Mala Arta Ceramics Studio

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Mala Arta is a family run business whose name originates from the archipelago of Zadar (Croatia), set up by two generations of master conservator-restorers. In recent years the studio reached out to designers and artists for collaboration in developing innovative products of higher conceptual and commercial value. Such approach led them towards gaining noticeable attention in various local handicraft fairs and art and crafts markets.

Mala Arta ceramics studio was established around 1999, by master conservator-restorer with an academic background in Fine Arts and his wife who was a practicing architect. It was built around a family affiliation towards producing small series of handmade ceramics, which is continued by their son Lovro Krizman in recent years, a conservator himself.

The production process is managed completely in-house as their workshop is equipped with wedge tables, clay mixers, series of moulds, hand tools, kilns and several workstations for each of the production stages. Coming from a long line of conservator-restorers, some project-based commissions include mould making for repairing old facades, altars and other architectural elements.
Material composition of their pieces varies as they work both with natural materials and processed clay. All the products within their assortment are hand moulded, painted and glazed, each phase under close inspection of one of the three skilled potters currently employed by the company, specialized in their own domains (sculpting and modelling, moulding and casting, glazing and colouring, etc.)

Moulding process of raw material adapts according to the requirements of each of the series. Slip moulding is used for casted products aimed for a serial production, while press moulding is preferred for unique hand-thrown clay products.
The production process of the press moulded pieces begins with rolling out a large thick slab of clay, clearing the imperfections and dra-ping it over the chosen plaster mould. Excess clay is then removed and all edges trimmed. After that the material is pressed to shape into the mould using fingers or customized pouncing tool to smooth it out and then to dry. So-called greenware pottery is ready for its first firing (bisque firing) when it stops evaporating, reaching room temperature. In this state, bone dry greenware is still extremely brittle and can break easily and should be loaded into the kiln with care using correct firing temperature, at 1100 degrees Celsius for the first bisque firing (which turns clay into ceramic by process of sintering) and between 960 and 1060 degrees Celsius when firing it for the second time after glazing. The higher the temperature, the less porous the ware becomes and its fabric tightens. Kilns temperature should decrease slowly after reaching the desired temperature to avoid cracks and breaking.
Glazing is required for all items of earthenware that are meant to hold liquid. Along with it a layer of coating is added and fused with the ceramic during the second firing, usually introducing colour, decorative designs or simply sealing the inherent porosity of the material. In order to hand paint and decorate the models underglaze is applied with different oxide pigments, which later get covered by the coating, leaving its surface smooth. When fired for the second time the body will show all the visual patterns, effects and other trademarks of Mala Arta’s collections.
All multi-coloured collections require an additional, third firing since they need to be glazed twice, from the inside and out. This prolongs the average production time, but is considered one of their trademarks.

House emblem of sorts, however, is their small scale replica of Mediterranean stone houses that originated from a family photo collection, each piece representing an authentic location from their travels. It later became a popular souvenir, still being one of their top selling products, recognized both for its traditional motifs and quality of the making. On demand up to 150 can be produced in a day, each going through several heat-treatment and glazing stages after initial press moulding. The final stage requires several stamping procedures, adding window fronts and doors, after which multiple colouring sequences are painted on different surfaces, putting terracotta on the roof, and up to three colours on the sides of the ceramic house, each carefully applied avoiding fingerprints and other marks, removing dripping and pouring while leaving to dry.
Other notable ceramics handcrafted in Mala Arta are thin tableware and decor collections with distinct firing and glazing techniques that highlight the features of the material, its coloration and texture. One particular staple collection is the black clay set of decorative cups recognizable by its deep brown colour palette and ostensive raw texture after bisque firing, without glaze finish.