Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ceramics from Caltagirone – Artisan work’s of Art and Passion

There is a heated debate progressing in the wine world. The question in discussion is that large mega producers want to use varieties of grapes from different geographical areas and still label their wines as if they were grown and produced in the specific region. They argue that their production processes are such that the consumer would never know the difference. In this way even when the weather of a certain area does not cooperate they can produce the same mediocre wine every year. The opponents say that by maintaining labeling restrictions smaller quality producers will be able to continue to produce even in years when they lose money. The real question is quality over quantity. Do we want the McDonald’s franchise concept of wine or can we accept a wine with character and flavors that are not always perfect resulting in some marvelous works of art and some just ok vintages.

To the masses, it really does not matter. The passion of good food and wine is something that comes over time. Understanding balance and moderation is an acquired talent for most people. The side you will take depends on whether or not you want to be like everyone else, deprived of personal tastes, or if you are a unique individual. You know what you like and it does not matter what Robert Parker says you should like. But what does this have to do with Ceramics from Caltagirone, a city on the island of Sicily over 6,000 miles away?

In today’s world of outsourcing and productivity through the assimilation of the masses you can find ceramic materials produced in China that look incredible from far away. The “Wow” factor is obtained. The same designs will be in every third house depending on the latest trend and you will be cool, just like everyone else. The only problem you have to worry about is how to pay as little as possible for whatever theme of the moment you are looking for. In a few years when something else is trendy you can simply throw the junk away or sell it to some unsuspecting soul at the local garage sale.

If this is the case the ceramics of Caltagirone are not for you. Each piece is a work of art. Families will jealously guard these keepsakes and pass them on from generation to generation just as the Artisans who make these pieces learned their profession from their fathers, and their fathers learned from their fathers. The tradition continues, since the times of the Roman Empire. No two pieces are exactly alike even from the same artisan. As his mood changes during the day the colors may be more or less intense, the lines sharper or blurred, and simplicity may turn into an elaborate web of color and images.

This is not to say that the industrial revolution has not improved the process, simply that the tools of productivity are just that, tools. They serve the master artisan to help him express his creativity but they could never replace him. Like the glass blowers of Merano the artisans of Caltagirone mold and shape inert materials and give them life, making them things of beauty that can inspire, calm or excite. They are no less than the tenor singing the Traviata, or the painter combining oils and pigments to capture the intrinsic emotion of a farmer and his wife working the land.

The clay is worked by hand, molded and shaped in the same way as their ancestors did. Each piece is hand painted and while some basic designs are reproduced over and over again no two pieces are exactly alike. There is the hand of the gods in the work of the Artisan. Just as no two snowflakes are ever the same, each ceramic piece is unique. It can never be replaced. Yet each piece made by the Artisan can be identified. The way he molds the clay, the brush stroke and the amount of color define the soul of the Artist as much his DNA defines his biologic form.

Are you the right person to have the ceramics of Caltagirone in your home or office? This is not a question that I can answer. It depends on your passion. It would be a sin to offer a Sori Tildin to someone who “just loves” Yellow Tail. You have to ask yourself, “does this piece say something to me or does it just to fill the space?”


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