Ceramic Artist – the term for the potter who has been a creative force for thousands of years. In all the museums of the world (those of archeology as well as those of art) are found artifacts of the ceramic artist. Every culture has its own recognizable style and this style is strongly linked to the history of a certain territory in which it has been created. During the periods of the great kingdoms, in the vicinity of major cities and seats of power, there have always been places and regions where ceramics were cast or thrown – where the ceramic artist thrived.
For example, in the Republic of Venice two important centers grew that were home to the ceramic artist: Nove and Bassano del Grappa. During recent years, manufacturers in those areas have had an interesting cultural journey. The Italian industrial boom had transformed the old craft shops into industries with mass production, creating a cultural leveling and pushing aside the ceramic artist who preserved historical traditions and who continued to do research and innovation.
Subsequently, the entry into the retail market of Chinese industries and the resultant price competition has hurt “lazy” businesses and forced the closure of many industrial companies. But a coin always has two sides, and the second side of the coin was the growing success for all those who had continued to try to preserve the historical memory.
One of these people is the founder of Ahura, Ezio Zanardello, whose company stands on the banks of the river Brenta, and is now run by the second generation of his family. Ezio‘s passion for ceramics is overwhelming and shines through in every word he says and in his personal background. In past years, Ezio has collected many traditional moulds either abandoned by companies or put up for sale, and today he preserves the true historical memory of this country of the ceramic artist around Nove.
Having the opportunity to be guided by Ezio among the rooms of his historic warehouse is an unforgettable experience that I wish everyone could be able to appreciate.
Ezio, how do you approach ceramics?
Pottery is part of the traditions of my country, but in my case it was born slowly and started from when I was about 8 years old at my mother’s side while she worked as a ceramic artist painting plates. In my teens I rejected ceramics and I swore not to be involved any more in ceramics. I did everything, from tbeing a postman to working for a gas company, but to increase earnings at night I continued the apprenticeship as a ceramic artist – to paint ceramics as taught by my mother. At one point I passed over my rejection and my wife and I founded our company. And the love of technology has led me to create a plant that is not just home to the ceramic artist but also technologically excellent in terms of energy efficiency.
In these years, you’ve collected in your archive moulds and works of many companies that have closed. We saw the passion in your eyes while you allowed us to visit this collection. Why are you doing this? What drives you to preserve traditions?
I cannot explain exactly. On the one hand I feel a strong push towards innovation and experimentation with new shapes and colors, on the other hand I love beautiful things and I don’t want them to be dispersed. I can see the beauty in the works of the ceramic artist whether in traditional classical forms or in the new design or in the trials of a young artist. I wish that everyone could enjoy these, but then I also think that “anything goes” and that we should not be too stuck in the past.
Being able to enjoy the beauty is a personal journey and requires an openness of spirit. It’s a process and not an end and I show this archive only to those who have trod the path.
Creativity and beauty are a personal journey or may they be shared?
Creativity is generally a personal matter, but when it becomes a shared process it can reach the highest level. If we think of the workshops (which are the ones of the past or that are the laboratories of today’s businesses), the work is a collegiate process. The choice of the ‘dough’, casting clay, firing, painting, and also how to pass this value to the end customer, are an essential part of the creative process and require a wealth of knowledge of different people working together to achieve the masterpiece.
If you miss one element of this knowledge you cannot achieve excellence. Art and technology must go “hand in hand” to fight to reach new heights and transmit new emotions, but without challenging each other. Our staff are the main asset of the company to achieve this.
You appear initially to be ‘detached’ in your love for the traditions of the area and your family. What does this mean?
Maybe it means to continue to live as some of my teachers have in the past and to revive their achievements. But without nostalgia: life is in the future and the past can give us inspiration, can push us towards continued innovation but it cannot return. Time changes the forms of expression and the way we communicate, the possibilities offered by modern technologies increase our chances of expression: and this propels us into the future. But the past provides the sense of taste and gives body to our innovations.
My children are succeeding in business and the generational shift also corresponds to a cultural shift in the way of doing business in Italy. I can give advice to my children but I also have a lot to learn from them and their way of interacting with the world. But it’s my story, and that of all my teachers, who can give meaning to their new business and can help them to be leaders. The great thing about having the new generations is the very freedom that I’m regaining to take care of the philosophy of our company and the creative freedom for me to continue to experiment with my ongoing “search for beauty”.
About the Interviewed:Ezio Zanardello
Ceramics entrepreneur, founder of Ahura and “philosophical practitioner” of ceramics.