The walls in Maurizio Tittarelli Rubboli’s kiln room are velveted with black smoke, in contrast to the golden shimmer of his ceramics. The ancient firing technique he uses, called lustro, is apt: his pottery is lustrous and iridescent. Dimitri Bähler, a Swiss designer, has traveled to Gualdo Tadino, a small Umbrian town outside of Perugia to learn how Rubboli achieves this effect. Bähler has specified the size and dimensions of the pieces they are creating together, and Rubboli has explained how he makes the metallic glazes by hand. “All you have to do is decide which colours you want to use: blue, gold or ruby,” says Rubboli. Bähler smiles, not quite ready to choose.
He too is enamored with ceramics, and in fact pieces he made during a three-month residency in the Netherlands will soon be exhibited in New York. In front of them, three cone-shaped muffles sit atop the kilns. To their left is a heap of dried broom, which, like out of some fairy tale, is the key to lustro. When Rubboli feeds it to the flames in the third firing, its flare of heat causes a reduction in oxygen that activates the metal in the glaze. He monitors the process by drawing small glazed tabs out of the kiln through a very little hole. Rubboli now gathers a few of these brightly hued tabs and hands them to Bähler. “The colour is so lively you can’t see it in a photo,” says Bähler, lifting a gold and red-orange tab to the light. “Take these home to refer to as you decide which colours you want,” says Rubboli. “But in the end it’s always the kiln that decides.”