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Pottery and Ceramics in Grottaglie, Italy

Brindisi, Ceramics

Anybody who’s anybody in Italy knows that if you want to purchase ceramics and pottery or just learn how to create ceramic art, then you have to head SOUTH. The small towns of Laterza, Martina Franca, Canosa and Lucera are part of a ceramics-network that all connect with one city in particular: the small town of Grottaglie (Grow-tall-yae); renowned not only for it’s dedication to preserving the ceramics industry of the middle ages, but also for being the only location in the south where one can still attend a ceramics school (the Istituto Statale d’Arte di Grottaglie) where one can learn this delicate and demanding art from a professional “ceramista” or potter.

Grottaglie isn’t “just” popular because of its ceramics, Grottaglie exists BECAUSE of its ceramics. “Potter’s Row’ takes up most of the city center. Its here that visitors can choose from dozens ceramics shops. Easy to see due to the massive amounts of ceramics lying out in the open for all to see. Grottaglie also boasts a “ceramics museum” where visitors can see a variety of historic ceramic works-of-art.

Grottaglie is one of the mainstays of the Puglia Region. Not as flashy as some of the small towns that dot the coast, but every bit as interesting thanks to it’s ceramics and pottery.

During the 17th and 18th century, Grottaglie’s ceramics industry focused on the “practical” – that being the production of floor and roof tiles. And in that respect, it wasn’t a lot different from any other location who made tiles out of baked mud and clay. But then potters learned the secret of “glazing” which not only made for a more attractive product, but also a more durable (and thus more expensive) one, and the rest – as they say – is history.

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In the 18th century, Grottaglie’s potter’s made the transition to more high-end ceramic art: decorative plates, urns and cups and figurines – all painstakingly detailed with flowers, mini-landscapes and geodesic designs. The ceramic art used a variety of hues that until then was unheard of – blues and greens, yellows and orange. And because of this “glazing” thing – the colors held fast and the pottery didn’t break. Word spread, and suddenly Grottaglie was the place to go if you needed ceramics with a touch of class.

To keep up with the demand, a ceramics school opened in the town and attracted students from all over Italy and abroad. The famed “Capodimonte” style so – identified in Naples came out of this school as did other styles now known throughout Italy. In the 1980’s the original ceramics school moved out of Potter’s Row” and took on the guise of a state run art institute. Thus the “Istituto Statale d’Arte di Grottaglie” (www.istitutosdag.it) was born. Now students still learn the “right way’ to create ceramic art, but they aim towards a degree in Cultural Art and Resturation.

You don’t have to dedicate 3 years of your life to learning ceramics. Grottaglie has many bottega’s (pottery shops) that over courses in ceramics.

Over time, the roles and the specializations involved in the craft of ceramics and pottery have reduced during the years, because of many technological innovations, but ceramics in general has caught up a more artistic level. The number of “masters’ has dropped considerably over time. But it’s certain a progressive improvement in the quality of the production, in the craftsmen’s professional and artistic abilities, in the technology of production.

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All the workshops are, in fact, capable to produce a wide variety of objects, of ever higher quality. The few real craftsmen remaining in Grottaglie represent the last opportunity to collect a direct documentation of the ancient traditions that are disappearing, a testimony that encloses memories hands on by the previous generations, dealing with working systems handed on from father to son, in a long chain of which it is difficult to find the beginning.

In modern times, the ceramic art of Grottaglie has far surpassed it’s post-medieval success. The ceramics of Grottaglie are narrowed down to that which is produced for the home and that which is produced for display. Each type is unique in it’s own way and for this reason, Grottaglie heads the list of 28 different cities in Italy renowned for their advances and contributions to ceramic art.

Interested in a visit? Perhaps a week-long course near a hot kiln? Check out www.ceramics.it, www.capeland.it, and www.ceramicandmore.it for useful links on schools.

A visit to Grottaglie is easy. The town is accessable from Brindsi or Taranto via the autostrada (see map). Taranto in fact has a small airport that takes charter flights from Rome and Brindisi.