Dutch Pottery has been a rich cultural aspect of the Netherlands for centuries now. People from all over the world take souvenirs of those gorgeous potteries with unique designs and paint on it back home.
I remember while travelling on the KLM flight, which is a well known Dutch Airline, I was offered some Dutch pottery souvenirs by the air hostess. They were small typical Dutch houses and left you with wonder due to its unique architectural aspects. There are other kinds of Dutch potter souvenirs found in the country, which are mostly small in size and symbolise the country’s pride and joys such as the Dutch windmill, Dutch Clogs and even the famous Dutch boy and girl kissing in front of a windmill. The feel of the products, the shine, unique designs, and most importantly that gorgeous shade of blue that was used to paint on them intrigued me.
After doing a bit of research online, I came across a small yet pretty student town Delft, which is known for its history of Dutch Pottery. I went to the Delft Pottery de Deltse Pauw, which was established in 1650. This factory exclusively produces and sells entirely hand-painted Delftware, which is a unique factor in this date.
I took an exclusive interview of the manager of the factory and some of its workers who were hand painting the Delftware as well as crafting it.
Origin of the Delftware
“We are one of the last companies where authentic Delft is still made. Authentic Delft means that everything is still painted by hand, which is a tradition that started in the 19th century. Before we used to make a Europe style pottery called ‘Majolica’, which was mainly made using multi colors.”, said Nico Van Nieuwenhuijzen who is the manager of the factory.
During the sixteenth century, there were several factories established in a number of Dutch towns that produced the Majolica products. As Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen mentioned, these products were made with tin-glaze and were found originally in Italy and Spain.
When asked about the origin of the blue and white pottery, Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen explained : “The Chinese ports men in Holland started changing the production of pottery that we were used to. The blue and white that made Delft famous is inspired by the Chinese people.”
Curious about the whole process of making such elegant pottery, I requested him to give me a short tour and guidance on the how-to steps of the origin and making of Delft Pottery.
The Clay Chronicles – Delft vs. Europe
“In Europe we used a red baking clay. The clay in Holland is red and that is why the houses and the streets are mainly red. After the first firing, the red clay was covered with a white tin-glaze in order to have a white background so we can easily paint on it.”
“However in the 19th century, more and more factories all over the Europe started to use the white baking clay which is much stronger, and therefore the Delft factories were no longer able to compete and in fact for a few decades, no Delftware was made at all.
Although the restart was made at the end of the 19th century and from that moment on the Delft factories started to make use of the white clay as well. “But at the same time limitations started, which meant that the decorations were not painted by hand but were machine made by transfer method or screen printed” revealed Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen.
The step-by-step making of a Delftware:
Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen showcased how a jar or a vase is made in their factory. The techniques used here are used for every single Delftware made in the factory.
1. To begin with, white baking clay is used in order to make the white stone, which is imported, from England and Germany since the Dutch clay is red in color.
2. The clay is mixed with water so it gets a “liquid slip”, that is then poured into molds.
3. The mold is completely filled up with the liquid clay. The material of the mold is plaster of Paris, which is very porous and therefore absorbs the water out of the clay and makes the clay dry. However, the clay dries quicker along the walls as compared to its center.
4. After half and hour, the clay wall is 4 mm thick, while the center still remains liquid, which we pour out by turning the mold upside down, and that’s how we get the hollowness of the jar.
5. Since the clay still remains to be soft, we let it dry for 4 hours. We then take it out and smooth with knife, sponge and water, and before firing the clay vase, we let it dry in the air for about three days, because if you fire items that are not dry enough, chances are they will crack.
6. The dry and polished items will be fired in one of the guilds. Firing takes 8 hours, during which the temperature slowly goes up to 1040 degree Centigrade. It temperature remains that high for about 30 minutes, and then starts to cool down. The whole process takes about 24 to 32 hours. In the guild, the clay becomes stone.
