Eye on Design | Copenhagen | Fired Up

I don’t know if it’s because of the porcelain tradition started in 1775 by Royal Copenhagen (above), or just because the long winters are so cold and dark that it makes sense to have a kiln going, but there are multitudes of ceramic designers in Denmark.

One of my reasons for going to Copenhagen was to check out the annual craft market, Kunsthåndværkermarked. (Yes, that’s a mouthful…Danish is not a language I was able to learn much of!) I was surprised to see that ceramics beat out textiles and jewelry in numbers by a long shot.

Inge Vincents

Pia Lund

The variety was endless, but I was particularly drawn to the work of Maj (pronounced “my”) Winther Christensen.  The shapes are flawless in their simplicity, and her subtle color palette of white, pale blue, and soft black was right up my alley.  I visited her studio, where she showed me the process of making porcelain…let me tell you, seeing how time consuming and painstaking the craft is gave me new appreciation of my tea cup.

Cream pitchers made by Maj Winther Christensen

Liquid porcelain is poured into a plaster mold.  The molds are made by hand, often trying out many versions before the shape is just right.  After the porcelain sets, it is poured out, leaving a thin layer that adheres to the plaster.  When that layer dries, the piece shrinks slightly so it can be removed and fired in the kiln.  Glazed and fired two more times, the whole process can take up to five days.  Maj then adds yet another step, lightly sanding the outside surface of the glaze to make it a soft matte.

Studio of Maj Winther Christensen

Porcelain kiln in Maj’s studio

There are stacks of “rejects” in her studio, a result of often frustrating complications…the kiln was too hot, not hot enough, the glaze didn’t fire evenly, the shape was altered in the firing process…Maj takes it all in stride.  It’s all part of the process for her, in fact she says it feeds her creativity.

Plaster molds and porcelain rejects

Maj will spend weeks perfecting the shape and size of a cup.  Recently, she came up with a design for a drinking cup, and found that the difference in height of one centimeter made it more of a vase than a cup.  Experimenting with handles, shapes, and sizes can take weeks, but she loves every minute.

Prototype for cup with handle

She laughs about the fact that, with all the time she spends perfecting the designs, her best selling products are her simple square salt and pepper cellars.

Salt and pepper cellars

The craftspeople are as interesting and distinct as their designs.  Maj comes from a family of enterprising artists.  Her father and a brother are both carpenters, and another brother is a graphic designer.  She has collaborated with all of them, currently making porcelain covers for a cheese board made by her father.  Working as a fitness trainer during the day means that she is often working late into the night in her studio.

Maj Winther Christensen, demonstrating her pitcher and drinking cup

Jacob Fiedler met his business partner, Helene Keiss soon after they both finished art school.  They work together making teardrop shaped vases, and delicate bowls in a rainbow of pale colors that mix and match.  Helene paints a version of the Royal Copenhagen stylized floral pattern inside some of the bowls.  They now live together, and their personal partnership has made its mark on the business in the form of the trademark on the bottom of their products: “K + F” inside a heart.

Jacob Fiedler

The cobblestone street of Straedet is peppered with shops selling the products of the ceramics community in Copenhagen.  Liebe is the shop and studio of designer, Susan Liebe.  Inspired by vintage 1970’s wall art, she makes ceramic birds in flight that would be wonderful on a baby’s room wall.  She also makes whimsical dishes and vases, jewelry, and wall plaques, and covered boxes with vintage bead knobs sewn onto their lids.  Her work has been featured in several Danish interiors magazines.  When I was there, she was cutting out and placing ceramic glaze colored dots and starbursts onto simple bowls…adding a playfulness to otherwise utilitarian shapes.

Both photos above, work of Susan Liebe

Susan Liebe

Competitors or friends?  This is the question I asked Maj, regarding the great number of ceramics designers in Copenhagen.  The answer was, not surprisingly, “A little bit of both!”

Vases made by Lise Damsager Hansen

See SHOP category for Maj Winther Christensen sugar and creamer sets.