Gino had been waiting for this day — it was to be devoted to Deruta, the center of Majolica ceramics. If merely hearing the word “ceramics” on any given day makes Gino’s eyes shine, today they were positively scintillating. A visit to this Majolica mecca was his personal pilgrimage.
A straight shot down the main highway and we were there, mouths agape at the huge ceramic factories lining the road. We had previously read that the ceramics museum was closed on Tuesdays so we had flipflopped our itinerary, visiting Assisi before Deruta; thus, our first stop was to the museum. Signs to the museum pointed us to the upper — and older — part of town.
The upper town was not crowded at all. We pulled into one of the many vacant parking spots and walked through the old stone arch into the historic center. This town is old — its origins date from the 4th century B.C.E.. The buildings we walk past today, however, are mostly medieval. Still old.
The art of ceramics, for which this town is world famous, smacked us immediately. Colorful vases, table tops, and kitchenware of all kinds spilled out the doors and decorated the outside walls of the shops. But not wanting to allow ourselves to become prematurely distracted, we put on mental blinders and made a beeline for the museum.
Since the 14th century, Deruta has been producing the most beautiful of all Italian ceramicware. The Regional Ceramics Museum, located in the former convent of San Francesco, contains several floors and rooms of displays, providing a comprehensive history and tangible timeline of the craft’s evolution from ancient times through the Renaissance and into present day. For some reason, part of the museum was roped off, but we still had plenty to view.
With our visit to the ceramics museum done, it was now time to shop. This was the day Gino had been waiting for: to pick out a set of four place settings and have them sent home. The shops themselves were worthy of any art gallery.
Gino was transfixed as proprietors spread before him their sublime selections of colorful plates, each with a kaleidescopic design dipinto a mano (painted by hand) After poking through shops comparing designs and prices, we decided to return to the lower town and scope out their wares more thoroughly before making any decisions.
One warehouse-looking place with a mammoth painted vase perched high above the parking lot was just closing for lunch, so we weren’t able to go inside. Another large building was set up like an emporium, home to several different artists. We were surprised to find that the work in the lower town did not seem as fine as in the upper town, and was more expensive besides. Not impressed, we returned to the upper town with its individual artists and mom and pop shops — it felt much more personal there.
Up and down the streets we went, stopping in front of the window of one store, closed for the afternoon pausa, to gaze into the window at an amazing pair of ceramic guitars resplendent in Majolica design.
Finally, Gino announced he had found his place. Ceramiche Favaroni Carlo is a small shop run by a couple, one of them presumably Carlo Favaroni. The two of them (Carlo and his wife) worked in tandem, laying out a stack of plates in all their stunning designs. It was almost impossible to choose — all were magnificent mandalas in clay. Gino chose his favorite four and then picked bowls and smaller plates to go with each setting: four place settings in four different patterns. After the necessary paperwork for shipping them home had been prepared, we took a picture with Gino with the owner, then we headed for lunch, dizzy from the deciding.
[Note: The shipment arrived not quite two months after we had placed our order. They arrived on or doorstep perfectly intact and are every bit as beautiful as we remembered. A special surprise greeted us when we turned over the back of each and every piece — written in a fine Italian hand and baked into the clay were the words: “For Melinda and Gino.”]