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Polish pottery: Not just pleasing to the eye
By DW Hamilton

Warning:  This product may prove addictive.  Polish pottery, with its distinctive cobalt blue-glazed “peacock eye” dots sponged onto a white background, is the highly collectible chameleon of the ceramics world.  Early craftsmen used carved potatoes for this technique. Today's artisans hand-carve natural sea sponges for stamping and incorporate hand painting into the intricate patterns.

Thanks to the attention to detail of the work, as well as its interesting decorative techniques, Polish pottery has generated a great deal of interest. These functional accessories are popular not only in Poland, but are much sought after all over the world.  The simple, uncluttered yet striking style of these products creates their natural appeal. Similar to Spanish, Portuguese or Italian glazed earthenware, yet characteristically its own style, pottery from Poland adds a note of folk authenticity in homes all over, blending well in traditional Country, European, Mediterranean or even Contemporary decors. 

In today’s cramped quarters and open-shelved kitchens, useful items doing double duty as decorative accessories are on the top of the consumer’s wish list.  Why waste cabinet space with ugly dishes and baking pans, when you can proudly display beautiful and functional items gallery-style or on the countertop when not in use? 

Not only is Polish pottery pleasing to the eye, but you can also heat, eat or serve off of it.  All authentic Polish pottery is intended for everyday use and is lead and cadmium free.  Fired at temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not only durable, but impervious to abrasives and  crack and chip resistant. The glaze allows foods to release with little or no oil.  All pieces are safe for the refrigerator, oven, microwave and dishwasher use. The pieces are able to distribute heat evenly and retain moisture while baking, though you should always allow them to come to room temperature when going from the extreme of the refrigerator or freezer to the oven. Extreme temperature change will make them crack. 

How can you be certain that the pottery you are looking at passes the test of being authentically Polish?  Beyond noting the traditional peacock pattern which is the most popular, look at the piece’s label and point of origin. Today there are several factories producing these products, the best being Zaklady Ceramincze, Ceramika Artystsyczna, Cer-raf and Manufaktura.  Another key word you should be looking for is “Bunzlauer.” 

Bunzlauer stoneware started as local folk art hundreds of years ago in the German province of Silesia. The name Bunzlauer comes from the name of the then German town of Bunzlau which is now part of Poland as the Polish city Boleslawiec (pronounced "Bowl-slaw-ick"), located on the Bobr River in southwestern Poland near the German and Czech border. This region has a history of pottery making since the 7th century.  Early pieces from the 1700s and 1800s were storage pieces made by farmers that had a chocolate colored glaze similar to pieces produced during the same time in America's south. The wares were sold in local markets. Antique Bunzlauer stoneware is highly collectable and can be seen in private collections and museums throughout Europe. 

At the end of the 19th century with increasing urbanization, industrialization and competition from other forms of pottery, the Bunzlauer potters introduced new lines for use in the parlor and dining rooms of city dwellers.  This is when they began to experiment with colored glazes, sponging techniques and decorations.  The government founded the "Keramische Fachschule" (Ceramic Technical Training School) in 1898 to foster development of the art.

Bunzlauer pottery experienced a rebirth in the early 1900s that introduced the "Jugendstil" movement which was the German equivalent of Art Nouveau. The famous "Pfauenauge" or "Peacock's Eye" became the universally recognized trademark decoration of the sponge ware now produced in the area.  During the 1920s Bunzlauer potters began a trend towards more colors following the Art Deco movement.  After World War II, the Silesia region was annexed to Poland and the majority of the German population was expelled.  The area was rebuilt after the war and the pottery factories reopened.

Today the center of this traditional ceramic art is still the village of Boleslawiec. Skilled Polish artists hand craft and decorate each piece using small sponges, stamping each pattern and color individually. Certified Master artists not only train apprentices but produce "Unikat" (Unique) or "Signature" (Artist signed) pieces. These "Unikat" pieces have colors and designs that are individual to each artist.  Due to the time involved in making each piece the supply is very limited, and they are much more expensive.

This combination of more commonly “mass-produced but hand crafted” items, and  one of kind “Unikat” artisan examples make those who take the step of acquiring their first piece of Polish pottery inevitably want more.  Don’t say you weren’t forewarned.



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