Last month, we visited the Gmundner Keramik factory in Gmunden, Austria. It has been producing pottery since 1492 and half of all Austrians own at least one piece. SWMBO is only 1/2 Austrian but definitely has more than one piece!
Gmundner Keramik is located in Upper Austria and in this part of the country, I would wager that close to 100% of people own pieces from this factory. Most people have a favourite pattern and gradually add pieces in that pattern to their collection. The dishes are part of the brand of this region!
The most traditional yet distinctive Gmundner Keramik pattern is “Grüngeflammt” – it goes back to the 17th century! It was never my favourite pattern but I have grown fond of it. When I was a growing up, I loved the dark blue with white flowers pattern and over the years, I was gifted pieces by my Oma and family friends.
Every time we would go to Austria, we would always make an excursion to the ceramic factory. The Gmundner Keramik is the largest ceramic manufacturer in central Europe so a trip to the factory means lots of selection. The fun part about going to the factory is that they sell seconds there. Gmundner Keramik is a part of my heritage but if I were an objective person, I would say that the pieces are expensive and they break/chip VERY easily.
This visit, we decided to take our first factory tour. Tours cost 5 euros/$7.50 per adult (free for children) and the admission fee is applied to any purchase over 50 euros.
The tour began with a visit to the manufacturing section. The pieces are all made using molds. I was interested to learn that the method used throughout the factory is technology-assisted hand production. Or you could call it hand-assisted technology production…
For example, to produce a jug, a clay slurry is poured into a jug mold and allowed to sit for about 2 hours. The outer layer of the clay starts to harden. The technologist/artisan/worker uses experience to decide exactly when to pour out the slurry to produce the proper thickness of clay jug. Each piece requires about 60 steps but to make a long story short, after the pieces come out of the mold, they are smoothed, fired, glazed and then re-fired.
After the pieces are fired, they are glazed all over by machine. A person then removes the glaze from the bottom so that the pieces don’t stick to the kiln during the second firing.
The decorative painting is done by hand using one of three methods. Method #1: an image is printed on using a stamp and then hand coloured.
Method #2: Glaze is piped through a hose and applied. This is how “Grüngeflammt” is done.
Method #3: A design is painted on freehand. This is the method used for my beloved blue and white flower pattern.
Once the pieces are painted, they are re-fired. During the first firing, the pieces can be packed tightly into the kiln. For the second firing, it is important that the pieces be well spaced so that they don’t stick together.
When the pieces come out of the kiln after the second firing, they are ready for sale. Gmundner Keramik often invites ceramic artists to come and do a residency at the factory. This inspires both the artists and the factory staff. We saw some wonderful pieces. We also saw some really kitschy pieces that I wondered about. It turns out that they are used by staff to practice various techniques.
After the tour we were let loose in the shop. It can be pretty overwhelming in there. No surprise because the factory produces about 5000 pieces per day! We did have to buy the “grüngeflammt” ceramic bundt pan. Seriously. We bought it. A nice addition to our collection and a wonderful souvenir of our month in Austria.