Majolica (pronounced ma-JOE-li-kah) is a form of earthenware pottery with a white opaque, viscous glaze, decorated by applying colorants by hand to the raw glaze surface. With origins dating back to the 1500s to the Middle East, majolica became known as "majolica" when the Italians imported it from Spain through the port of Majorca. Over the next 300 years, the art form soared to new heights both by utilizing bright colors for glazes and by introducing functionality into the mix. By the 1850s a majolica craze had hit London, inspired to a large extent by French and Italian Renaissance majolica tile makers. Soon every Victorian dining room, parlor and garden was filled with these brightly colored ceramics. But it wasn't until nearly 25 years later when Americans were introduced to majolica. Works made on both sides of the Atlantic were the highlight of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.
Today at Packer Creek Pottery we make majolica much in the same way as our ancestors did. We form the clay using many methods, including the time honored traditional means of hand building and throwing pots on a potter’s wheel. Every process of shaping and forming our pottery is done by hand, and each piece will have a slightly different size and shape. After being formed, artisans often add additional decorative and functional clay pieces, such as handles and features to figurines. After drying for several days, each piece will be hand cleaned, a process that smooths out any bumps, undulations, or tool marks formed during the shaping process. At this stage, the pottery is fragile prior to its first firing in the kiln and is referred to as green ware, as it is still new, or green.
Next the green ware is carefully loaded by hand into the kilns for its first firing, up to a temperature of approximately 1800 degrees for several hours. During this process, the pots become denser and durable, and all moisture is removed. At this point, the pots are fired and become bisque ware.
When the kiln has cooled, it is unloaded and the pots are then dipped by hand into a large batch of opaque white glaze, which is specially prepared in our studio by our artisans to fit our clay body. This glaze is a combination of frit (ground glass) and other materials. From the dipping, the pots are staged on a rack to dry for a couple of days prior to being decorated.
Once the glaze dip is dried, it is ready for decoration. Artisans apply free-hand decorative patterns and designs. This part of the process is where the unique and individual characteristics of each piece start to really shine. Because each piece is hand painted, you will see variations in density and depth of color, tension and movement in brush strokes, and interpretation of design and pattern. No two pieces are identical, making each piece truly a unique work of art. At the glazed and decorated stage, the pots have a dull and matte appearance.
Once again the pots are carefully loaded into the kilns onto stilts (clay platforms with high-fire wire prongs that keep the glaze dip from melting the pots to the kiln shelves), where they will fire to approximately 1600 degrees over a 24 hour kiln period. This final firing is what brings the pottery to life, making them appear brilliant and bright in color, as well as smooth and glossy to the touch. Sometimes, natural matter is trapped in the clay and will release during this final firing, creating tiny pin holes or variations in the surface glaze. This is a natural trait of majolica, and adds to the uniqueness and character of each piece. Opening up a glaze kiln is always exciting to us at the studio!
After being unloaded, each piece has the bottom stilt marks sanded smooth and is brought over to the gallery where our talented and friendly sales team catalogs and labels each item, prior to introducing the new pottery into the displays. And now our pottery is ready to bring you some cheer! We love to make our customers smile and hope that while using our functional art it brightens their day!