Brushstroke after brushstroke

Interview with ceramics artist Barbara Schmidt

©Barbara Schmidt

Seen from the outside and located in the middle of nature at the foot of Kitzbüheler Horn the beautifully restored farmhouse looks rather unassuming and not at all like something special might be hiding within. Only on the inside can visitors behold Barbara Schmidt's small realm: 

a porcelain workshop where the original Tyrolean follows her big passion. Not only does she make many of the pieces herself, she also leaves her very own touch on the varied pieces of art - from dragonflies to regioanl motifs, to old German kurrent handwriting. In her interview Barbara Schmitd shared with us the fascinating facets of her old craft and in her stories she lead us all the way to Capetown. 

L.L. / In the best cases china is handed down from generation to generation. Do you still own some of your grandmother’s china? 

B.S. / I have vases from my grandmother from Munich, she painted them when she was a young woman and went to art academy. She had many beautiful pieces, like porcelain dolls and a small plate for children. My parents still have quite a bit of my grandmother’s old china. 

From my grandmother in Kitzbühel I have the old “Scheiei” (cups), but the most important pieces that survived are the ones that were kept in the “Scheekammer” (beautiful chamber) even then. What survived from my grandfather is a super cute light-blue cup with bellflowers and the name Anton in gold letters. 

L.L. / You used to live in Capetown for several years and it was there that you discovered your passion for painting china. How come? 

B.S. / A very good friend of mine taught at Ruth Prowse art school and he was allowed to bring a free student. It was there that I discovered my passion for ceramics, but I also made jewellery and printed fabrics.

© Barbara Schmidt
© Barbara Schmidt

L.L. / Your ceramics workshop is located on a farm in the middle of nature. How much inspiration do you draw from your home during the creative process? 

B.S. / My “dahoam” (= home) always inspires new ideas. But it also often keeps me from putting them into practice because there is a lot to do. We have a large garden with fruit, vegetables, flowers, and chickens, and we sell our products on Kitzbühel’s farmers market. In summer I spend a lot of time in the Alpine garden up on Kitzbüheler Horn that I take care of with my parents and my family. 

What I am particularly fascinated by is old German “kurrent” handwriting – the old contracts and postcards from relatives, the small poems on the inside of old closet doors and my mother’s children’s books. I have always been fascinated by that kind of writing. I love using a fine pen to write on china and using dialect. That’s why I have mugs saying “Vergelts Gott” (= God bless) or “Gschtiaschts Dirndl” (= cute girl). I write sayings or words on mugs, butter dishes, and other china. And, of course, I was super happy last year when I received the advancement award for the conservation of that type of writing, which came as a complete surprise. Most people connect kurrent with their childhood and so my customers often tell me great stories from their past. 

In our old farmhouse I am surrounded by agricultural motifs and nature – which is why I paint flowers, bugs, and butterflies, and I combine old and modern techniques and I keep discovering new aspects.

© Barbara Schmidt
© Barbara Schmidt

L.L. / China has been part of our culture for centuries and today it can be found in every household in many shapes and colours. What aspects do you need to keep in mind when it comes to transporting classic craft into the 21stcentury? Are current designs inspired by former times? 

B.S. / I hope that the zenith of our throwaway society will be reached soon and that we’ll find our way back to sustainable and high-quality products that last longer. Of course, that only makes sense if we change our way of thinking, if we don’t insist on buying everything new and chasing after every trend. And in order to produce high-quality products we need classic handicraft – and I hope that at some point we’ll learn to appreciate it once again. 

My inspiration certainly comes from old times, after all, the history of ceramics and of crockery is very old. I love gold rims, for example, but for a while they were quite out of fashion. I think, however, that a gold rim can be combined beautifully with modern motifs. And I also like using copper. Or I fall in love with a cup from the Bronze age and let myself be inspired by the shape.

©Barbara Schmidt
©Barbara Schmidt

L.L. / We all have china, but many of us do not know how the products are made. How do you make individual pieces? What does your workday look like?  

B.S. / There are many possibilities of working with china – or clay. I like making things on the potter’s wheel, pouring them in plaster moulds or making things from sheets. Depending on the material, glaze, and colours I use, the baking temperatures vary. My work is often experimental. Things go wrong all the time and I never get bored. Each piece is a little bit different because everything is painted or made by hand.

L.L. / Your customers can order personal individual items with you. What customer requests do you fulfil? 

B.S. / Seeing as I am alone in the workshop and don’t work here full-time I can only accept a limited amount of custom orders. 

I like adapting to my customers’ wishes though, I’ll paint branded china for a wedding or a birthday, china sets with the little one’s name as “Weisat” (= traditional gift at birth) or an individual mug for one’s best friend with sayings or words in normal or kurrent writing. I bake the pieces in my oven at high temperatures, that makes them ready for daily use. 

© Barbara Schmidt
© Barbara Schmidt

Wordrap with Barbara Schmidt

That’s how china remains beautiful for a long time: I personally think signs of wear are beautiful, too. 

I think a bachelor/bachelorette party isgreat! What’s better than celebrating the fact that you’re getting married with friends!

What I like the most about handicraft…is that it’s easy to customise pieces and adapt them to the future owner’s wishes and ideas.

My favourite motif: Bugs, dragonflies, butterflies, birds, and, of course, kurrent handwriting. 

“Broken pieces for good luck!” is a German saying. Do you agree? I have collected so much good fortune – and made it into mosaics. 

Three china trends for 2018: pink glaze, brown clay, and wabi sabi (Japanese aesthetics) – and many, many other ideas and combinations.

Barbara Schmidt Galerie