History of Polish Pottery

Maciej Idziorek, Date 21.09.2018

15th Century

The history of the Polish pottery goes back to the Middle Ages (476-1492), when a deposit of ceramic clay was discovered at the drainage basin of the rivers Bóbr and Kwisa, close to the town of Bolesławiec. This clay was ideal for the manufacturing of high quality pottery. The medieval master potters from Bolesławiec knew how to process it into long-lasting objects for daily use. The oldest records come from the municipality books of the town Świdnica, during the year 1380, in which the name of a master potter from Bolesławiec was mentioned for the first time.

16th Century

Due to the emergence of pottery guilds and workshops, the local pottery industry developed quickly. In 1511 several pottery guilds were already operating in Bolesławiec. Because of its location on the Royal Highway (Lat. Via Regia), Bolesławiec was visited by numerous merchants and traders. This brought the city to an economic boom and led to the distribution of Polish pottery throughout Europe.

17th Century

At the beginning of the 17th century the 30-year war (1618-1648) brought the development of pottery to a temporary halt. Three pottery workshops were operating in Bolesławiec at that time. The famous "Bottle of Pastor Mergo" dates back to 1640. As of 2007 this was the oldest surviving peace of the pottery from Bolesławiec.

In 2007, the landfill of a medieval ceramics workshop was discovered during archaeological excavations in Bolesławiec in ul. Piaskowa street. The archaeologists Michał Karpiński and Andrzej Olejniczak found four well preserved peaces of pottery dating back to the 15th century.

In 1762 five master potters worked in the town of Bolesławiec, each of whom had the right to hire up to ten apprentices. Thus, from the second half of the 17th century until the first half of the 19th century, the town became the most important ceramics center in the region of Śląsk.

18th Century

In the 18th century, the ceramic masters from Bolesławiec developed their own original style. Vases, jugs and pitchers decorated with white relief plant motifs and covered with a brown glaze. This changed in the second half of the 19th century. Under the influence of modern, bright pottery brought to Śląsk, the local potters began to turn away from brown glazing.

19th Century

It was the ceramic master Johann Gottlieb Altmann (1790-1851) who brought significant innovations in the manufacturing process of the ceramics in Bolesławiec. On one hand, he used clay that became white after the firing process, and on the other hand, he introduced the use of alkaline glaze. His shapes and patterns were modeld after Greek antiquities.

From the year 1838 Altmann's products gained great popularity at the court of King Frederick William III. (1770-1840). Altmann's work was shown at the London Exposition in 1844. His innovative manufacturing methods were soon adopted by other potters from Bolesławiec.

Successively a new decoration technique emarged in the second half of the 19th century. Patterns were applied, at first with a sponge, later on with the use of a rubber stamp,  over the entire surface of the pottery made of white clay. Cobalt blue motifs, initially limited to circles, dots and fish scales, were extended to further colors and motifs such as the peacock's eye, flowers and stars towards the end of the 19th century. This type of decoration predominated until 1945.

The opening of the "Royal Technical College of Ceramic" (Pl. Królewska Zawodowa Szkoła Ceramiczna) in 1897 brought a significant step in the further development of Polish pottery. The school trained the next generation of potters and explored innovative production methods, developing new shapes and patterns and experimenting with new glazings. The stone goods were now fired at temperatures up to 1300 ° C, which ensured a higher durability and longevity.

Thanks to a tight cooperation between the school and the local manufacturies and workshops, Bolesławiec's ceramics have experienced a renewed growth. As they were exhibited more often at competitions and at international fairs, they soon gained worldwide recognition. The three most important workshops of the pre-war period were the establishments of Julius Paul, Hugo Reinhold and Carl Werner.

20th Century

After the Second World War (1939-1945) the workshop "Ceramics Workshop Bolesławiec" (Pol. Zakłady Ceramiczne Boleslawiec) and the "Artistic Ceramics" founded in 1950 (Pol. Ceramika Artystyczna) started to operate. The artistic director and chief designer of "Artistic Ceramics" was from 1964 Bronisław Wolanin (1937-2013). He is considered the creator of the contemporary style.

Wolanin brought new kinds of shapes, patterns and glazing into production. It is thanks to him, that the stamping technique, which is so characteristic of Bolesławiec's ceramics, experienced its renaissance.

21st Century

At present, designers working in Bolesławiec are trying to preserve and creatively interpret local traditions, as well as introduce new shapes and patterns. The local manufactories offer a wide range of varied products and reproduce designs from 1930 as well.

The most popular pattern of Bolesławiec's ceramics is still the cobalt blue decoration with white circles, along with the peacock's eye.


Muzeum Ceramiki w Bolesławicu - Ekspozycja Stała
Bolesławiecki Ośrodek Kultury - Międzynarodowe Centrum Ceramiki - Historia Ceramiki Bolesławieckiej
Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu - Skarby Kultury - Ceramika Bolesławiecka cześć II - Teresa Milewicz
Polska Gazeta Wrocławska - Historia i przyszłość Bolesławca to ceramika...
Mowimyjak.pl - Co to są Buncolki? Historia ceramiki z Bolesławca