I lived in Poland for a couple of years after graduating from college, and it was during this time that I was exposed to Polish pottery for the first time. You can’t live there very long and not get the Polish pottery fever – especially if you work with a large group of expats who can’t get enough of the stuff. In fact, they made sure my own collection began before I even stepped off the plane!
If you’re not familiar with Polish pottery, it is a durable, ceramic stoneware which is decorated with hand-painted / hand-stamped patterns. The traditional pattern is one with blue and white dots – very simple, but over the years, the number and variety of patterns has grown to a seemingly infinite number of options! The most common base color is blue, but over the last few years, I’ve seen some new patterns with red or green as the base color.
I mentioned that my collection began before I arrived in Poland, and I honestly have no idea how many pieces I own. I know that I have 12 place settings with 7 pieces each, and I have a number of other random pieces from casserole dishes to jugs to a coffee grinder. And all of these things are in different patterns! Unfortunately, not much of our pottery made the cut when packing to move to Saudi Arabia. The stuff is just too heavy, so nearly our entire collection is stored at my parents’ house.
I am certainly not an expert in Polish pottery – more of an enthusiast, but here are a few things I’ve learned about Polish pottery in my years of collecting it.
1. Polish pottery was once made in Germany!
Ok, that’s a bit misleading, but it’s true. Bolesławiec, where Polish pottery is made, is located in the Silesia region of Poland, which was at one time a part of Germany. Apparently, Germans call Polish pottery “Bunzlauer pottery.”
Polish pottery has been made in this quaint little town for centuries, and fortunately for us, it’s still made there today. You may wonder why this town of 40,000 people in southwestern Poland became the central location for creating and selling this unique stoneware, and as it turns out, there are a number of clay deposits in the area. Without going into the scientific reasons (that I don’t really understand), this clay is apparently of a really high quality, making it great for creating durable stoneware!
2. You can stand on it!
I said it was durable, right?
The shop we regularly frequented in Warsaw was a tiny little place just off a metro stop. Anja, the shop owner, was so great about helping us order pieces in patterns she didn’t have and making sure we had everything we wanted. Her shop was no bigger than a single car garage, but there were shelves along the walls jam packed with pottery. That wasn’t nearly enough space for all she had to display, so stacks of pottery (usually plates, bowls, and casserole dishes) even lined the floors at the base of the shelves. Sometimes there would be a piece you were interested in located on one of the top shelves, just out of reach. If you mentioned it to Anja, she’d come out from behind the counter, stand on a stack of plates on the floor, and get the item of interest. No big deal. This happened at least once every time I was in the shop, and I never saw anything break!
3. You can tour the factories in Bolesławiec and see pottery creation in action!
While we were on our European Christmas tour, we made a one night detour in Bolesławiec to experience this place firsthand. We had a chance to have lunch and take in the sights of old town, but our sole reason for crossing the Czech border into Poland was to experience everything Polish pottery. One thing I learned in my trip planning research was that we could actually tour one of the factories where some of the pieces I’ve purchased were made!
visiting Bolesławiec with my mom
One of the factories has something called the “Live Museum of Pottery” where you can sign up to see the stages in this process (with some of their secrets reserved, of course). It was a great tour during which we saw all the work that goes into creating Polish pottery: from the time it is a hunk of clay to the way it is molded to the painting and glazing processes. And for this to be something I was really looking forward to, it wasn’t very expensive: only 10 PLN ($2.60 USD)!
Notice the purple color in the bottom right hand picture? After it’s baked, that purple turns into a deep, navy blue (the traditional Polish pottery color).
4. The US is one of the major importers of Polish pottery.
Something like 80% of the pottery made is exported outside of Poland, and a large majority of that is imported into the US! There are little boutique shops around the US which sell Polish pottery, and if you’ve ever been shopping at TJ Maxx or Homegoods, chances are you’ve actually seen some random Polish pottery for sale there, too!
5. In Bolesławiec, you can shop till you drop!
If you love Polish pottery and have the chance to visit Bolesławiec to do some shopping, you won’t be disappointed! It takes about 2.5 hours from Prague by car, and despite the fact that most of the drive is on 2 lane backroads, it was pretty simple to navigate. We spent one night in the town, and we spent the entire visit moving from one shop to another. Here are links to a few of the shops we visited, but this isn’t all of them! Some of the shops we went to were ones we just stumbled upon!
Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to choose from! These shops have shelves upon shelves of beautiful dishes with unique patterns, and it’s a little overwhelming at first. We probably went to upwards of 7 or 8 shops, and believe it or not, all of them have different stuff to offer! They have some of the same items (i.e. mugs) but the patterns varied by store.
the newest additions to my collection (yes, we had to get all of that back to Saudi via luggage)
A couple of logistical items to help you plan your visit to Bolesławiec:
- We stayed at the Hotel Garden, which is a cool old house turned into a hotel. Each room was different, and though the place was kind of dated, that was part of its charm.
- After driving into Bolesławiec and shopping for a few hours, we had a traditional Polish dinner at Restauracja Opałkowa Chata. It was delicious, and I was excited to get some of my favorite Polish dishes: żurek and potato pancakes.
To see more pictures from our trip to Bolesławiec
, visit our Amazon album.
What do you collect? Is it something unique made only in one part of the world? Comment below with your answer!