Meet Salvatore Mirenda, owner and master ceramicist at La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte in Montelupo Fiorentino. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and, more important, learning from him how to make a vase – about a fifth the size of one he’d already made, which I used as a model.
But first I met Salvatore’s son, Matteo, who speaks English pretty well. Matteo took me on a one-hour tour of La Galleria’s production facility – absolutely fascinating. There are eight employees, including Salvatore, who are responsible for all the work produced through La Galleria. Each has a specific responsibility on the production line.
Then, Matteo took me to the showroom, which was stunning. The sheer volume of pots and varied designs in this room made my jaw drop. I commissioned a large spaghetti bowl and two spaghetti plates with a traditional Montelupo design. Matteo told me, “Usually, the item you make with Salvatore is limited to a single glaze color, but because he had to take care of his father the day you were scheduled to work with him, I will offer to have your vase glazed to match the design of the bowl and plates you ordered. It’s my small way to say thank you for your kindness and understanding.” That was over-and-above customer service, which is what La Galleria strives to achieve. I cannot wait to receive my souvenirs in January or February 2020.
Matteo also explained that La Galleria works directly with William-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Olive Garden on exclusive designs that are sold or displayed worldwide in their retail stores. I relayed to Matteo that, years ago, when Dane and I were dining at Olive Garden, I remarked that I loved the large Italian ceramic pots displayed throughout the restaurant. I asked the manager where Olive Garden procures its pots, but he didn’t know. Mystery solved!
I asked about Deruta pottery, and what the difference was between those and the pots created in Montelupo. Very matter-of-factly, Matteo said, “It’s different. Montelupo pottery is from Montelupo. Deruta is a type of pottery from the Umbria region. Different clay; different design.” Ho capito, Matteo.
Montelupo is about a half hour’s train ride from Firenze – far from the tourists and the hustle and bustle. “If you want to experience a real Italian town and see the true way we live and work, you have to get away from Firenze and visit a town like Montelupo,” Matteo said. The Arno River runs through both Firenze and this sleepy little town. In fact, all the clay used to produce ceramics with the Montelupo mark is harvested and produced in Montelupo.
I found the clay to be dryer than that which I’m used to throwing. It requires the constant addition of water, whereas the Laguna 900 clay I throw, I use as little water as possible. Another unique practice: Salvatore doesn’t use a sponge. Matteo offered to give me a sponge, but I said I’d try to make my vase without one – “Come fai a Montelupo,” I said to Salvatore, which made him laugh in agreement.
Our visit to La Galleria was truly one of the highlights of our trip to Florence. The Mirenda family made this experience memorable. I am grateful.