Last week, I had a chance to visit the town of Bolesławiec, Poland – the home of the Polish Pottery factories. In fact, I was even able to tour a factory, see how it’s made, and attempt to paint my own mug!! This was one of the coolest things I may have ever done. Honestly.
When they say, “Handmade in Poland” on the bottom of each dish, they mean it. It’s a true art form. Here’s an inside look at what goes into each piece of Polish pottery.
First things first: I was expecting Bolesławiec to be a cute little town with rows and rows of shop storefronts- but this was not the case. In fact, the town is composed of actual factories with shops on site. You have to drive to each shop which are all kinda in the middle of nowhere. Bolesławiec is about an hour’s drive from Wroclaw, Poland.
But the town even has pottery placed on their entrance columns and roundabouts – isn’t that the cutest?! The name of the shop we toured is Zaklady Ceramiczne and it was phenomenal!
Contrary to what you might think, it is not cheaper to come here to buy your pottery (well, compared to my favorite pottery shop here in Wroclaw). Unless Bolesławiec is on the way/nearby/you want to say you visited, it may not be worth the trip UNLESS you tour the factory! Try to line up a tour – it will make your trip worthwhile. I LOVED it. Tours aren’t the norm, but I heard that during the weekday in the winter is the best chance you have at getting permission to enter. Seriously, do it (in advance, of course). It is so cool to see what actually goes into each item of pottery.
Here’s a look:
First, you enter into a side door next to the shop. A bit shabby, but somehow it added to the tour.
And then we started our tour. Keep in mind I am not a Polish pottery production expert by any means and my terms are not at all technical. I am just relaying to you how I remember it working 🙂
The First Station: The Making of the Mold.
This guy cuts these clay blocks and places them into the machine to make the mold. (Note that this is one of the only “machines” you’ll see in the entire tour.)
The machine spins the mold (the white pot) shaping the clay. It then spits out residue into a wheelbarrow, as seen here.
And when it is done, it looks like this:
It then travels down the conveyer belt where it is placed to dry.
There are just stacks and stacks of molds drying…
This lady then ensures the shape has dried correctly and fixes anything needed.
Once the item passes inspection it gets a blue swoosh (that I am assured comes off easily in the next step).
Here is a look at the “shop floor”…
The lady below checks the bowls.
And here is an image of someone actually making handles. A process done by hand.
And now we pay a visit to my favorite part of the tour – the artists! Each piece is hand-painted by all these talented people. They are only able to paint about 9 items per shift due to all the details…that’s it. Nine.
To make the designs that you see on the dishes, they use stamps cut from sponges.
Look at how cute this lady is with a paintbrush in her hair stamping the design onto the plate.
And in the artist’s studio, they have their own art on the wall with their names and handprints 🙂
And, one by one, the pieces are completed. Note that the purple seen below will actually be blue and the pink will be red once placed in the kiln. If you look closely at the pink swoosh below, you can see the pencil mark of the design that was drawn freehand onto the mug.
Here are the items set to dry after painting.
Next step: the glaze is applied (this is what makes the pottery shiny). There are two ways that glaze will be applied, depending on the shape.
1. The glaze will be sprayed onto the item.
2. The item will be dipped into the glaze.
Notice how the coffee mugs go in colored and come out white. The glaze dries almost immediately. Our guide would not tell us the the exact ingredients of the glaze – it’s a secret 😉
And then, each piece waits to be fired.
The pottery enters the kiln for 17 hours. You can see the current batch’s progress here in this graph. (The horizontal axis is time and the vertical is temperature.)
And a look in the Kiln…
Then, once the pottery is cooled, they are inspected again for any spots that may not have taken to the glaze. Glaze is reapplied to these spots and put back through the kiln for another 17 hours.
Let us now move to the room used for final inspection. Here, people place stickers on the pottery which indicate both the pattern number and their own inspection numbers. You should see both of these stickers on the items when you go to buy them in stores.
I spotted this box and was curious if this shipment was off to the US store called Home Goods.
Our tour concluded with a chance to try to paint our own mugs. It was soooo hard – the paint always globbing on our stamps and our lines not so straight 😉 Afterwards, we had a whole new appreciation for how hard it really is to paint and stamp the ceramics.
Of course, the shop (the final destination of our tour and open to all visitors) was filled with all kinds of items – from sinks and tile to clocks and Christmas ornaments. Don’t you want to buy everything now that you know how much work went into it?
I am happy to report that on this visit I finally ended up settling on a pattern! It’s this pink floral seen below. I love this pattern because I feel it is a nice balance between traditional and modern. I have only bought salad plates so far, so I am glad I have some time to build my collection while living here in Poland 🙂
I honestly hope that this helps you appreciate all the hard work and talent that goes into each and every piece of Polish pottery that comes out of Bolesławiec, Poland. It’s just such an incredible production – often unappreciated. And is just oh so lovely.