produced in the region from around the 14th century.
A family brand, Ceramiche Fasano, comes from a line of potters based in Grottaglie in Puglia. The company is now in its fifth generation and has luxury clients around the world, including director Francis Ford Coppola.
Techniques that at first glance seem European have often migrated across the world: Majolica originated as lead-glazed pottery in ancient Assyria. It arrived in Spain – via the Middle East – in the 10th century, before migrating to Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The Italian town of Faenza became particularly famous for the style, and ceramics from the town are known as faience. After an Italian monk brought the technique to France, it became popular there too, especially after it was used at the court of Louis XVI (and Frenchified as earthenware).
Today, the isolated village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie in Provence, which has a population of 720, is known for its earthenware craftsmanship, with workshops supplying global customers such as Tiffany, Bergdorf Goodman, Takashimaya and Hermès.
Historical techniques and design are an important point of reference for modern ceramists. Myrto Zirini, a ceramist based in Athens, says he “found pieces in the archaeological museum that inspired a series of mugs”. Spanish artists Canoa Lab, meanwhile, say they found inspiration at the Museo Prehistòria de València.
But what really excites them and their clients is the modern reinterpretation of their craft.
“Many of our artisans add a modern twist to traditional designs and techniques,” says Ippolita Rostagno, creative director of Artemest, an online store that collects the works of more than 1,300 Italian artisans.
Sardinian ceramists Cerasarda use hand engraving on clay to rework local themes such as the pavoncelle — a typically Sardinian symbol of peace — on decorative plates. Roman artist Coralla Maiuri creates true works of art, mixing fine porcelain, hand-painted lapis lazuli and golden details.
Even the clay itself is ready for a modern reinvention: Paola Paronetto, ceramist born in Pordenone, in northeastern Italy, has an innovative technique that involves mixing paper and clay to create a unique texture with delicate and tactile quality. “Its composite nature requires a slow work of additions and layers,” she says.
It’s not just makers who are finding ways to update traditional ceramics for a modern audience – homeware shoppers who love craftsmanship are doing it too.
Natalie Sytner, a former fashion buyer for Browns and Net-a-Porter, founded her ceramic brand Bettina Ceramica last August, inspired by her Italian mother’s talent for decorating their home with traditional handcrafted ceramics.
One of its surprise hits was a range of ceramic acquasantiere, small containers for holy water placed near the door. “They’ve been made for millennia,” she says, “and traditionally they’re in places of worship, but my mother had always hung them in our house, where she would have
keepsakes, such as photographs or fresh flowers.
It took Sytner months of searching throughout the lockdown to find a manufacturer; eventually, she found one in Venice “that literally dusted off the samples from their loft,” she says. “They hadn’t made them in so long and couldn’t believe I wanted to bring them back to life.”
Sytner has reinvented more designs for a modern audience, including “traditional horseman’s candlesticks”, a handcrafted ceramic Pomo di Puglia, a traditional lucky charm and a new range of traditional looking terracotta bowls , but in soft colors. It has five manufacturers in Italy, based in Venice, Florence and Puglia.
“I mainly deal with the great-grandchildren of the original artists,” she says. Descendants are incredibly protective of their family heritage, she adds.
“Some refused to sell me until we met in person and had dinner together; it’s not a modern way of doing business, it has old vibes. But that makes it a very personal journey.
It is a family journey that inspired Zoë de Givenchy to create a line of tableware. She was inspired by the tastes of her late uncle, Count Hubert de Givenchy, founder of the Givenchy house. He traveled regularly to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, taking his niece on research trips as he fitted out his 16th-century Château du Jonchet in the Loire Valley.
“His passion and in-depth knowledge of French artistic careers, including French ceramics – porcelain and earthenware – was considerable”, explains Zoë de Givenchy. “It was a captivating education for me that extended from his table to the workshops, where he personally introduced me to the many artisan families I work with today.”
Continuing her heritage, she now commands Provençal workshops to
manufactures a range of tableware pieces from plates and bowls to earthenware apothecary jars, inspired by those used during the reign of Louis XVI but updated for a modern audience.
“We wanted to rely on the historical reference of the blue of Moustiers, so emblematic of the region, and juxtapose a modern concept”, she specifies.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie was also the inspiration for a new range of tableware for Lady Carole Bamford, co-founder of Daylesford, who has a home in the south of France. Last year, she commissioned Atelier Soleil, run by master craftsman Franck Scherer, to craft her range of earthenware tableware using centuries-old techniques of embossing, turning and hand-moulding.
“It’s an incredible process to watch,” says Rebecca Malyon, Head of Household Product Development at Daylesford, who recently visited the workshop. Videos on his website show Scherer shaping a plate on his wheel, pinching the edges of the wet clay with his hands like the edge of a pie. It’s hypnotic.
It’s precisely this tactile connection that has made the millennial device so appealing to modern audiences more accustomed to typing on a phone, according to contemporary makers.
Trenado-Finetis believes handling a ceramic work of art — even if it’s just a mug sculpture — gives people an “authentic connection with others and with art,” she says. .
“Handmade pottery not only carries the energy of the maker [and] an imprint of their soul, but [their] Warning, [their] love and respect for matter and the beauty of life.