Yesterday I did a day trip to Delft, an historical city famous for its blue-and-white “Delftware” pottery which is an icon of Holland and for sale in souvenir shops throughout the country.
Dutch blue-and-white pottery was originally inspired by Chinese porcelain in the 1620s. During its heyday from 1660 to 1725, Delft was at the centre of its production.
I visited Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, the Royal Delft factory in operation since 1653. Unbelievably, they still employ seven painters to hand-paint all their pottery according to the centuries-old tradition. Talk about old school.
You can walk through the factory and observe the painters at work. I’m not sure if they have one-way mirrors set up, or if the painters are totally jaded from all the tourists, or if they are completely absorbed in their work, but as you walk past and snap photos of them, they don’t even seem to notice that you exist.
The production process is as follows. First the clay and the moulds are made in the factory and the blank white pottery is formed and fired in a kiln, be it in the shape of a vase, a tile, a plate, a dish, or a souvenir. Then the painters decorate it by hand, using a black paint. Finally, the painted pottery is glazed and fired in the kiln a second time. A chemical reaction takes place which turns the black paint into the Delft blue and makes the glaze transparent.
At the end of the factory tour, you are – like every other museum in the world – led into the gift shop, which in this case is really a showroom of the company’s products. It turns out most Delftware items exceed my monthly budget – many of them are antiques or limited edition items. But they had a great deal on the salt and pepper shakers, with the price reduced to €218.70.