Majolica is fired clay dipped in a bath of glaze (metal oxides) covering the porous “terracotta” surface, then painted with metal oxide colors, sprayed with a glass varnish and finally fired for a second time.
Grazia is one of the few majolica factories which does the complete manufacturing cycle in-house.
The manufacturing process starts with clay bought in a raw state directly from the quarries surrounding Umbrian hills. The raw clay is refined in the following manner:
- A grinder mashes the large clumps of clay into small pieces and passes it to a container with a large mixing blade.
- As the blade turns, water is added turning the clay into a thick soupy mixture.
- The clay is then compressed and sucked by a large pump through a series of filters which retain only the clay and force the water out.
- The filtered clay is stored for 3-4 months in curing rooms maintained at a constant temperature.
- It is stored until organisms living in the clay go through their life cycle and the clay becomes plastic in consistency. It is ready for use after it is degassed.
The clay is then manipulated in one of three ways, dependent on the shape of the object being produced.
- If the object is cylindrical it is hand thrown on a potter’s wheel.
- Complicated shapes (for example a twisted candlestick) are produced using the "casting" method, where liquid clay is poured into a plaster-cast mould.
- Nearly all other forms are created using plaster-cast moulds into which the clay is manually pressed.
After this first phase the objects dry for about a week and then are finished using special metal tools to add the finishing touches, to clean off the edges and eventually to attach handles and spouts.
After about 20 days the object has completely dried and is ready to be fired for the first time at a temperature of 1020 degrees centigrade. After the first firing the object is now called bisque.
After firing, the bisque object is immersed in a bath of metal oxides to cover the porous terracotta.
Just as there are three methods of working the clay, there are three stages in the painting process.
- The design is applied onto the bisque using the “pounce” technique. The stencil is created by copying the design onto transparent paper and then a fine needle pierces the pattern intermittently. The stencil is placed on the bisque and using the pounce (a cotton ball containing crushed carbon) the design is transferred leaving a fine carbon outline. During the second firing, the carbon outline burns off.
- Using a very fine paint brush the artisans carefully follow the outline.
- The decoration is then completed by painting either on the inside or outside of the lines.
The final phase involves spraying liquid glass onto the object before it is fired for the second time at 930 degrees centigrade. This glazing step ensures optimum colour quality as the glass renders the colours brighter, more intense and more resistant.
Each object is entirely hand crafted using techniques handed down through the generations by local artisans. The Grazia family is the best remaining example of the majolica tradition in the world.