7. The delftwares are ready to be hand painted!
The Process of Hand Painting
The painter first makes a very vague sketch of the decoration. The sketch can be done hand free style with a pencil. “But for a symmetrical design, the painters are allowed to use stencils that were used in the olden days.”, added Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen
Little holes are made with the use of a needle along the lines on the stencil paper. The painter rubs charcoal dust on the stencil sheet so that it goes through them, which helps provide a basic sketch on the plate. The charcoal dust easily burns off during the firing.
Once the basic outline of the sketch is on the plate, the painter first paints the outline. The entire decoration is painted by hand with the help of all kinds of brushes and a simple black paint.
After the design is finished being painted, it is completely covered with a white glaze. The piece of pottery is fired again. “We have to make sure that the pieces are not touching each other during the firing process or else the designs could get destroyed” said Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen
During the firing, the glaze melts and becomes all shiny and transparent and here is when the black paint changes into the color blue. “The secret behind black paint turning blue is that black paint is a composition of Cobalt Oxide and a little bit of copper. There is a chemical reaction with the glaze on the material, which changes the color from back to blue instantly”, revealed Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen.
“Glazing is highly important because if you just fire the product without any glaze on it, the black paint will turn into green and looks a bit burnt” added Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen.
Behind the scenes: Hand painting and Sculpting
In the painting workshop of the factory, I came across two well-established delftware painters and was lucky enough to observe how they create a masterpiece with such dedication. I also got a chance to interview them and ask them more about the art of painting Delftwares. This is what they had to say:
“I am painting a traditional Dutch windmill using a paint made up of Cobalt and Charcoal”, said the first painter of Dutch origin named Hans Yperen. When asked how long it takes to complete one small design, the painter who was immersed in his work said, “It takes about an hour or more”
Moving on, I decided to interview the other painter. He was painting a beautiful peacock onto a plate. He was a very friendly man and introduced himself by the name of Ashok. He originates from Suriname, South America but his roots are from India.
“I have been working here for about 10 years and I mostly paint peacocks with flowers. Someone else prepares the materials we use and I just paint.”, said Ashok.
Ashok’s passion has always been drawing and sketching. “I used to sketch quite nicely but that was just on paper. This is different. This is stonework and it is more challenging. You have to practice more and more on any little piece of stone you can get.”
Since the factory not only produces the Delftwares, but also sells it, it could be quite challenging for the painters to meet the perfect criteria of what the consumers want. “It’s funny how what I make can be sold to people. It takes me about 5 hours to complete one piece of plate a day. If you make even a tiny mistake, they won’t be able to sell it and all of your hard work and time goes to waste.”, said Ashok.
Across the room, sat a man sculpting and molding the fired products. Gerald, a skilled Dutch sculpture gave me an interesting insight to the techniques of sculpting a simple vase.
“After I get the product, I take the edges out with a knife of the item and then I simply polish them and leave them to dry”.
Behind the Scenes: The Glazing Room
The glazing room is an exclusive room present in the factory where all the glazing equipment resides and the glazed products are shelved right before they are fired in the second round.
In the tank, there is a solution of silicate with water, which is basically what the glaze is. The water is stirred in order to get a good glaze liquid.
After having stirred it well for a few seconds, the items are dipped into the liquid solution. The bigger pieces that will not fit into the tank full of glaze are glazed in the big cabinet behind.
It takes about 8 hours to build of the second firing, which is quite familiar to the first firing and it takes 24 to 32 hours to cool down. “It is important that you don’t glaze or fire any item too fast or else the items may crack, which will then lead to other problems. Making pottery is time consuming”, explained Mr. Van Nieuwenhuijzen.
After seeing the unique and exquisite world Delftware and getting more acquainted with the whole process of the products being made, the shop in the factory which had hundreds of their products on sale made me realize how each and every single one of those pieces are enriched with its own art, time and sculpture.
Here are some of the products that were on display for sale:
This is a unique experience that is recommended for any one who is interested in getting to know more about the cultural and historical aspects of a country.
For more information about Delft Pottery de Deltse Pauw, you can check out their website: http://www.delftpottery.com/
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