It pays to have local connections. They throw up the door to experiences you might not have otherwise. Take this experience in Deruta, Italy, for example.
We’d been in Italy for several days when our local friend Dawn said she’d like to introduce us to her favorite ceramics gallery. Now I’m more of a food person, think buttery burrata, fresh angliotti, chocolate gelato, or anything you’d eat out of a ceramics bowl rather than the ceramic itself. But I deferred to my colleagues and we drove through the Tiber Valley south of Perugia to Deruta.
Deruta is famous for its ceramics. Pieces from this ancient ceramics center have made their way into galleries and museums around the world. And I was soon to discover why.
As soon as we stepped into the gallery, Dawn introduced us to Michael, a soft-spoken Italian, who came to greet us. Michael oversees the production of each piece as well as the gallery where they’re displayed.
Though he spoke fluent English, he requested that Dawn translate. “It’s important that you understand the details of what we do accurately.”
Most who visit the gallery never step foot beyond beyond the main display floor. But Michael walked us past the glass shelves displaying brilliant blue platters, ornate bowls, and towering vases to the shop beyond where a cluster of artisans busily worked. Mauro, one of two potters, gently shaped and pulled up the wall of a soon-to-be masterpiece.
An eighty-four-year old master painter lead a team of twelve painters who first outlined the designs and then filled them in with color.
Each piece here takes an average of fifteen days to create. Some take as many as two days just to paint. The detail and patience and quality wrapped in each piece is unbelievable! It’s a true art form.
“A number of years ago we could have painted anything we wanted,” said Michael. “As long as the product said, ‘Made in Italy’ Americans would buy it. Not now. The more educated and further refined tastes of Americans demand finer products.”
And fine quality is what they deliver. Michael and his team work with architects and buyers from around the country. One of their most renowned works was commissioned by the Vatican Council who wanted to refinish the façade panels of one of the Vatican museums.
I asked Michael how he’d come to work in the ceramics business. He smiled. “I was born on the same day as the owner’s oldest son. Our mothers met in the hospital and our families have remained fast friends.”
I couldn’t help but think that just hours before my insides had sagged at the thought of a visit to the gallery. Now I’d made a new acquaintance whose personal stories and behind-the-scenes look opened up a world I never would have explored on my own. There’s definitely something to be said for local connections and local experiences.
What are some local connection experiences that have made your travel experience come alive?