About coincidence, the spirit of ceramics and following a passion: Ada di Ravello.

Ada Franzesi started as an artisan at the age of 17 under the name and label “Ada di Ravello”. Her inspiration comes from curiosity and fun at work. The ceramic pieces stand out mainly for the unique technique and are requested by the restaurants of the Amalfi Coast. At the moment for health reasons she devotes herself to the passion for audio books and the laboratory is temporarily managed by her father in the same recognizable style. Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/adadiravello, http://www.adadiravello.it/ and in Ravello (SA), Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Q – How old are you and where are you from?

Ada – I am 25 years old and I am from Ravello in the Amalfi Coast, origins from Salerno. I am working already in the third generation. My father and my grandfather were in the sector, but not as artisans. They worked in factories on the industrial level, while I am the first in the family to have had a craft laboratory, where I made everything myself, from decoration to production.

Q – What is your educational background?

Ada – I graduated from the classical high school, then I studied Visual Art in Bologna. I chose this course because it seemed to fit my habits, character and what I was doing at that moment without however precluding myself from other possibilities. I often change ideas and occupation, I like to change, so in this sense I chose a study course that also allowed me to get a more or less artistic training in 360 degrees. In fact, it turned out well, because even now at the radio (Current occupation, comment) I can use many of the skills that I have achieved at university. So, it turned out fine.

Q – How did your family react when you wanted to dedicate yourself to art in a serious way?

Ada – It happened almost by accident, there wasn’t the one clear moment of deciding. The story developed when a friend of my father’s asked my father for helping setting up a small laboratory. He had a passion for ceramics, in his youth he also used to work with ceramics, and he wanted to retake this passion. So my father helped putting up this laboratory, and I used to go and play there with the ceramics, since he was a friend of the family. I used to go also with friends to experiment with the ceramics until one summer, I was in the fourth year of high school, I needed some money to go on vacation. I decided to make a small selection of the best pieces that had come out from that winter and I tried to sell them. To my parents it seemed like a good idea. I found customers by directly going to the people in town, with the box of the pieces, saying “Hello, good morning, I’m Ada, I’m 17, … Can I show you something, are you interested in a particular pottery?”. My pieces stand out also by the eye, and this is the feature that brought me the most forward, that my ceramics was very recognizable. Practically from there it became an occupation, because I had a good response from the shops of the Coast and they confirmed me also for the summer after that. Later we moved and had set up another laboratory, an extra oven, and it became something more articulate and less amateurish.”

Q – And now your dad takes care of the laboratory?

Ada – Yes. He follows the same line, the same drawings and techniques. Clearly, he draws them a little differently, so if you compare them to one of mine, you see that they are done by different artists. However, he does nothing different from what I did. And for now, he will continue, at least until I really recover my back, because at the moment the physical ceramic work is still not possible for me. It also seems paradoxical, at 25, but so it is. I had to undergo surgery to solve my problem on the back caused by the hard work and lifting required by my profession.

Q – What other hobbies and passions do you have?

Ada – I hope that working ceramics professionally can also become a hobby. It is indeed a passion. It is something that allows me to express myself, and above all to show myself, in a certain sense. It’s in the colors, the nuances, it shows the humors. There is a difference between the pieces I decorate in the morning and the pieces I decorate in the afternoon. In the morning sometimes they are all the same, because I am tired. Before I really wake up, they all go out in series. But then, in the afternoon, they become more creative, as if I opened up.

For the moment I focus on my studies again. I am specializing in audio books, another one of my passions, playing with my voice. I’m making vocal trainings, in canon, interpretative, advertising, and more. So, my life has changed quite a bit.

Q – So you also sing?

Ada – Yes, I mostly sing popular music. Pizzica, Tammuriata, Tarantella,… I have given myself to folklore. I’ve always been passionate about it, went to festivals. Now I’m doing all this work on the voice, and so what I sing is folklore lyrics and songs. They also fit really well to my vocal extension.

Q – Do you do this in collaboration?

Ada – No, this is all about my initiative, I do it by myself. All I do with the radio, on the other hand, the promo recordings, the audio books, etc., I do in cooperation with a production company in Rome. It would also be nice to have a collaboration with a local group on popular music, but at the moment I don’t have the time.

Q – Going back to the ceramics, at what moment did you found the business?

Ada – After my first sales I continued. I started with the registration of the VAT number as soon as possible. At the beginning my father supported me.

Q – Where does your knowledge about ceramics come from?

Ada – From my family, my childhood. Then I decided to turn it into a job, and I am also a curious person, so I went to see different laboratories and did courses in particular techniques around Italy, in Faenza, Deruta, Caltagirone. I also went to have fun, if I was interested in a particular technique, such as raku, lusterware, reduction, I went to do courses.

