I studied at the School of Art in Trento, Italy, after which I learned to work at the wheel by apprenticing with an old master artisan who encouraged me immensely by telling me that I had talent.
I opened and began to work in my workshop when I was 22, forging ahead and just learning from my mistakes (that is the best way).
This edition of IN THE ATELIER WITH features Donatella Parotto, one half of Potomak Studio, founded in 1982 with partner Mauro Bonvecchio.
A typical day at the office includes . . .
Mauro works with the slabs to prepare plates of different sizes and with the moulds to make the light porcelain pieces. I work at the wheel and add coloured glazes to the half-made pieces. Mauro is also in charge of filling the kilns and cleaning & packing the porcelain pieces for shipping. I am also in charge of keeping contact with the customers, answering e-mails and making & sending invoices. In addition to all of these daily tasks, the phone rings, friends come to visit, customers call, we discuss what we shall have for dinner and who is going to go home to prepare, and also during any given day, a good idea could come to us, causing us to drop everything and prepare a sample for firing!
Describe the creative process that goes into each piece.
Everything around us is creative fuel for our minds: listening to music, going to visit the museums in the south of Italy, the art shows in Venice, the Biennale, reading , talking and eating with friends — we never know when an idea will come and who had it for first, because when we discuss we just go on top of each other’s thoughts, just as running water refreshing the fields all around its way — things come out and they are there!
How did the name Potomak Studio come about?
The word Potomak comes from the title of of Jean Cocteau’s first book, “Le Potomak”; we love the aphorisms and the sketches of Jean Cocteau and this name represented to us, the freedom of the invention.
What is the most difficult thing about being a ceramic artist?
The porcelain process is a never ending story, you think about an object, a shape, a color, prepare a sample to fire and it will never come out as you thought. We experiment with almost every firing, and only few will ever be developed and become a piece, a part of collection to be shown at the fair. We also have to balance our creative freedom and the market, as we need to support the workshop business too.
What is the best thing about being a ceramic artist?
Feeling free, with no one telling you what to do and when, and there is such a feeling of pride when we show our final collections. It is also such a good thing knowing that when our son, Demetrio, and daughter, Olimpia, travel the world, they will find shops selling our porcelains, and that it was this work that allowed them to go to school.
Tell us a little about your working relationship with Mauro.
Mauro and I met in 1983, when he was an architectural models maker and worked at his own advertising agency. Two years later, we were living and working together, and since that moment, we have shared our lives together and have two children: Demetrio and Olimpia. We are so very different in our styles and characters that our relationship requires a continuous discussion in order to come to an agreement for everything.
If you weren’t a ceramic artist, you would be . . .
Mauro would be a sculptor, and I, a scientist.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
The biggest thing is to be able to refuse to produce certain orders!
What advice do you have for other artists just starting out?
To go to Naples to the Archaeological Museum to study the ancient ceramic and glasses of Pompei.
What other artists have been influential in your career?
How has the business of being a ceramic artist changed over the years?
There are many shops and galleries all over the world now, but if you are honest with the creativity in your production you will be welcomed, and at the end everything, the world belongs to you.
How has your studio location in Northern Italy influenced your work?
It hasn’t influence our work too much, but being so far away from other porcelain makers has made our work fresh and perhaps moving in a different direction.
Describe the creative process that goes into each piece.
I don’t design the new pieces but rather, just make them up as I go. I am so lucky to have a perfect connection between my mind and my hands on the wheel. As a maker, I see the actual piece in my mind first, and then just make it. Mauro is more intellectual in the process — he always sketches, builds paper prototypes in actual size, cuts porcelain, prints photos of a particular technique until he is satisfied.
What is your most favourite piece that you’ve ever made?
Since we bought our first kiln for the porcelain firings, we have learned a lot and experimented a lot, all self-taught, so needless to say, we thrown away a lot of pieces; but in our workshop, there is a simple white plate with decorated with silver hashes that has served us well for many years.
Do you have any signature pieces? What are you best known for?
I admit that I forget to sign the pieces sometime, but I think that the “Macchia” colored table sets with 25 colors to be choose from are our best sellers.
How has your style evolved over the years?
Always moving toward the most simplicity that’s possible, as in poetry, using only what that is true, pure and essential, as with a good novel: a few well-chosen words.
Where is your favourite place to escape?
There are beautiful lakes near us, where we often go to swim — the water giving peace to body and soul, but Venice is our choice when we have more time.