Postcards from Southern France: Handcrafted Provençal ceramics

A land of amazing mix of vivid colours and contrasts, Provence is well mirrored in its traditional crafts, which are well alive, particularly in the Old Nice area.

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Utility ceramics is as old as humankind. It is one of the most lasting art forms. Crafting a piece of ceramic did not change from the earlier years of humankind to nowadays. The work requires the same ancient skills to create a modern piece of ceramic. A ceramist takes some moist clay, places it on rotating wheel and turns it into a beautiful creation. The result is fired in an oven, frequently glazed and decorated.

In the early 20th century, the production of metallic cooking utilities shadowed culinary pottery manufacturing. The new materials of the time such as aluminium, cast iron and stainless steel were strong competitors for culinary ceramics.

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Although there are no known traces of ancient and medieval pottery in the area, Vallauris is one of the most famous ceramic centres in Provence, France.

Vallauris has already been well known worldwide since the late 19th century. The Vallauris pottery production flourished around 1960 when Picasso discovered the area and saw the creations of the local crafters. Picasso actually revived the pottery art in the area by contributed to animating the creative work carried out by locals. He was impressed with the expressive art of the ceramists and he even created himself pottery here.

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We got our first piece of French Provençal ceramic some many years ago. We were impressed with the way the piece captured the beauty and harmony of Provence in one place, a single handmade object. The ceramic style mirrors particular Mediterranean elements painted in bright colours.

Cicada, a long lasting Provençal symbol

Cicadas are a prominent feature on Provence ceramics. It is said that they bring luck and happiness.

There is no traditional shop in the Old Nice without cicadas, in all forms and styles. According to local believes God sent cicadas to interrupt people siestas and therefore prevent them from becoming lazy.

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We often heard cicadas in Nice. The males make the noise. Scientists discovered that their sound is around 120 decibels, which is strong enough.

The making of the ceramics in Provence

Ceramists in Provence use the clay. When ready on the turning wheel, the ceramic is fired twice in an oven. First the biscuit ware is fired. The biscuit ware is the first stage of the final piece, a dried piece of white clay, which is the ceramic piece before glazing. Firing makes the piece shaded and richer in look.

Adding the enamel is the next stage of the work. Enamelling protects the ceramic and plays a coating role.

Ceramics in the traditional markets of Old Nice

One can buy refillable hand painted and handmade herb ceramic grinders, butter dishes, dinner plates, platters, mugs, bowls, spoons, covered casserole dishes and cicada to hang them on the walls. Decorations include lavender, grapes, wildflowers and many others.

All ceramic items feature the Provençal vivid colours: a large variety of greens, reds, ochres and lavender-blues. Ceramists claim that some of the colours are achieved naturally during the firing stage.

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