A cobalt blue ship sails across the porcelain sea
by Nina Reetzke | Jul 27, 2011
All photos © Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark

The drawing of a sailing ship in high seas, executed in cobalt blue on white ceramic. Just how many cups, plates, bowls and jugs have been decorated with this motif down through the centuries? The ships allude to the trade with overseas colonies that so flourished at the beginning of the 17th century, and in which the Dutch East Indies Trading Company played such a strong role. Ceramics was in great demand on the European continent at the time, be it Chinese kraak porcelain, Arabian/Moorish fayences or Italian/Spanish majolica. In the Netherlands, a series of workshops sprang up, such as Royal Tichelaar Makkum, which specialized in the manufacture of so-called delft porcelain.

Royal Tichelaar Makkum is one of the oldest companies in the Netherlands today. The name is made up of the family name of "Tichelaar" and the company's domicile, Makkum. Records show the firm existed as long ago as 1572 and since that time it has always been owned by one and the same family. Originally, the company produced bricks, but from 1670 onwards the focus shifted to pottery for domestic use and as of 1890 to decorated stoneware. For some years now Royal Tichelaar Makkum has taken the limelight with collections created by leading industrial designers, including Hella Jongerius and Studio Makkink & Bey. The corporate philosophy focuses on an ever more extensive exploration of the opportunities for new designs for the millennia-old material, ceramics. "When we were busy discussing how to reinterpret the craft of ceramics," comments Jan Tichelaar, who has headed the company since 1994, "Hella (Jongerius) and Jürgen (Bey) were also interested in the same thing at the same time. Just when they were wondering where the could realize their ideas, we were desperately in search of people like them. Hella once said that we grew up together."

The lion's share of the pottery produced by Royal Tichelaar Makkum is made using the traditional majolica technique as arose originally in the Arab world and was brought to the Netherlands via Spain and Italy. The process involves a special step, whereby after the first firing the ceramic surfaces are coated with a white tin glaze that serves like a white sheet of paper – as the basis for colored painting. Royal Tichelaar Makkum mines the clay required for the ceramic locally, outside a village called Sopsum. The clay there contains a lot of calcium, is yellowish in color, and is called 'marl'. It is thus all the more astonishing that for the design of its latest set of tableware, "Fundamentals of Makkum" by Atelier NL, Royal Tichelaar Makkum has opted to have the clay coated in a clear glaze and omitted any painting. Designers Lonny van Ryswyck and Nadine Sterk hunted around in the Netherlands to find the clay they needed. Depending on the chemical composition, the color tones vary from yellow through red to brown, and resulted in a series of plates, mugs, and bowls – available in six different color nuances.

There are many such stories to be found in the book "Royal Tichelaar Makkum", edited by Marietta de Vries and brought out by renowned Dutch publishing house 010. The essays were contributed by authors such as Li Edelkoort, Louise Schouwenberg and Anna Tilroe, and convey a comprehensive, multi-faceted and in-depth picture of the long-standing company. The book addresses the historical background to Delft porcelain manufactories, the development of the family-owned company, the refined craftsmanship required to make majolica, the design theory take on current products, and business strategies and figures. The only thing that does not get described is the centuries-old family home of the Tichelaar family. This is regrettable from the point of view of cultural history as since 1700 it has been home to an ever greater number of tile tableaus that are definitely worth talking about.

The book's design is likewise convincing. The cover as well as the front and end matter present beige silhouettes of the products, and the double-spreads with the essays are each subdivided into a page of copy and an image page, giving the book a pleasantly calm appearance and great clarity. When leafing through it you will encounter many a great series of images, including a series of color samples, drawn by colored pencil on paper and applied to the theme of a piglet. Moreover, the book's edges are decorated by a blue porcelain motif such that outer edge of the pages of the open book forms a frame for the content.

Meaning that in the final instance the publication is completely Dutch: The book about a Dutch company with Dutch product designers, graphic artists and Dutch design theorists, brought out by a Dutch publisher. And a book that does full justice to the great reputation Dutch design has world-wide.

Royal Tichelaar Makkum
Edited by Marietta de Vries
Hardcover, 320 pages, English
010, Rotterdam, 2010
34.50 Euro

All photos © Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
Craft meets design: Koninklijke Tichelaar