Like all children, when I was growing up, my sisters and I enjoyed making fun of our parents. My mother was a particularly easy target since it was usually so easy to make her laugh. And today she is still the first one to make fun of any number of her own quirky habits. She can crack herself up by just starting to tell a story about some ‘fantastic’ find at a tag sale.
One of our early targets was her obsession with ‘rooster’ pitchers when we lived in Italy in the seventies. Coming from St. Louis, our house had been filled with (as far as I can remember) pretty standard white tableware. So when my mother first saw the brightly colored painted ceramics all over Italy she was smitten.
I thought they couldn’t be tackier. Especially those pitchers shaped in the form of a rooster with the spout in the form of a beak through which you poured wine, water or whatever. But my mom? She couldn’t get enough of them. Even when we moved back from to the States from Italy, when asked what she wanted us to bring her from a trip to Italy her first reply would always be “a rooster pitcher!”
It wasn’t until I moved back to Italy on my own, in the late ’80’s, that my own love affair with majolica started. While I was a graduate student in Florence I was asked by the owners of Nick and Toni’s to head down to Vietri for them, to stock up on hand painted plates for their soon-to-be-opened restaurant. And that’s when I realized that almost every region, every town, had it’s own distinctive patterns, colors, shapes and designs. And that yes, I loved them all.
So fascinated was I by the subject of the diversity, that I eventually wrote a book about the subject, on Umbrian ceramics from the small town of Deruta, where they’ve been making majolica for about 600 years.
You would think, at this point, that my cupboard is groaningly full of brightly colored plates. And it is. I admit it. I’m a ceramic junky. I’ve got six full sets of dishes from everywhere from Sicily to the Veneto, not to mention various bowls, mugs and platters from every other town in between. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming. And in fact, my camera and this blog actually helps alleviate my need to actually buy. Nowadays I can take oodles of photos and fill this blog, instead of my shelves.
Last week I spent the day in Orvieto, and was once again reminded how each small town has a completely different history when it comes to ceramics. Even though Orvieto is only about a 40 minute drive from Deruta, the ceramics couldn’t be more different.
I spent a half hour oggling and trying to justify buying a coffee set with renaissance portraits, a sugar bowl with a verdant deer and – yes I will admit it right here in public – a rooster pitcher.
Because you see my mother’s obsession has finally come full circle. As you are walking down a narrow alley in Orvieto and see a stack of anthropomorphic pitchers pointing your beaks at you, you might just look the other way. But me? I’m trying to decide which one to buy. Because even if my own cupboard is full, I’m sure a rooster pitcher still tops my mom’s wish list.
There are tons of places to buy ceramics in Orvieto, but this one is my favorite, right down the street from the Duomo.
Via del Duomo 66/68
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