Can Old-World ceramics survive modern tastes?

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, May 20, 2024

Can Old-World ceramics survive modern tastes?
Ceramic bowls in the home of Maria Stefanescu, a decorator, in Horezu, Romania, in the foothills of the Capatanii Mountains, a three-hour drive from Bucharest, the capital, April 30, 2023. A style of pottery made for hundreds of years in this small Romanian town has recently become a hot commodity. (Marko Risovic/The New York Times)

by Chantel Tattoli

HOREZU.- Sorin Giubega’s grandfather was a potter. So was his father. And at 8 years old, Giubega said, he started to play on a pottery wheel, too.

Giubega, now 63, and his wife, Marieta Giubega, 48, are potters in Horezu, Romania, a town in the foothills of the Capatanii Mountains about three hours by car from Bucharest.

Horezu is home to a community of about 50 artisans who make a traditional style of ceramics with methods that have been practiced for more than 300 years. In 2012, Horezu pottery was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Most potters in Horezu, including the Giubegas, live on Olari Street (“olari” means potters in Romanian), where they work in home studios. The artisans advertise their craft by hanging ceramic plates outside their houses, some of which have yards where they keep roosters and pigs.

On a Monday afternoon in early May, Giubega, who was wearing a clay-caked apron, showed off a shelf of ceramic honey pots and jam jars that his grandfather had made in the 1920s.

“This is the story of my life!” said Giubega, who was named a Living Human Treasure by Romania’s Ministry of Culture in 2021.

Traditional Techniques

Artisans in Horezu work year-round, and the ceramics are made by two potters with distinct roles. Modelers, who are typically men, shape clay into pieces. Decorators, who are typically women, paint the pieces using ancestral motifs that include spirals, waves, spider webs, roosters, serpents, fish and an arboreal design known as the tree of life, which is dotted with apples.

“We are all doing the same thing, but we each have our own style,” said Aida Frigura, 44, a potter in Horezu who specializes in decorating. “It’s like handwriting.”

Many modelers and decorators, including the Giubegas, are married couples. Constantin Biscu, 49, and his wife, Mihaela Biscu, 42, make pottery at their home on Olari Street, where he works at a kick wheel on which he can make up to 300 pieces in a day, he said.

“It’s hard, it’s dirty,” Biscu said of the clammy gray clay that he and others used, which customarily comes from earth extracted from a hill in Horezu. Many potters’ families have owned parcels of the hill for generations.

Decorators also work at wheels and with specialized tools, such as one instrument that resembles a fountain pen. It is made with an ox horn and quills from goose or duck feathers, and it is used to draw certain designs and to apply paints, which are typically muted hues of green, blue, ivory, red and brown. Potters formulate their own paints using copper and cobalt powders, as well as minerals found in the area.

To create intricate patterns such as the spider web, decorators use two other tools: a brush with bristles made of cat whiskers or boar hair, and a twig with a metal pin on one end.

Once pieces are decorated and fully dried, they are loaded into a kiln and fired for hours. After that, they are glazed and fired again.

Vessels in Vogue

This month, many of the potters in Horezu will showcase and sell their wares at two folk art fairs in Romania.

The first, the Cocosul de Hurez, or Rooster of Horezu, is a local ceramics fair named for the bird that residents of the town see as symbolic of the home. The second, the Cucuteni 5000, is a national ceramics fair that takes place in Iasi, some eight hours by car from Horezu. It is named for the Cucuteni people, who, around 5000 B.C., started to make decorated pottery in what is now Romania.

In recent years, as interest in ceramics has grown, pottery from Horezu has started to appear at more trendy design-oriented retailers around the world, including Lost & Found in Los Angeles; FindersKeepers in Copenhagen; International Wardrobe in Berlin; Cabana in Milan; and Casa De Folklore in London.

“Demand is really high at the moment,” Alice Munteanu, the Romanian-born owner of Casa De Folklore, said on a video call. She recently sold tableware made in Horezu to the owners of Clover, a restaurant in Paris. Munteanu said the décor industry was fond of artisanal work right now, adding that if it was “obscure” — she used air quotes — that was even better.

Herle Jarlgaard, an owner of FindersKeepers, first encountered the pottery in 2021 at a flea market in Italy, where she found a plate painted with trippy marbled rings and dots along the rim. On its underside was the word “Horezu.”

“Whoa!” Jarlgaard, 35, recalled thinking after seeing the plate.

When she tried to contact potters in Horezu, Jarlgaard had a hard time at first. She eventually connected with Maria Stefanescu, a decorator, via the Instagram account that Stefanescu’s son, a police officer in Bucharest, had created to promote his mother’s work.

FindersKeepers has since started to buy ceramics wholesale from Stefanescu, a decorator who works with a modeler she is not related to. The retailer, which buys hundreds of pieces at a time, has paid her about $50,000 for its orders to date, Jarlgaard said.

At FindersKeepers, smaller ceramics cost about $25, and larger pieces about $75. The pottery is sent to Copenhagen by truck. “I get very anxious when the orders travel,” Stefanescu said. “I don’t sleep!”

Stefanescu, who said she could decorate up to 50 pieces a day, could not estimate her overhead costs to make individual ceramics. She said that her biggest expenses included electricity for her two kilns and the hourly wage she paid the modeler she worked with. Like other potters, Stefanescu offsets household expenses by growing vegetables and raising animals to eat.

