Chasing Clay: Denmark / Part 1 July 27 2016

How to summarize this nordic magic into a blog post? I have been avoiding writing about it for over a year just to escape this very issue! we go:

Journeying from Reykjavik, we landed at 1am local time in Copenhagen. We took the train from the airport into Vesterbro, aided by a friendly local who could see we were obviously not from Denmark and needed a bit of direction. We knew we were arriving in town in the middle of the Distortion music festival which sounded exciting, and had booked our Air BnB in the same neighbourhood but were not fully prepared for what this actually meant -- complete hedonistic chaos in the streets.

Picture two harried travellers lugging broken roller-suitcases through a mass of 100,000 very drunk twenty-somethings. That was the longest night of my life... the festival went on and on into the wee morning hours. Soon the sun came up and our intro to Copenhagen was having beer cans thrown at our door, people urinating everywhere, and J being confronted by a stoned bodybuilder demanding we direct him to the "nearest prostitute!" Velkommen!

From there on out, everything was wonderful. We knew we wanted to see as much as possible during our six days in Copenhagen, so we opted to walk most of the time and explore the neighbourhoods near our flat with art/design, food & historic sites as our main focus. On our first day we went hunting for great Danish design and we were not disappointed. At Artium (above) I died and went to Marimekko heaven (and somehow J found the patience to window shop for hours)! This kind of marital magic only happens on vacation.

Our next stop that afternoon, was the expansive Illums Bolighus. This great find was thanks to the design*sponge Copenhagen city guide and you can easily spend a few good hours here. It has many floors and many awesome brands (big + small! how refreshing). I was happy to find one of my favourites, Finnsdottir (above left). Their faceted vases and bottles were so unique. Another great find (above right) was this graphic line of ceramic canisters by Helbak, which had beautiful turned wood lids.

From there we found the Royal Copenhagen flagship store, just a few shops down from Illums. To Danes, Royal Copenhagen is old hat, but for me, I say "sign me up for all the tourist-y ceramic goodness!" RC is a blue + white porcelain goldmine. While we were browsing, we got to see one of their master painters, Mette Schousen, demonstrate the blue underglaze painting technique for their classic "Blue Fluted" pattern with the finest pointed brushes. Talk about a steady hand.

I grew up with a lot of Blue + White antique porcelain in our house. My mom had a mismatched & wonderful collection of pots that cemented my life-long love of this colour combination.

On day two we ventured up to see the palaces at Amelianborg, home of the Danish royal family, then hopped over to trendy Nyhavn. You can rent a bike and see all these areas just as the locals do, yet we found walking allowed us to find more little surprises along the way. Bring some comfortable shoes.

In Nyhavn, you can spend a lazy sunny afternoon sipping beer and eating enormous smoked salmon sandwiches by the water. It's not cheap, but it's totally worth it just to people watch and have a good, leisurely sit. Grab some churros & stroll over to see the Little Mermaid if you can (we didn't make it due to said beer and churros, we have no regrets).

And, to wrap up this first installation of our Danish journey, I have to say that a visit to the Botanisk Have (botanical gardens) will rock your world. It hosts a huge collection of plant & fungi specimens. The Palm House offers a tropical respite if you happen to be visiting in spring, when Copenhagen breezes can be cooler.

Best of all, being at the botanical gardens means that you're kitty-corner to what may be my favourite place in the city: Torvehallerne market! If you or your traveling companions are foodies, you will end up here more than once, I promise. Feast on foods of all varieties while you sit in the open air market courtyard. Try the most amazing coffee from Coffee Collective, or the traditional + trendy porridge at GRØD, paleo stuff, sushi... My heart! Sip a fresh brew or a bottle of wine. An entire bottle. No problemo. After your snack, head inside the market to shop for kitchen delights that no one can afford (The Beardo, pictured below, optimistically turns up the heat on his new Ilve stove).

Gosh. Writing this all down just makes me want to go right back. Have you been/are you going to Copenhagen? Such an inspiring and livable city.

Stay tuned for part 2 + 3.

I'll split it up so it's not just one thousand pictures of ceramics.



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Chasing Clay: Iceland June 23 2015

 Above left, Reykjavik from above; right, Kogga ceramics studio in downtown Reykjavik

If you've been following me on instagram, you may know that I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland and Denmark a few weeks ago. This was my first time overseas and it was even more amazing than I imagined. Can I just say briefly that travel is an insane luxury, for both financial and environmental reasons, so I really wanted to make sure I got the most from this trip! No pressure or anything, Scandinavia :) My husband was there with me (we started calling this our long overdue honeymoon) and he was such a good sport, because I managed to find something ceramics related for us to do for ten days out of our thirteen day trip. 

I have always admired Scandinavian ceramics/design. There seems to be a purity of form and reverence for materials in everything they do. On top of that, their ceramics have had a longer history, more time for development and a longer period of national support than the ceramics industry in North America, so I went into this journey with the romantic notion that nordic folks have the clay hustle all figured out. Or perhaps more figured out than we do over here. Reykjavik was my first stop, where I found several beautiful ceramic studios and retail spaces. Kogga (above right) is the home of ceramist Kolbrún Björgólfsdóttir. She has been working and selling from this beautiful location since 1985. 


Another gem that was super close to our AirBnB was Stigur, which hosts the work of several artisans. Bjarni Sigurdsson's work really caught my eye. You can see in the photos above, Bjarni uses a diverse range of glazes, layering them on top of each other and fires his pieces several times until he has achieved the desired surface texture. His work, and that of Björgólfsdóttir at Kogga, is inspired by the natural elements and rugged terrain of Iceland.


Speaking of terrain...we rented a car for a day so we could drive down to the southern part of the island to see several (hundreds?) amazing waterfalls and the tiny, breathtaking coastal village of Vik. Famous for its black sand beaches and incredible rock formations, Vik was the perfect place to take a picnic (skyr, rye bread with lox...we ate that for days and never got tired of it) and be humbled by nature. I have a few friends who have also been to Vik and everyone comes back saying a similar thing. Basically, that we still aren't sure how to put this magical place into words but it surely leaves its mark on you.



























It's clear how this landscape would be a huge influence on artists that live in Iceland. Sometimes the earth is used directly. Though I wasn't able to visit, a friend mentioned the ceramist Sigríður Erla Guðmundsdóttir of Leir7, who has been using native Icelandic clay since 2007. Thanks for the suggestion Margie! Looks like I already have my excuse to return to Iceland one day. be continued.



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