Francesco Motolese: Master-Ceramist of Grottaglie
Updated: Aug 3, 2018
Where the art of handmade ceramics still continues.
Apulia is a region of Southern Italy stretched between the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas, where a host of culinary, artistic, and historic treasures await the curious visitor. Just fifteen minutes inland from the port-city of Taranto, itself born of a Spartan colony, lays a lesser known gem of regional delights: Grottaglie.
Grottaglie is a city with all the Southern Italian essentials: white-stone facades, labyrinthine paving stone streets, and a big claim to fame beyond what its modest size would suggest; in this case, the best ceramics in the world.
In the heart of the city and wrapped around the Castello Episcopio, Via Francesco Crispi passes through the cities’ Quartiere delle, or ceramic quarter. Located at the bottom of the hill sits a final shop; one often saves the best for last, and in this case we would finish our tour with an interview of 13 time world champion, maestro-ceramist, Francesco Motolese. If the claim of world’s best had elicited some doubts in your mind, rest assured, this city has the credentials to back it up, and Francesco has bested competitors from all over the globe to seize world titles for himself - more than a dozen times.
Like many Grottagliesi before and since, ceramics was a summer job for Francesco. Under the aroma of a clay-filled workshop, he was inspired by regional symbols like the ‘Pumo’, a flower bud gifted to bring prosperity, fertility, and abundance to the family, typically spotted on balconies around the city, and the ‘Srulo’, a distinctly styled pitcher with a pinched end for pouring, and often highly decorated.
While Francesco explained to us that the skills tested in ceramics competition are representative of the fundamentals, he was suddenly inspired to dirty his clean hands with a demonstration: taking a lump of clay from the kneading machine he pounded it into a ball and centered it on the potter’s wheel; the exhibition continued as he drew the material upwards with gestured fingers along the traditional lines taught to him by his master potters, and in what seemed like a matter of tens of seconds he had already made a ‘Srulo’; it seemed gigantic in comparison to the small ball of clay he had started with.
Francesco spent most of the time talking humbly about his commitment to honoring the traditions of those who came before, and the need to preserve the lines and symbols of Grottaglie’s finest works. This underappreciated city is one of the few places in the world where the art of handmade ceramics still continues without the encroachment of industrialization of the process. The city is also home to the Istituto Statale d’Arte di Grottaglie, an art institute which Francesco credits as a generator of new interest in ceramics, and he sees the outlook among the next generation as very positive.
While local workshops have seen some hints of modernization - like electric ovens - which make parts of the end-process more consistent and less troublesome, the art of human hands gifting shape and form to a lump of wet clay remains something to be treasured by both locals and visitors. Watching a master perform his art while preserving the continuities between past and present is where Grottaglie truly shines, but taking home some of the fruits of that labor, whether it be a ‘Pumo’, a ‘Srulo’, or any other handcraft piece, is a wonderful thing all its own.
Ceramiche Francesco Motolese
Via Leonardo da Vinci, 28
74023 Grottaglie (TA)-Italy
Cell. +39 347 7266473
Tel. +39 099 5628243