Modern Concerns

UNESCO’s designation of Horezu pottery as an intangible cultural heritage was a proud moment for Romania, said Virgil Nitulescu, director of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. Corina Mihaescu, an anthropologist at the Institute of Ethnography and Folklore in Bucharest, said the UNESCO recognition had led more young people to take up the craft.

To maintain the designation, a state-of-the-craft report must be submitted every six years to UNESCO. The report explains, among other things, what measures have been taken to keep the tradition of Horezu pottery alive and what tools and techniques the potters are using.

Mihaescu produced the most recent state-of-the-craft report, which was submitted last year by Romania’s Ministry of Culture. She said there were always concerns about how to retain the UNESCO designation — and maintain the integrity of the pottery tradition — in the face of modern influences.

To comply with European regulations limiting the use of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium in glazes for ceramics that may come in contact with food, many potters now use electric kilns instead of wood-burning ones. The electric kilns can more reliably reach the higher temperatures — around 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit — necessary to fire food-safe glazes.

Other potters in Horezu have begun to use ready-made clay instead of preparing their own. And certain decorators have started to paint the pottery in unconventional motifs and colors; Stefanescu, for instance, has used bright red as well as yellow and pink. Some of the newer designs are requested by vendors outside Romania, many of whom tend to avoid ancestral motifs featuring animals and prefer bolder and monochrome palettes.

“We say, ‘Our client, our master,’ but I have final say,” Stefanescu said. Of incorporating atypical colors into her pieces, she added, “I like to try new things.”

Constantin Popa, 62, who makes pottery in Horezu with his wife, Georgeta Popa, 57, said they tried to fulfill clients’ wishes as much as possible. But according to him, painting pieces in saturated colors has “nothing to do with Horezu.”

Tim Curtis, the chief of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage program, said in an email that the designation had been withdrawn only twice in the 20 years since the agency started to issue it, and that neither time was for factors related to the modernization of procedures or design. He added that the designation took into account the changes that communities could make to practices.

There are plans to open the Olari Cultural Center, a new institution on Olari Street, in September. It will showcase Horezu ceramics, host conferences and present demonstrations by potters.

The cultural center was paid for by the town of Horezu and the Romanian government. Daniela Ogrezeanu, a spokesperson for Mayor Nicolae Sardarescu of Horezu, described it in an email as a way to bring more attention to the pottery and its makers by driving tourists to the street where many live and work.

But some residents of Horezu are worried visitors won’t make it to the center. Olari Street is about a 10-minute drive from the entrance to town, which is crowded with souvenir shops. Many hawk ceramics from Bulgaria that tourists mistake for local pottery, said Laurentiu Pietraru, 52, a potter and shop owner in Horezu who sells ceramics made in the town for about $2 to $54.

“That’s why I label everything,” said Pietraru, whose wife, Nicoleta Pietraru, 47, is a fifth-generation potter.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

June 5, 2023

Can Old-World ceramics survive modern tastes?

Thaddaeus Ropac opens an exhibition of works by Irish born, American painter Sean Scully

The National Gallery of Art acquires work by Ellsworth Kelly

Pace Gallery presents Lee Ufan and Claude Viallat in a two person show in London

Eskenazi shows Japanese bamboo, alongside the first UK exhibition dedicated to the works of Fang Lijun

Alexander Gray Associates announces representation of Chloë Bass

Polish pavilion 'The Poetics of Necessity' wins 2023 London Design Biennale Medal

The Bloomsbury Stud: The Art of Stephen Tomlin

AstaGuru concludes its 'Jewellery, Silver, And Timepieces' auction

Beverly Barkat's Earth Poetica at 3 World Trade Center re-imagines planet Earth using waste from around the world

Hannah Traore Gallery Presents Misha Japanwala's Beghairati Ki Nishaani: Traces of Shamelessness

Nye & Company Auctioneers to offer a Two-Day Chick and Antiques Estate Treasures sale

Dr. Raphael Gygax selected as first guest curator of digital art for Art on The Mart

Langson IMCA announces summer exhibition Indefinitely Wild: Preserving California's Natural Resources

Music's fuzzy boundaries of identity

'It's about connections': Alicia Graf Mack remakes Juilliard Dance

Aubrey Levinthal's presentation of 'INSTALMENTS' now on view at Ingleby

The Visual Language of Modernity: The Early Photographs of André Kertész

New site-specific outdoor installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at Pinacoteca Agnelli

Peter Blum Gallery has now opened the exhibition 'Fabric' featuring the work of 10 artists

Phoenix Art Museum and Center for Creative Photography appoints new photography curator

The Artist's Journey: The travels that inspired the artistic greats to be released in September

Out now: 'Juergen Teller: Notes about My Work'

Todd Norsten presents all new paintings for his third solo exhibition with Adams and Ollman


What are the Different Types of Medical Coding?

Discovering Beauty: Unveiling Korean Skincare at Planet Beauty

What Sports Can I Bet On With Odds Shark?

Brand Building - 10 Proven Ways to Make a Lasting Impression on Your Customers

Colombes Divas concert from Madagascar to France

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful