The late-winter sky looked gray and gloomy outside Damariscotta Pottery, tucked unceremoniously in a basement near the Damariscotta River.
Inside, though, it looked like summer had burst onto the scene. Shelves in the small studio abounded with pieces of majolica pottery painted with flowers and other designs in luscious oranges, cheerful yellows, deep blues, fresh greens and rich reds. The poppies, chrysanthemums, tulips, daisies, daffodils and more evoked a feeling filled with more sunshine and warmth than is usually found in Maine in late February.
“Being around all this beautiful color — it’s a cozy place to be,” Ramone Hanley-Warren, one of the artists who works at Damariscotta Pottery, said.
Owner and founder Rhonda Friedman agrees, although 40 years ago when she started her tiny one-woman business with the help of a bank loan that totaled just $3,000, she never could have imagined it expanding into the thriving, vibrant studio with seven full and part-time employees today.
“When I started, I didn’t think about it,” the 63-year-old said. “I was so young. But this has definitely been a good place to be. I feel very, very lucky.”
Friedman moved to Maine from New York state when she was in her 20s simply because she just knew it was the right place for her to live. She had studied pottery making in college. And she chose to focus her attention on majolica ware because her parents had made a trip to Spain and Portugal when she was small and had stuffed their suitcases with a lot of examples of that particular kind of pottery.
The majolica technique dates back to 10th century Persia, she said, when the craftsmen there were trying to recreate the blue and white ware the king had been given by the emperor of China. Eventually, many of the Persian potters migrated to Morocco and Spain, and merchants on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain exported so much pottery that it became known as “majolica.”
“My parents came back with all this pottery, and I think it really had an effect on me,” Friedman said. “And more than anything, I think it had to do with being able to draw and design and paint and color and make pottery.”
Making majolica ware incorporates all those things. First, Friedman and her potters form red earthenware clay into bowls, mugs, plates and more, and then fire them in the electric kiln. They dip the fired pots into a special white glaze, let them dry and then design and paint on top of the glaze, which has been formulated to allow the paint lines to be crisp and precise. The pieces return to the kiln for a final firing, which deepens the colors, and then they are finished.
“Each piece is different,” Friedman said. “I like having something to constantly work at and keep trying to be good at. There’s always ways to change and improve what you’re doing, and I like that.”
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