Lladró (pronounced “YAH-drow”) is a design house which has been creating coveted works of high porcelain since 1953. The company was founded by three brothers whose combined passion for porcelain has led to the genesis of a ceramic sculpture empire. You may recognize the name Lladro from a friend’s collection, from their stores in major cities across the world, or from browsing your parents’ or grandma’s mantle. That’s not to say “porcelain is for old people,” it’s just that it’s expensive, and perhaps an acquired taste.
A taste I had not acquired.
I was planning a trip to Valencia, Spain and I learned that it was home to Lladro’s infamous “City of Porcelain,” where all their works are designed and created. I decided to go check it out. Why not? Perhaps I could gain an appreciation for something new. The truth is, I didn’t get porcelain figurines. There. I said it. I thought of them as being unnecessarily feminine and dated.
Then I went to the City of Porcelain.
It’s not so much a city as it is a complex, which has, among other things, an impressive pyramid-like structure where the designers work, a swimming pool, and a serene and humble workshop where the artisans make their magic. If you go for a visit like I did, you can actually tour the workshop — but no photos are allowed, as they must protect their trade secrets. I can’t provide you with pictures, but here’s what I learned about the creation of Lladro porcelain:
A sculpture is first created in clay, then a plaster mold for each piece of it is made. The molds are filled with liquid porcelain, then set aside to harden. Molds are used a maximum of 25 times to ensure that each sculpture is perfect. Using liquid porcelain as adhesive, the pieces from the molds are assembled with artful precision into their designed forms. In the case of complex forms like flowers, they must be assembled petal by petal (or tiny piece by tiny piece).
Next, they are painted. The pigments used to paint the sculptures are transparent, and develop later in the kiln, so the artists tint them (so they can see where they’ve painted). This means you’ll see oddly painted figurines in hot pinks and watery purples; that color is only there to help the painter color inside the lines and isn’t necessarily indicative of the final color at all. After painting the larger portions of the sculptures, facial features are painted, using a mixture of pigment and porcelain, giving extra definition and depth to the eyes, eyebrows and mouth. As I watched the simple act of a woman painting a perfect eyebrow, I began to have a new respect for porcelain.
After the women assemble and paint the figurines (only women have ever done this role at Lladro), they are fired in the kiln at about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, and they shrink about 15%. The pieces are left to cool for 12 hours. And that’s how porcelain is made.
It’s a fascinating process to watch. So much could go wrong, and every single person who handles the items has to be a truly superior craftsperson or they would wreck someone else’s work. After seeing how the porcelain sculptures are made, it was a treat to walk around the showroom and see all the incredible pieces, some of which are so complex, it takes weeks for a whole team of artists to make them.
Lladro is continuing to step up their game by allowing hot young designers to collaborate with them on pieces for special collections. Check out the gallery above for some of the amazing works of art Lladro has created with the other designers, as well as some stunners from their own collections. You might be surprised at how modern and wonderful they are!
[Photos by Annie Scott.]