So the base came from my family, but everything I put into it was also from a desire to have fun and to not make it feel like a job. It is a very physical job, and it also leads you to be alone. At full production speed, you are practically a full day in a laboratory alone. You need to have nerves for this. But it also gives you the possibility of thinking, the possibility of pulling out everything you want, precisely because you are not tied to other influences. Since you sometimes feel like a worker on an assembly line, it was important for me to make it remain a hobby in some sense, to keep the fun in it. Moreover, I’ve always tied it to other types of work, and so I didn’t see it as my main job but an additional one. I was not tied to any schedule, I could all summer work in a restaurant as a waitress, just to alternate and rotate (in winter, however, you’re in the laboratory, to produce and then sell in the summer). Not being tied to any schedule allowed me to use my time in many ways, also work in the middle of the night in the laboratory if I wanted. And so it didn’t seem like a job, although I still produced things that I later sold.

Q – How did you describe or characterize your artistic style?

Ada – I would say that my style is “naif”, a little revisited combination of classic and modern. I do take elements of our ceramic tradition and revisit them, modernize them and reread them in a certain way.

The pieces are all recognizable pieces, they are characterized by particular enamels, particular colors, a particular effect. I would say the drawing is relative, because the decor I use is based on old ceramic decorations by “Ernestine”, a ceramics designer who founded a production company from the 50s (and she played an important role for reviving Ceramics in her time). Since my grandfather had practically started there, he had these old drawings and sketches from Ernestine. I got inspired by them, changed them a little, updated them to modern forms, and so with my technique and the drawings came out very recognizable pieces, up to the point of becoming a signature. And this also helped me a lot in the social media, because everyone who sees a piece, even it wasn’t written, it was clear that it was mine.

And this means that beyond the glaze and effect I was talking about, I use only four colors – Blue, Yellow, Green and Orange.

Q – How did you choose these colors?

Ada – Firstly, they mostly got well abided and secondly, their chemical composition allows to be used with the crystalline. The technique I use is making an “cracked-effect”, and this effect is called craquelee. Not all colors can be used with the crystalline necessary in this. In winter I often experimented and from all these experiments I managed to extract these 4 colors. To remain then in the technique, I also have to use these colors, unless I do more experiments to find others.

Q – Who is your favorite designer?

Ada – Gio Ponti. It was an important Italian designer, made optical things, a little ’60s style, that are very much found in ceramics. Those are also very recognizable. For me, the style and the shapes also represent a bit my childhood. My grandfather was also inspired by him. So at home it was all full of books, catalogs, images, and those kept impressing me as a child. Growing up, I discovered that he was a great Italian designer. Vases, carafes, pitchers. Staying almost monochromatic, he mostly experimented with shapes.

Q – And in your own art?

Ada – Flowers and other traditional elements, always the ones from Ernestine’s ceramics. Same drawings and forms. I use her old sketches. I also intend to make a catalog or a book of the material, because I think it is also part of the heritage of humanity.

Q – Your inspiration, where does it come from?

From the joy in the work, and from the culture and landscape that surround me, the colours and the tastes. Also, I always liked to do many different things, try out new things, combine various of my passions. In other projects I also worked together with food because I often produced ceramic for restaurants. In private villas I also sometimes worked as a personal cook, I did many different jobs. This is something that characterizes me a little, that continues in my career.

Q – Your definition of a well-made pottery?

Ada – If it has its own spirit. As you then become more proficient, you realize, that so much of the ceramic around can also have a defect. But that does not matter, what matters is that the piece carries something, that it has a spirit. In fact, I also believe that the defect brings additional value.

Q – What do you like about your work?

Ada – Not having to be in contact with an audience, nor a customer. I enjoy the days in the laboratory, feel the music and be on my own, being able to put some ideas of mine into the pieces. Then, the thing I don’t like is going to the customers.

Q – Anything that would have been useful to know before?

Ada – That it can be useful to do some stretching in the morning, take care of your health, and that fine particles are bad for your health. I worked too much without masks or anything. I had types of headaches that may have been caused by fine dust. And with my back at the moment, I am not able to practice. At the age of 18, you feel indestructible.

From an entrepreneurial point of view, I actually liked to discover things. Learn slowly, step by step. Also, because the numbers of the pieces were really small, which from an entrepreneurial point of view was not too complicated. At first of course it was a bit stressful, because it was new, but in this my father could help me.

Q – What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing craftsmanship?

Ada – Don’t give up when faced with difficulties. Crafting is often risky, we talk about small numbers of pieces, but still structures, investments, machines are needed. So, my advice would be not to let obstacles bring you down. Keep the courage to go ahead and carry on with your project, because it’s amazing and great having put those obstacles behind you and seeing your own pieces in someone’s shop or someone’s window.

TITLES OF THE PICTURES, FROM 2016

Ada Franzesi and in the background the superb Ravello

Ada while painting in her attic

Decoration of a dish

Hand decorated plate

Coffee cups with ceramic saucer

“TRADITION” – Agerola biscuited bread on a bed of rocket and onions with beef heart

“FIOR DI FANTASIA” – Quenelle with sheep’s milk ricotta and chopped pistachios and brown sugar

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