If you walk around the island for awhile, you’ll notice there are beautifully coloured ceramics everywhere from window sills to doorways, from street signs to restaurant signs, from gorgeous murals on the front of buildings to tiny tiles of house numbers. If you take a close look, you may notice that in the corner of many of these signs is written Keramos d’Ischia. These custom hand-made signs come from the ceramics shop Keramos d’Ischia in Forio, owned and run by Gaetano De Nigris and Nello Di Leva. Keramos means pottery in Greek and the name looks back on the Greek beginnings of Ischia, then called Pithecusae which was a major commercial hub for the ceramics trade during ancient Greek times. The island’s rich volcanic soil was perfect for natural clay and this is also a big explanation of why you can find ceramic studios all over the island.
Last week, I took my friend Christa Scalise, a fellow American with Ischitani roots, to visit Keramos and have a tour of the studio. We had the best time with Gaetano, who told us all about the ceramic making process and showed us how everything is done in the studio. The works are first done on the pottery wheel, which Gaetano, while showing us, affectionately summoned the Hollywood blockbuster film with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. ‘Like Ghost,’ he said.
Once the ceramic work is finished, it is baked in an oven at 1000 degrees centigrade. This allows for all the gases within the clay to evaporate. However, the work is not shoved in while the oven is piping hot, but put in while it is still cool and then the oven is turned on. Once it reaches 1000 degrees, it shuts off and the temperature gradually descends back to room temperature. The whole baking process takes 18 hours. Once cool again, the ceramics are taken out and ready for the next step.
The work is then dipped into a white enamel. Once it dries to a matte finish, the painter, usually Nello, creates the design. When that is done, the work is put back in the oven at slightly cooler 960 degrees centigrade, 30 degrees less to ensure that whatever gases are still left in the clay don’t evaporate so quickly that it breaks through the enamel and paint and causes the whole work to crack.
It was a really fun visit. Christa and Gaetano hit it off. He was such a riot, and we made all kinds of videos and took selfies with him. We also went home with lots of goodies, I got some presents to bring back when I go home and also a pretty plant pot for myself.
One of the great things about the studio is that they make both traditional and modern designs and everything is hand-made right there in the studio. Gaetano’s family has been making ceramics in Ischia for the last 400 years, so you can imagine the level of craftsmanship these folks have and you can watch them work while browsing the shop.
They used to be based in Piazza Maio in Casamicciola, but sadly their shop suffered significant damage during the earthquake in 2017 and like everyone else in that area, they had to leave. However, with a lot of resilience and tenacity, less than a year later, they moved to their present location in Forio, a short walk from the centre. As with any move, it takes awhile to settle into a place, but from watching the people coming into the shop to talk to Nello and Gaetano, it looks like people really welcome and support this shop.
You should definitely stop by for a visit and if you come at the beginning of your trip, you can even ask them to make you a custom-made ceramic house sign or house number. (It takes about 5 days before it’s ready.)
Keramos d’Ischia Via Giovanni Castellaccio 93 80075 Forio (NA) +39 081 333 0142
Also, check out an early post about my love for Italian ceramics and its history.
——————————————————————————————————————–PS If you’re interested in visiting Ischia and would like a hand in helping you plan your itinerary and perhaps have a behind the scenes tour of Keramos, I offer travel planning services here on the island and you can send me an email.