The Polish Pottery Festival in Boleslawiec, Poland celebrates a tradition of ceramic pottery dating back to the 14th century. Largely unknown in some parts of the world, it has become a sought after souvenir by tourists visiting the German-Czech border region. In this month’s Traditional Art Post, I explore Bolesławiec (pronounced Bowl-e-swa-vee-etz) stoneware.
Using a fine, white kaolin clay found in the river basins of the surrounding area, Boleslawiec pottery is molded or turned, and then fired in ovens, at temperatures in excess of 1350°C with a clear, lead-free glaze, thus making it non-toxic and highly impervious to abrasives. Incredibly, it doesn’t chip or crack easily and can not only be used in the oven or microwave, but is also dishwasher safe!! The perfect stoneware!!!
Traditional Boleslawiec patterns were punched using hand-stencils, originally using vegetables such as the humble potato. [Remember doing this kind of stamping in kindergarten art?]
This was the preferred decorative design standard for hundreds of years until the master potter, Johann Gottlieb Altman, introduced designs of circles, dots, scales and clover leaves in the early 1830’s. The colorful and durable work of arts on white backgrounds appealed to the European nobility and as a result, Boleslawiec’ popularity grew.
Today, the contemporary ‘Unikat’ series has taken Boleslawiec ceramic design to a whole new level. With ever more complicated motifs, patterns and colours, and complemented by hand-painting techniques, this means a finished piece of Boleslawiec pottery will now easily command a high price in the marketplace.
The fine grain white clay, Kaolin, is of such high quality, it is used to make fine porcelain dishes as well. Once processed to the right consistency it begins its metamorphosis from earth to heirloom quality stoneware. Either molded or formed on a potter’s wheel, the piece is air-dried, trimmed and cleaned, then pre-burnt in preparation for the application of the final design. Originally stamped or “punched” using vegetables, the artists’ tools have evolved to longer lasting media like sea sponges or rubber stamps. This time-consuming process may require from one to ten different sized or shaped stencils to fill the ceramic’s surface design. Moreover, the number of punches may reach into the thousands on a particular piece. The paints used are completely non-toxic, free of lead and cadmium. Source: http://neveradulldayinpoland.com/boleslawiec-poland-aka-polish-pottery-heaven/
Stamped pottery decorations with the famous “eye of the peacock’s tail” motif have been produced since the beginning of the 19th century and are recognized among the finest examples of European pottery. Village craftsmen and peasants of lower Silesia, inspired by the peacock’s feather motif, have added incredible strength and beauty to these objects, which have long been admired for their quality and decorative appeal. Each piece is hand painted and initialed/signed by skilled artisans.
In 1897, the Professional School of Ceramics was established in Bolesławiec. The many technological advances and innovative methods taught helped town of Bolesławiec to earn the reputation, “town of good clay” in the region.
However, World War II took its toll on the Bolesławiec ceramics industry. The ceramic workshops were destroyed. In 1946, efforts began to revive the ceramics industry in Bolesławiec. Over time, new cooperatives were formed and the skilled and talented potters in the region began rebuilding the pottery industry in Bolesławiec to what it is today. Source: (http://www.polishstoneware.com/about_polish_pottery/sec_polish_pottery_history/)
Traditional art is always something so inspiring to ponder about.