Polish Pottery History
The History of Boleslawiec is also the history of ceramics, although it would be difficult to determine when this "great and mutual love" between the town and its clay spoken with pride about their pottery for centuries. They knew how best to make use of the local rich deposits of high-quality clay, which are excavated to this day. As proof of their skills in forming clay on the wheel they produced enormous vessels, such as the "Great Pot", the work of Master Johann Gottlieb Joppe from 1753, about which plays were written in the 19th century. Symbols of the potter's trade were placed on houses, and postcards were sent about the world showing the town as a fairy-tale place built of ceramic vessels. In the most distant corners of Europe, Boleslawiec and its environs were famous as a land of "good clay and good pitchers".
The sources remain silent as to when pottery first appeared in Boleslawiec. It is first mentioned in the chronicle of the town of Swidnica from 1380, which records the name of Hanno Zeidenberg, a potter from Boleslawiec. However, archaeological excavations make it possible to surmise that the skill of marketing simple earthenware vessels appeared in this area already in the Middle Ages, after the discovery of clay deposits in the vicinity of Nowogrodziec, Olbrzychow, and the old Boleslawice. This little area provided local potters with raw material of various qualities, the most important being the clays with high feldspar and silicon content. It is from these that, in modern times, the Boleslawiec potters learned to make crockery with a hard, sintered surface, acid- and fireproof, and baked at high temperatures. This kind of ceramics is called stoneware.
Seventeenth-century utensils have survived to our times. Brown, glazed pitchers for wine, beer, or cider and also flasks were round-bellied and decorated with reliefs and bronze overlays, usually a mind-belly. To polish the surface and make it more appealing it was covered with a glaze made of a special kind of clay, the so-called earth glaze, which after baking acquired the brown tinge characteristic of the Boleslawiec ceramics until the end of the 19th century. At the turn of the 18th century a new type of dishes appeared called "melons", because of their shell-like shape. The characteristic grooving, formed by the potter's hands, was patterned after pewter. The bulging baroque pitchers gradually grew slimmer and were made more appealing by placing bumps under the grooves and using coloured glazes.
We are indebted to Johann Gottlieb Altmann for a veritable revolution in Boleslawiec pottery manufacture. He was the first to cast the dishes in forms instead of modeling them on the traditional wheel. He covered them with a feldspar glaze, which supplanted the noxious lead glaze, By using the clay that burns to white, he was able to change the colour pattern of his ceramic products, decorating them with fashionable antique scenes after the best classicist models.
Stamped-on motifs, known and applied in modern ceramics, most probably found their way to Boleslawiec from European faience, although it is difficult to determine who was the first to apply them. The stamped decoration, which provided unique effects, was applied to the dry white surface of a dish with little sponges. Scraps of fabric or even hare's paws were also used to rub in the patterns. When baked in the oven, dark blue, green, and brown and yellow patterns were obtained, such as dots, speckles, little windmills, as well as the favourite motif: the "peacock's eye".
The ceramics of the first half of the 20th century went tough phases characterized by great diversity. Apart from the leading manufactories co-operating with the school and exporting their products to European markets, there were numerous firms located in the vicinity that produced folk and traditional wares, decorated mainly with stamped designs and flower motifs which were painted or decaled. Brown utilitarian stoneware was also produced, valued for its hardness and durability.
Contemporary stoneware is not limited to the production of big factories, but is also the result of the activity of small family firms that successfully continue the traditions of spongeware and brown ceramics. The fact that there are more of them every year allows one to surmise that this handicraft of Boleslawiec, highly valued in the world, has found people worthy of carrying it on.
The history of Boleslawiec ceramics is centuries old and still continuing. It has been and is created by people who are joined by a common love for the earth and her treasure, which is clay. Because of their passion, Boleslawiec has been famous for the ceramics we admire which we set on our tables and which evokes various associations in us, for several hundred years.