Interview with Lorenzo Andrei, Owner and Commercial Director of Poggi Ugo.
You have taken up your grandfather’s trade. When did you find out that it would be yours, too?
In a certain sense, I didn’t have any choice – I just fell into it. The kiln was close to the house and since I played where the workers were, they were all like uncles to me.
During my summer vacations, I learned they trade. Everyone in my family truly had a passion for this work. When he was three years old, my son roamed around among the craftsmen like I had done.
In practice, we do not even use Autocad. Innovation lies in the collaboration with designers for the creation of new forms. We also do custom-made work and work after designs, and this is undoubtedly a stimulus.
When the craftsman is attentive to the beauty of the object and to the satisfaction of the client, details like the price do not matter.
How much of the tradition around Impruneta has influenced your work and the forms of your products?
Our company is situated next to a kiln that dates back to 1200. In 1919 my great-grandfather got a kiln and started up our family’s business. Until the Fifties, we did the traditional work of Impruneta: for example, we fired articles for building and the classic jars equipped with special thermal inertia properties to preserve food. From 1946 onwards, that is, when exportation towards Germany became intense, Poggi Ugo had to come to terms with German taste, which demanded simpler, more functional forms. In 2002, another development was decided upon: to give objects lines of design that were innovative but at the same time not too extreme, so as to allow a “duration of taste”, or of appreciation, for an object that was meant to last for decades and would have an aesthetic that would survive changing trends in fashion.
Manufacturing is now specialized in pieces to put in gardens, but at the same time, together with design objects, we continue to produce traditional vases like those of the Medici, or those with festoons and coats of arms on them.
What is done by hand and what is done by machine?
Twelve craftsmen work with us. Everything is done by hand, mainly with three different processes: moulding by hand, the shell technique, the coil. The mould is made by hand in order to press the material in a less violent way than machines do. The shell technique instead consists of covering an overturned model with large strips of clay that then go on to shape the object. The third technique, which is also used for very big vases, is the most noble but also the most difficult – the coil method without a model, freehand.
What relationship do you have with new forms of technology?
In practice, we do not even use Autocad. Innovation lies in the collaboration with designers for the creation of new forms. We also do custom-made work and work after designs, and this is undoubtedly a stimulus. One of the few novelties brought to our processes has been to brush slip onto the newly-made object in cases where the object requires a special colour.
You have spoken of designers who collaborate with you. Can you say that they know the material that they want their projects to be executed in?
I do not agree with those craftsmen who look down on designers because they think they do not have the qualifications for putting forward their views, or because they are not “in the trade”. Obviously we are the terracotta experts, and that is precisely why we must try to guide their designs in the direction of greater feasibility, but at the same time also find possible solutions to the challenges that they propose to us.
What is the clientele for your works?
We export in 30 countries worldwide, and 70-80% of our clients are foreigners. Over the past few years, we have noticed that there are younger people among our buyers, often architects or designers. All of our clients are fundamentally interested in the quality of our products. When the craftsman is attentive to the beauty of the object and to the satisfaction of the client, details like the price do not matter. The vase must be the most beautiful and the most proportionate possible. Taking, for example, a vase of 2 meters in diameter, at the moment of deciding on the height, even one centimetre more or less makes a difference to us. It does not make sense to have lower prices with respect to our competitors – our competition comes from the quality.
How do you perceive the role of institutions in the management, promotion and protection of art professions?
There is no support on the part of the institutions. At times it happens that they suggest a trade fair, but with the wrong target. At times there is more politics than the interests of craftsmanship involved. In 1990, a law was passed, law 188, for the “protection of artistic and traditional ceramics and high-quality Italian ceramics”. The law is very important on paper, but on a practical level it is dead letter, above all at Impruneta. 35 cities were identified as “CAT”, that is, they respect the standards of traditional artistic ceramics in their productions. Impruneta is one of these, but nothing has happened, the brand of tutelage was not created.
What could institutions do to be useful?
Speaking of only one single context like Florence, we must draw up a census of historical craftsmen, in order to orient people who want to restore an antique piece of furniture or fit our their garden, bur have no idea as to who to go to. We must created clients’ needs.
The institutions could provide targeted economic assistance, open public offices with an internet site that could be a pole of reference for all craftsmen.
Are young people interested in this profession? Do you have young collaborators?
In the Eighties, it had become difficult to find young people who wanted to get involved in this profession. Now there are more of them – often foreigners.
Specific training schools in this sector do not exist, but that’s not a serious problem – the important thing is that young people come to us to learn, in the field.