History of Polish pottery
The tradition of Boleslawiec pottery dates back more than a thousand years ago.
Boleslawiec itself is a small town in Silesia in south-western Poland close to a German and Czech border. This region is rich in natural high-quality white clay deposits which local artisans have used for creating beautiful stoneware.
Boleslawiec was found in XIII century. Over the centuries the city was torn by many wars. Due to the political changes, it lay within the borders of each of neighboring countries. Fortunately, each time the town was rebuilt and ceramics production continued. When it belonged to Germany, its name was changed to Bunzlau. That is why pottery manufactured there were in the past called Bunzlau pottery.
Pottery making started in the region as local folk art in the 7th century. The first pottery guild was set up in 1511. As the skills of potters and products improved, they became recognized by the higher classes and nobility. It is said that Frederick the Great, King of Prussia commissioned many of the original designs. At this time pottery was created on the potter’s wheel, made of a brown clay body earthenware and covered with brown glaze.
The biggest change in the pottery’s appearance was initiated by the master potter Johann G. Altman in the early 1830s. He introduced reusable molds and began to use as vessel body white clay called stoneware. Stoneware, more durable than earthenware had been so far used only for the stick motifs. Altman also introduced lead-free glaze. It allowed stamping and applying new designs. After firing dishes a very high-temperature he obtained colorful and long lasting patterns on the white background. All these modifications gave the foundation for modern decorative Boleslawiec pottery.
In 1897 Boleslawiec artists established the Professional School of Ceramics. A renowned craftsman and the technical director of the Royal Manufacture of Porcelain in Berlin, dr. Willhelm Pukall became its first headmaster. The school introduced further innovations such as the new use of stenciling techniques, matte glazes, vibrant colors, and gilding. It was a time of great growth for Boleslawiec ceramics.
At the beginning of 1900’s great influence of pottery designs had “Jugendstil” movement, the German equivalent of Art Nouveau. The famous “Peacock’s Eye” design became the recognized trademark decoration produced in the area. Next, during the 1920’s following the Art Deco trends, potters brought more colors into their works.
In 1936 six regional guilds found “Bunzlauer Braunzeug” cooperation. The pottery they made was typical of the one created before Johann Gottlieb Altman’s modifications. It was brown with white decorations on the surface. This continued until WWII.
WW II destroyed around 80% of potteries. In 9145 Silesian territory was handed over from Germany to Poland. Polish authorities founded the cooperative CPELiA to rebuild ceramic industry. Professor T. Szafran with the support of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław oversaw reconstruction. The first production took place in pre-war Julius Paul and Son plant. Over time, new cooperatives emerged. The skilled and talented potters in the region rebuilt the ceramics business. By the 1960s pottery making in Boleslawiec began once again flourishing.
There are several potteries in Boleslawiec region nowadays. The biggest ones are Zakłady Ceramiczne Boleslawiec, Ceramika Artystyczna, Wiza and Manufaktura Boleslawiec. Skilled local artists still hand-decorate each piece using small sponges and fine brushes. Their pottery is easily recognizable all over the world for its unique designs, excellent craftsmanship, and high quality.