"" Writer's Wanderings: Blue Delft

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Blue Delft


The weather looked promising upon waking to a morning in Rotterdam. Rotterdam is a large city and mostly modern. It suffered the greatest blow during the war when the German Nazis bombed it mercilessly and destroyed most of the city. They have been in the process of rebuilding and building anew. Some of it is good, some perhaps not so much unless you enjoy the unusual vision of the cube houses. They are a big box turned so that a corner of the box fits onto a base. They look precarious. If you google Rotterdam's cube houses you can see what I mean. I didn't get the phone ready in time to snap a shot as we went by. 

We had signed up for a full day tour to see the Delft factory and the Kinderdijk windmills. By nine o'clock we were on the road to Delft. As we passed through Rotterdam, I was glad we had signed for the Delft tour. I'm not fond of touring big cities and aside from shopping and restaurants, I didn't see much that would appeal to me. 

Royal dinnerware

Delft is a smaller town and looked to be a lot more interesting to explore after our factory tour. The tour of the Royal Delft Museum began with a lot of history that was too much too absorb all at once but Delft has been in the process of making pottery since 1653. At one time they even made fire proof bricks which helped to save them from financial disaster at that point in time. There was also a time when they made building ceramics, moldings and archways and decorative stairways. But their bread and butter now is the famous blue Delft pottery. 

Plaster molds

The pottery is made from a white clay that is poured into a plaster mold which extracts the moisture from the clay. If it is a vase, they let it set for about a half hour and then pour out the liquid clay that is still in the middle thus creating the inside space of the vase. The piece is then fired in the kiln, left to cool and passed on to the painters or those who do the transfer patterns.

Delft pieces are either decorated with transfers or painted by hand. The reason they do transfers is that it is much easier to create quantity and precision. For example the royal place settings for the palace need to be perfect so the transfer design is best. Then in one little spot on the plate and charger, almost imperceptible, is a tiny gold dot that is used to line up the plate with the charger so that each place setting at the table is exactly the same. 

We were led to the workshop area where one lady was painting a figurine. (It was Sunday and there was a skeleton crew probably just for the sake of the tour groups.) A piece of white fired pottery is wrapped in a stencil and black cobalt is used to lightly stencil the design onto the pottery piece. The tiny dotted design is then drawn, connecting the dots, so that there is a design to paint. 

After that the painter fills in the design and does the shading according to the sample before her. Each hand painted item still needs to be exactly the same for each item. Sometimes a small mistake can be covered over but if not, the piece is scrapped. Small mistakes often end up in the seconds room of the gift shop.

Stenciled lines

The woman painting before us said she had been there for many years. It would take her about two hours to complete the painting of the figurine she was working on. It amazed me that the black cobalt could be thinned with water to create the lighter shading and all of it, after being sprayed with a clear glaze coating, would turn blue upon firing in the kiln.

Our stroll through the gift shop made it very clear that we would not be taking much home with us. The hand painted pieces, even the smallest, were at least 100 Euros. We found a small bell that was not hand painted that we could use as a Christmas ornament on our tree and purchased that. 

Stenciled, painted, glazed and fired.

One other thing to mention--the hand painted items are signed on the back with a special notation to differentiate from the transfer designs. A word of warning though. I imagine that the signature could still be copied by counterfeiters. 

We enjoyed waiting in the sunshine for our bus to return as the others finished shopping. I'm glad we got a little vitamin D. It was not to last.

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