At the foot of the Appenines, in the Tiber valley lies the eleventh century town of Sansepolcro famed for the wonderful art of Piero della Francesca. This is where the journey begins for all your mugs and jugs and bowls and plates and vases and lamps: majolica clay from Italy made into tin glazed pots here in this quiet corner of Somerset! They also supply the majority of Italy’s earthenware industry.
The dry clay is riddled through sieves to remove stones and sticks and these discarded, then the clay is mixed with a large amount of water to make slip. This is stirred in vast vats and the liquid clay then pumped up and along pipes into the filter presses. Under immense pressure, the slip is squeezed until just the right amount of moisture is left to keep the clay plastic and malleable. It then begins to dry fast in the warm, airy factory building so needs to be pushed swiftly through a pugmill which has a big screw that de-airs as it mixes the clay and extrudes it into the plastic bags. Each bag weighs 25kilos and they kindly double bag our annual ton for durability on its long, often circuitous journey on several lorries and sitting on its pallet in warehouses and ferry ports across Europe, sometimes over weeks.
This pallet of 40 clay bags arrives on its last leg via Chard, packed with curious circular pieces of tightly woven fabric and I now know these to be old filter press cloth. It certainly made sense of the raw material, the essential bit of the potter’s craft and I am so glad to have visited and want to extend my gratitude and good wishes to Simone and the team of 6 at Ceramica Sansepolcro.