The process of creating one piece of Polish pottery involves several artisans and many hours of skilled work. In fact, the manufacture of this stoneware is held in such high regard, there is a school in Boleslawiec, Poland dedicated to passing on the tradition and unique quality of this trade through apprenticeships and training. Purveyors of high quality Polish pottery appreciate the effort, skill, and creativity put to use in every piece.
Polish pottery begins with a master form-maker designing a shape (platter, mug, for example) out of wax, then filling a box around it with a hardening compound. After several hours, when the compound has set, the form-maker will be able to cut the form case into two pieces, drilling a hole so that he may fill it with liquid clay in the future. The wax form is removed and any deformities in the form are smoothed and corrected. The form-maker may take several turns at this, as samples are made from the form and the shape is perfected.
Next, a clay-worker fills the form with liquid clay, waits several hours for it to set, carefully removes the form, and skillfully cuts away any excess clay from the formed piece. This artisan is trained to also smooth the surface with a damp sponge so that no imperfections or bumps exist and the piece sits correctly or is flush with a table top or wall, for instance. The clay is then left to dry to room temperature before firing. After the piece is baked once at a constant 850 degrees in a firing kiln, it hardens to stone and previously dull clay brightens to a white “bisque.”
Plain white bisque is then filled with color by classically trained artists who, with extreme precision and flair, transfer their original designs to this medium. Each piece sits upon a turntable in front of the artist, while the artist stamps or paints a design in repeating fashion, slowly spinning the piece in a circular motion. This method helps the artist maintain uniformity from one piece to the next, but the artist’s own hand is ultimately responsible for the beauty of each piece as he or she follows and replicates an original pattern. This process can take several hours, depending on the size of the piece. Whether hand-stamping or painting, the painter uses unbelievable skill in keeping the design clean — using multiple colors, sponges, and brushes — and avoiding smudges and pattern imperfections.
Next, painted pieces of Polish pottery are hand-dipped in a clear glaze and placed on a rack for firing a second time in higher temperature of 1250 degrees. After the piece is fired, the paint colors become vibrant and the design is more prominent. When the pieces have cooled after some time, they are quality checked to single out those pieces with glaze irregularities or that need to be corrected and sent back through the last two steps.
Quality checking, the final step, is actually something that the artisans do throughout the entire process as they’re working, and again a couple times at the end. Because each piece is handmade, small variations will occur making each piece unique; however, every step of the process is geared toward creating a quality, standardized product and replicating the same beautiful nature of each piece is the artisans highest priority. Each final product is given a specific quality label, and most retail stores will only sell Quality 1, the highest quality. Quality 2 and below stoneware can be found in several manufacturer’s retail outlets.
Did you have any idea so many hands were involved in making your one piece of Polish pottery? Have you ever compared Quality 1 to Quality 2 Polish stoneware, and could you tell the difference?