Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Austria on a Plate

Arnie probably has a piece in the Governor’s mansion but don’t look for it in a California mall. Despite the globalization of shopping, our favourite tableware, Gmundner Keramik, handmade by artisans in a fairytale Austrian town, is hard to find outside of Austria. Inside Austria, it’s another story. According to the company’s website, 87% of the nation’s population recognizes the brand and 50% of households own at least one piece. With those kinds of metrics, we’re not talking about plain old pottery, we’re talking about a national institution that Austrians commune with daily over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So why is this pottery so important to the national psyche? Like all things Austrian, tradition has a role to play. Using local clay and protected by powerful guilds, the town of Gmunden in Austria’s lake district has been a ceramic centre for over 300 years. The timeless designs from this region, inspired by the shapes and colours of the countryside are part of the Austrian national patrimony.

But you don’t have to be Austrian to love this tableware. In a world saturated with mass produced dross, each piece of hand-painted Gmundner is a work of art that can nevertheless be used in a microwave and dishwasher. One of the oldest and most famous designs, Gruengeflammt, with green swirls on a white background, looks surprisingly fresh and modern on a contemporary table. There are over 500 different shapes to choose from and each piece is handled over 60 times before it reaches the customer. And the price of all this hand produced artistry? Less than you would think. Small gift articles such as vases, cups and ash trays can be had for less than €10. Dinner plates are €12.90 and a large coffee pot will set you back €39.50.

Gmundner ceramics are sold all over Austria. With 87% brand recognition, all you need to do is ask someone where to find them. You can also find Gmundner Keramik in many stores in Germany and other central European countries (check the website for dealers). If you are really keen, you can visit the picture-perfect town of Gmunden on Lake Traunsee and take a guided tour of the factory and shop-till-you-drop in the factory store. This is something we would really love to do.

But for now, we are stuck at our desk here in London with our Gmundner Gruengeflammt coffee cup in hand trying to figure out how to close this post. OK, here goes. If you travel to Austria in the near future, and we strongly suggest that you do, bring back a piece of Gmundner and see what happens. We did that about 17 years ago and 124 pieces of Gmundner Keramik later, we still value each and every memory associated with these lovingly produced and beautiful dishes.

Gmundner Keramik
Keramikstrasse 24
A-4810 Gmunden
Tel: 43 (0)7612 7860
Fax: 43(0)7612 78699

Photo courtesy of the Gmundner Keramik website

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