I was recently contacted by Reuters to be featured in a documentary video series called, “Generation Maker.” The series focuses on small manufacturing businesses. A small camera crew came to my studio for an intense afternoon of interviewing and recording. I’m thrilled with the result! Here is the episode, called, “Generation Maker: Old World Craft Finds a New Clientele.”
It's been quite a while since my last post! But what better reason to write than to tell you about one of the most wonderful museums I visited this summer during my vacation in Europe!
Museu Nacional do Azulejo is a gem in one of the few European cities where ceramics has a real tradition: Lisbon, Portugal. Whereas Meissen in Germany, Limoges in France, Manises in Spain, and Faenza in Italy are all famous for their fine dinnerware and decorative pieces, Lisbon is best known for its tradition of using ceramic tiles as building cladding. Walking down the ancient streets of Lisbon, one’s eyes are delighted by the variety of colors and patterns covering nearly every facade.
The history of tiles (“azulejos”) in Portugal dates back to the 13th century, when there was a large Arabic population on the Iberian peninsula. During these early years, tiles were used extensively in interior spaces. However, in the 15th century, King Manuel I of Portugal visited the south of Spain and saw tiles being used on the exteriors of buildings, and he brought the craft back home to his country.
Tiles are a simple slab of clay, cut into geometric shapes, then decorated after bisque firing. A variety of oxides and, more recently, colored stains, are typically applied over a white glaze. Historically, the dominant decorative tile colors in Portugal were blue, yellow, green, and white. However, in the 17th century, a simpler color palette of deep blue on white became fashionable (influenced by Ming Dynasty porcelain from China). In the 18th century, the popularity of tiles exploded in Portugal, seeing widespread use in churches and convents, palaces and homes, gardens, fountains and staircases.
Museu National do Azulejo occupies the former Convent of Madre Deus, founded by Queen Leonor in 1509. The building itself is an example of the lovely renaissance style in Portugal (though parts of it were rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755). The museum is organized across two floors, with a light-filled courtyard in the center. Many of the walls of the old structure, including those of the ornate chapel, are covered in original painted tiles.
Arranged around the courtyard are many galleries displaying well-preserved tile arrangements from different historical periods. Visitors can trace the fascinating development of tiles in Portugal from its origin all the way up to the present day.
During my life as a ceramic artist I have seen countless examples of painted ceramic wall tiles (and have worked on several murals, myself). I am often impressed by their beauty, but, as I work with decorative ceramics every day, I’m rarely surprised. However, being surrounded by the countless Portugese tile masterpieces in this museum was overwhelming, and a complete joy! For all of you ceramics enthusiasts, I highly recommend visiting this special place!
Over the years, I've enjoyed working together with many different artists. The final product is always exciting, fresh, and very different from what I might have come up with on my own. So, this past summer, I began thinking about the possibility of arranging a new collaboration. A few names came to mind, but Samantha Dion Baker was at the top of my list.
Sam is an extremely talented illustrator who also lives in Brooklyn. We first met last year, when she stopped by my booth at a fair. We chatted for a while. She bought a couple of my pieces and signed my mailing list. Since then, I've been following Sam on Instagram, where she has a very active and gorgeous feed. Every day, I'm stunned by her beautiful journal pages and hand-painted leaves.
And so, this summer, I reached out to Sam with the idea of a collaboration. I was very happy when she told me she was excited about the idea! Sam had never worked with ceramics, so it was a great opportunity to learn a lot from each other. We immediately arranged a time to meet up at my Industry City studio.
During our first two meetings, we tried a number of different techniques, glazes, and forms as test pieces. I loaded everything into the kiln and we waited. Though neither of us were completely satisfied with this firing, the results were inspiring and pointed us in a strong direction.
The next time we met at my studio, Alex Baretto, a photographer with Industry City, came by to take some shots of us working (see the two photos below - you can see more of Alex's incredible photos at Industry City's Instagram feed!). As an artist, it is so beneficial to work in a creative environment like Industry City. You just have to walk through any of its halls to see all kinds of artistic disciplines side by side!
The direction Sam and I chose for our collaboration was to glaze my ceramics in the style of her painted leaves. We designed several different shapes of vases, bowls, and cups, and choose a palette of glazes.
The result is a limited collection of 15 unique porcelain pieces with the free-form drips and line work of Samantha's leaves. We are both so thrilled with the collection! It was an extraordinary experience for me, not only because I got to see how Sam works, but because I gained a great friend. We had such a blast making these pieces... we're already thinking about what our next collaboration will be! Stay tuned!