The handcrafted ceramic witness of ancient roots
The archaeological campaigns in the areas around the city of Grottaglie have returned fragments of vases and tools for working ceramics, shards and furnishings that testify to a very ancient production history, which starts from the Paleolithic to reach the Middle Ages. Many of these finds are currently kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto and at the Museum of Ceramics in Grottaglie.
The clay of Grottaglie was considered to be of good quality and was extracted from the quarries located in the countryside around the city by expert farmers who used large crescent-shaped hoes called “musu“: With this tool the peasants dug some narrow channels in the ground and deep, until you get to the best layer of clay. Then the excavation was widened and the clay clods extracted and loaded into buckets for transport to the processing workshops. Here the raw clay was refined through a long and very tiring process, carried out manually by numerous skilled workers in the various steps.
The refining of clay: a long process of hands and effort
The specialization of the work required a precise figure for each phase of the clay refining: the “palazziere” broke the clay clods with an iron hammer; the “stompa creta” crushed the dough with his feet to make it more malleable; the “faenzaru” took care of shaping the clay on the lathe to give it the desired shape; the “caminaru” followed the cooking in the furnace. A whole other series of workers and apprentices crowded the shops inside and out, along the streets of the Ceramics District, close to the historic center of Grottaglie. Even today this district concentrates old and new artisan workshops that function as a production district.
Since the sixteenth century, many families of potters have handed down this profession to the present day. The numerous religious orders that settled in the city were the major patrons of valuable works such as holy water fonts, which follow the architectural patterns of the Baroque altars with cherubs, festoons, columns and shells and the tile floors painted with vegetable or geometric motifs, up to the covering of the majestic dome of the Mother Church with colored terracotta tiles called “scàndole“.
The eighteenth century
The artisanal production of the eighteenth century is destined to furnish the houses of the linked high-ranking families and for this purpose it generates jugs, tureens, albarelli to contain herbs and medicinal remedies and ciarle, decorative vases with two handles and the lid that have the surface covered by fruits, leaves, little angels and human heads finely modeled by hand and covered with a white enamel: the famous “whites” of Grottaglie. Artifacts that today are configured as authentic masterpieces that combine technical harmony and elegance.
Ceramics for the kitchen, the table and the pantry: dozens of shapes that are functional for everyday use
Throughout the nineteenth century, one third of the population of Grottaglie was employed in the production of ceramics, so much so that it began to take on the character of a factory and no longer an artisan laboratory. Grottaglie became the largest production center in the Terra d’Otranto of crockery for tableware: plates, pans and jugs, large jars with handles to hold oil and wine such as the “capasoni“, the “capase” to preserve ancient food preparations and dozens of other fascinating and rare forms that testify how man has been able to shape clay according to his needs. Today these objects have lost their function of use to become articles of home decoration, embellishment of terraces, gardens and places of stay or refreshment.
The Royal Ceramic Art School of Grottaglie: a century-long school
At the end of the nineteenth century the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce established the Royal School of Art in Grottaglie in order to train artisans to improve technical procedures with the purchase of equipment to purify clays, mechanical lathes for modeling of objects, stoves for cooking minerals and new ovens for cooking at controlled temperatures. But the potter from Grottaglia, used to working hard all day and with a poor level of education, found it very difficult to follow the teachings of the school and consequently to break away from the old production systems.
Despite these difficulties and the two wars that followed, the school obtained very prestigious national awards and contributed to the de-provincialization of local crafts. This ancient institution still lives today in the guise of the Liceo Artistico ”Vincenzo Calò” to pass on the same intentions to new generations and preserve the local historical memory.
Manifattura Calò: machines help craft production
In 1910 the doctor Vincenzo Calò, a native of Grottaglie, founded the artistic and commercial ceramic factory inside his villa that bears the name of “Manifattura Calò”, an interesting experiment in the transition from the totally handcrafted manufacture of ceramics to a productive organization. that uses machines to improve and increase production. In 1914 the factory was expanded to become a real industry involving over fifty workers and working in close contact with the School of Ceramic Art.
At the end of the 1920s, the factory’s production reached foreign markets, especially the United States, involved great Italian artists in the production of ceramics and won numerous national competitions. Today the artistic ceramics bearing the Fabbrica Calò brand are recognized as authentic works of art worthy of the most prestigious auction houses in the world.
The Ceramics Exhibition: 50 years of Art and Crafts
Since 1971, the artisan and artistic ceramics of Grottaglie have been promoted by the annual Ceramics Exhibition in which artists from all over the world participate. Each new edition changes the theme of inspiration which can have a social or material character, but the artists who take part in it must only use clay as the main expressive material. Different cultures, technical experiments and messages of different artistic sensibilities find full fulfillment in this unmissable event.