The Polish pottery lottery
Perhaps you’re new to Europe and you haven’t caught the buzz. Maybe you’re resisting the temptation to make that first purchase because you know you’ll soon be addicted and can’t stop at just a couple of pieces. Or, maybe you’re itching to take a trip either through a tour or with friends and family to get a whole set for yourself. When it comes to Polish pottery, most people stationed in Europe find it hard to say no. And why should you? Living in Europe means you have the opportunity to go to the source and find the best prices for the highest quality of pieces and unique styles only found with certain factories. Plus, it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. You’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot in the Polish pottery lottery.
How it started
Boleslawiec, the little Polish town well-known for its pottery, is located in Lower Silesia, near the German and Czech borders, founded more than 760 years ago, first under Bohemian, then Prussian (German) rule. Folk artists creating ceramics in the town are documented as far back as the 15th century. Originally called Bunzlau when its pottery became well-known, you may hear a reference to “Bunzlauer” pottery as well as Polish or Boleslawiec pottery.
After WWII, the town was annexed into Poland, renamed Boleslawiec and its German residents were expelled. The Polish citizens wanted to keep the craft alive and re-opened the factories using the same traditional methods in making ceramics as the Germans. Many German ceramic artists whose families had made the pottery for generations continued to make Bunzlauer pottery in Germany.
Five generations of the Frommhold family have made Bunzlauer pottery and still do today. However, pottery crafted from Boleslawiec factories is now marked “Made in Poland.”
How it's made
Polish pottery from Boleslawiec is special for one reason: the clay. Naturally forming, abundant and excavated near town, this smooth white clay produces quality, durable stoneware that allows for a rich glaze color.
The pottery is of a functional, utilitarian design, made for everyday use and care. Originally the crocks were for storage of dairy products and other harvested and cured items of simple decoration and color. Potatoes or sea sponges were used to stamp designs onto the clay. Today, artists use specially designed sponge stamps and brushes to create the motifs with rich blues, creams, greens, yellows and sometimes red and purple glazes. You’ll also find designs for an array of functional and dinnerware uses, with patterns of dots, swirls, hearts and stars, stripes, flowers, leaves and one of the oldest and most popular, peacock eyes. Some patterns, such as the peacock eyes, have been around for generations, while others are seasonal or specific only to certain factories. Pieces marked with UNIKAT mean they are unique, made by one artist throughout the entire production process, and are of higher value. Those marked with 1 or 2 are more durable, such as oven and dishwasher safe, and also are more valuable and expensive.
How to find it
The demand for Polish pottery has increased in the States due to popularity among U.S. families stationed in Europe. Therefore, a few designs and styles are available at limited retailers in the states or online at very expensive prices. There are also a handful of retail facilities near European communities where U.S. military and DoD civilians are stationed. During the holidays, Polish pottery is also available at bazaars on installations. Although they offer better variety and prices than those found online or stateside, the pottery is still not inexpensive. You can also buy Polish pottery at your local BX/PX in individual shops or inside the main exchange store in housewares, where limited styles and designs are available.
For the best prices, best choice of designs and the ultimate shopping experience, either plan your own shopping trip to Boleslawiec, or check with your local Force Support Squadron, MWR and USO for Polish pottery shopping tours. Each year a few excursions are scheduled that provide bus rides to and from the most famous and popular factories. Meet new people, make new friends and buy either a whole set or special pieces for yourself and your family back home. If you're feeling adventurous, head out to the Polish Pottery Festival mid-August in Boleslawiec and take advantage of the amazing selection and vendors. Many unique and hard to find pieces can be found at the festival for decent prices. No matter what you buy, you’re experiencing a shopping adventure that goes back more than 750 years. Have fun!