Giovanni Poggi: a history of passion and excellence
The history of “Ceramiche San Giorgio” started with the dream of a boy, Giovanni Poggi, who wanted to be a ceramicist and to open an important workshop.
He decided to do it in his hometown, Albisola, a Ligurian city with a long artisanal tradition: the San Giorgio factory opened its doors in 1958, thanks to the partnership between master artisan Poggi and his two collaborators, Eliseo Salino and Mario Pastorino.
Albisola was a great place for experimenting and re-inventing the art of ceramics, and Giovanni Poggi’s workshop was one of the protagonists of this revolution. Numerous internationally renowned artists have worked in his furnace, and over the years it has been a true point of reference for Italian ceramics. Today, the history of the atelier continues with the same passion and consistency.
What is your story and when did you approach the world of ceramics?
Since I was a child I was fascinated by ceramics, and I used to watch the pots drying “en plein air”. That’s how I approached to this world; in fact I always used to say to my mother: “I want to become a ceramicist”.
My adventure in the world of ceramics began after my military discharge, when I decided to leave Albisola and work in the ceramic factory “C.A.S. – Ceramiche Artistiche Santa Margherita Ligure”: there I lived an important stage of my life, and I met Giuseppe Pinelli, owner of the factory, who immediately treated me like a son.
There, from 1955 to 1957, I learned new techniques and put aside the teachings of Albisola ceramics for a while, thus starting to use, for the first time, the glazes that years later I would use at the San Giorgio workshop – those glazes, applied to bowls with jagged edges, obtained a great success in Albisola, where the bright colors were a real novelty.
At the end of 1957 I finished the experience at C.A.S. and I came back with enthusiasm to Albisola, where I worked for a few months at the Fabbrica Albisolese Ceramiche. There I met the artistic director, Eliseo Salino: not only a true friendship, but also a profitable working partnership immediately was born among us, as well as with Mario Pastorino. From our conversations would then arise the dream and the common goal to open our own ceramic factory.
But this path was not simple. First we had to find a suitable place. We immediately thought about the headquarters of the Piccone factory in Albissola Marina, a former ceramic furnace; but the negotiations were not easy, because the owner did not want to rent the place to potters. However, Salino’s father managed to convince her, by taking himself the responsibility for the payments.
We inaugurated the workshop in April, in the day of San Giorgio: for this reason we decided to call the factory with the name of the saint.
What styles and techniques do you prefer?
Albisola is renowned for the traditional “white and blue” or “Antico Savona” decoration, which was introduced by the Guidobono family in the mid-17th Century. The decoration, which usually includes a human figure inserted in a landscape with a castle, has made Albisola famous all over the world. However, I feel personally more inclined towards the use of color: in fact I love the shiny and bright glazes that characterize the modern production of Ceramiche San Giorgio, such as the “stork vases”, so called because they have a very thin and long neck, and they are decorated with very bright colors.
Many important artists, such as Lucio Fontana, Asger Jorn and Wifredo Lam, who settled in Albissola between the 1950s and 1960s, chose your factory to create their pieces. What influence did they have on your work and experience as a ceramist?
I was lucky enough to work with important artists of the second half of the 20th century, each of whom gave me useful lessons. A significant working partnership often arises between an artist and a craftsman, and I have many good memories of each of them.
Fontana, for example, was always very elegant, he used to dress in white and often wore a red hat. He moved around by bike, with which he went to the atelier. He attended San Giorgio factory in 1962-1964: here he made a one-meter large in diameter plate, and he modeled original vases as well. He used to draw the pieces himself, and I shaped them on the lathe. His drawings are still hanging on the wall of the workshop, as a tangible mark of his work at Ceramiche San Giorgio.
When Asger Jorn arrived in Albisola he was already an acknowledged artist, and his art was internationally recognized. Together with Sergio Dangelo he had organized the “International Ceramics Meetings” in 1954. In 1959, in my workshop, Jorn created a panel that is today located in Aarhus (Denmark). It took us about three months of work, because it was 90 square meters big: at the time it was considered the largest ceramic panel in the world!
We proceeded in sectors of 3 square meters at a time, which were then selected, left to dry, emptied and numbered, for a total of 1250 irregular tiles. Jorn mainly used red, yellow, orange, blue and turquoise selenium-based enamels, which were very expensive at the time. They had to be prepared in buckets of 10 kilos each, and Jorn used to throw them impetuously over the piece of clay.
I share so many memories with the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam. He was a hard-working man, and he loved to paint in a peaceful environment. That’s why we used to close the workshop with curtains, so that he wasn’t disturbed by anyone. We worked side by side, and for me it was a great honor to be able to host such an important artist.
I shared him information on colours, glazes, oxides…
He used to stand still for hours and hours without getting tired or complaining. He loved experimenting new techniques and combining bright colors, and he was always curious to know the result of the work. Lam realized a wide production, ranging from plates to vases and panels. Many of these masterpieces are now exhibited in the most prestigious museums of the world, while I jealously keep others for myself, in order to display them in group exhibitions, when I proudly show them to the public.
How is the workshop organized, today? Do you have collaborators who assist you in the production?
The San Giorgio factory is a family-run workshop. The team is composed of my son Matteo, who works on the lathe, a technique which I personally taught to him; Silvana Priametto, who in the 1960s was the only woman potter, and who knows all the techniques of ceramics; and Luisa Delfino, the very talented decorator of the factory.
Then, also my brother Piero takes care of the photographic archive and cataloguing, and my niece Simona organizes exhibitions and cultural events.
Do you also organize courses or other initiatives to promote ceramics?
For some years I taught the lathe technique at the Municipal School of Ceramics of Albisola Superiore. It was a beautiful experience. Currently, I do not organize courses but in the workshop we regularly organize cultural activities, exhibitions and meetings, with the participation of the artists who work in the atelier, as well as of critics and ceramic experts.
I am glad to see that San Giorgio has been, since its foundation, and continues to be today, an important point of reference for artists and young people who, sometimes shily, approach clay for the first time, and thus need the advice of master artisans.
Do you still collaborate with artists and designers?
The collaboration with artists is very important for us. Art evolves, changes and renews itself, which is why I always welcome with great enthusiasm artists who come to experiment with ceramics, colors and different techniques. It is very inspiring to collaborate with artists, and often the artists themselves propose to others to come to us to try working with clay. So far, more than two hundred painters and sculptors have chosen our kilns to give life to their creations, and I hope that the new generations of artists will continue to come to Albisola and consider it a great place to make ceramics.
Last week, in our workshop, I felt like I was in Germany: Italian, German and English were spoken in the atelier, and there were at least six German artists at work!
What are the plans for the future of your business?
We are currently working on an important project by the artist Alfonso Borghi, which involves the creation of twelve large panels that will be placed in Castelnovo di Sotto (Reggio Emilia).
I think that new ideas and intiatives will always arise because, as I often repeat, art has the power to connect people and create wonderful bonds and collaborations.
Ceramiche San Giorgio
Corso Matteotti, 5/R – Albissola Marina (SV)
Ph: +39 019 482747