Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Treasure in Boleslawiec

Although a beautiful city in and of itself, Boleslawiec in Poland is most famous for its manufacturing of Polish pottery.

As early as the 13th century, the town was known for its exceptionally high quality ceramic vessels, made from local clay.

However in the 19th century, the "stamping" of pottery began, and a beautiful tradition of ceramic manufacturing began its journey towards the Polish pottery we know, love and enjoy today.

First introduced to the pottery in the early 1990's when it began to make its way into Christmas bazars on military bases in Germany, I wasn't particularly drawn to it back then. It mostly consisted of the types of patterns like the cups on the the lower right hand side of the shelves above: variations on patterns of white dots on blue backgrounds.

But after moving to the Czech Republic in 1993, more colors were introduced, artistry and design advanced, and I was hooked! Collecting a few pieces at a time from a shop that carried it in Katowice as well as during trips to Boleslawiec, it became a part of our everyday lives as we ate on it, drank from it, and baked in it.

In all my years of collecting, using and enjoying Polish pottery, I'd never been on a tour through the factory to see how it was made. That all changed yesterday.

Manufaktura” Sp. J. Smoleński & Zwierz offers tours through their factory by reservation.  And it's truly an "up close and personal" tour!

With a delightful young woman as our guide, we were able to stand right next to the people while they did their job and hear about the many steps towards hand producing every single Polish pottery item.

We saw everything from the woman who separates the mold which produces two handles for a mug, to the woman who fits each handle onto the mug or vessel needing one.

We stood within mere feet of the first kiln that every piece is fired in at 800 C for 8 hours. This kiln runs 24 hours a day.

We observed the various stages each piece of pottery goes through on its way to a finished product.

And we observed the artists who paint them. With around 180 artists at work in this factory each day, they sit at their stations hand stamping and/or painting every single item, small and large. This woman told us it takes her about 20-30 minutes to paint each mug.

Once the item is fully painted, it's hand dipped into a glaze and then sent on to another kiln and baked again, this time at 1200 C degrees for 12 hours.

Once it finishes this process, each item is hand checked for quality and consistency, marked with tiny dots of where it needs to be retouched, if necessary. Then it's fired again, but classified differently if this happens. They have three categories: 1, 2 and 4. I asked her why they don't have a third category and she didn't know!

Not only had I made a reservation for the tour, but I also reserved time for a personal workshop!

Led outdoors into a beautiful covered gazebo, all the materials necessary for painting and stamping were made available to us. After just a few instructions, we were left alone for two hours of painting our very own Polish pottery!

With three true artists in the group, you can imagine how excited they all were.

Although I'd previously heard a little about the process of how the pottery designs were created, I didn't think I'd actually be able to do it since painting is not my strength.

But when I saw all the stamps available, I had hope that even I could create something.

Yes, I was excited! It's a little dream come true to actually get to try and create a piece of pottery.

The price of the workshop includes a mug and a plate to paint, though they intend the plate to be for "practice". But the four of us went right to work on our plates as if they were to be masterpieces, which is entirely possible considering the level of talent these three women have!

With the exception of the famous cobalt blue, all the other paints are the color they'll be when the piece is fired. But the cobalt looks purple when you put it on the pottery. I can't wait to see what my two pieces look like after they've been glazed and fired in the kiln!

Yes my design is off center, and no, I didn't intend it to be that way! :)

While painting my mug I had an "oops" moment where some paint dripped down the side. "Make something out of it," my friend Sharon exclaimed. Her daughter Lucy came to the rescue for me and created a beautiful tree amidst some clouds. I am SO excited to see how it turns out once it's fired!

Our time of painting Polish pottery turned out to be one of THE best experiences for all of us. For the non-artists and artists alike!

Once we finished (and two hours was just barely enough time to do it!), we left our pieces at the factory to be fired. They'll be mailed to a friend's house in Poland (they don't mail internationally or anywhere else in Europe) and I'll get them from her in a few weeks.

We're all pretty much beside ourselves with glee at how our creations turned out!

I'm so impressed by this firm, Manufaktura in Boleslawiec, and can't recommend them enough if you're ever in Boleslawiec and want to do more than just shop for pottery.

Of course they have a lovely showroom full of many items to purchase as well, and it's definitely one of my favorite in the city.

And as the saying goes from all those who love this sort of thing:


  1. Oh my goodness! I can't wait to see your masterpieces either! Loved reading this and am so glad you did it!

  2. I have heard about Bolesawiec and the Polish pottery factories for so many years now and it is so fascinating to see how Polish pottery is made. Thanks for the tour of the factory and the pics of you making your own pottery. I would be at a loss in the artistic department and so totally dependent on my artistic niece and your friends.

  3. Connie!! This is AMAZING!!!! What an absolute incredible experience for you all to have. I can hardly wait for the day when we can go there together and make more masterpieces. Will we have time for it next Spring? Probably not but never hurts to ask. And i LOVE that your plate isn't symmetrical. That would be way too predictable. I think it fits you to have beauty and pattern in a way that is beautifully unique to you. I can hardly wait to see pics of your finished products too!!! :o)