A little pottery provenance

By Tracy Burton

Ian Fitzpatrick scoops some colourful shards of pottery from the ground and studies them. “This piece is from Porches Pottery,” he tells me. “And this looks like one of Jorge’s.”

The founder of Olaria Pequena is rightfully proud of the provenance of ‘the little pottery’ just outside Porches, where he set up his own ceramics studio in 1983 and continues to produce beautiful handmade pieces.

It was Ian’s idea to create a garden path from thousands of pottery fragments, including those long discarded by distinguished ceramists Jorge Mealha and the late Patrick Swift. The resulting pathway is steeped in colour and history, just like Olaria Pequena itself.

Originally from Glasgow, Ian studied ceramic design at art school in Scotland. He planned to stay in the Algarve for one year to work alongside Jorge, who was based in the century-old farmhouse previously occupied by Porches Pottery.
“I came from the north where the tradition – especially in ceramics – was of muted colours,” Ian explains. “Jorge is from Mozambique and had a very different style.”

As his year drew to an end, Ian found himself presented with an unmissable opportunity. Jorge was relocating to Lagos and the property would soon be vacant.

“Jorge was taking everything with him: the kilns, the equipment, even the shop fixtures,” Ian recalls. “I would be left with an empty shell, but it seemed like a great opportunity to establish my own studio. I thought I could stay for a few years then go back.”

Ian never did return to Scotland. In the intervening decades, he has pursued his passion for creating striking pottery pieces, from plates, dishes and tiles to pots, vases and mugs. His hand-painted designs are distinctive and include olives and lemons, fish, cats, chameleon and storks. Each piece of pottery is designed to be functional.

Ian Fitzpatrick hand paints a dish
Molly Fitzpatrick at the kiln

“My best customers are Portuguese, mostly from Lisbon and Porto, who are buying things for their own homes. They see I’m trying to do something related to Portuguese tradition but fresh and with a new twist.”

All the work is fired to temperatures of up to 1100 degrees centigrade. Each item is fired twice – once before glazing/painting and once after – with the firing/cooling down process taking a couple of days.

Throughout, Ian and his family have maintained the traditional vernacular of the pottery’s farmhouse premises and until recently, painstakingly limed its eye-catching blue and white façade (it is now painted). In fact, the thick stone walls, wide ledges, enormous chimney, terracotta brick floors and general layout of the original property lend themselves perfectly to its current use, with the shop at one end and the kilns/workshop at the other.

“I think what I do is a good use for a characterful old building reaching the end of its life,” Ian reflects. “Nowadays, people like to come and visit, not just to see the pottery, but because this is an authentic old building with a bit of charm. It’s not suitable for family living, but as a workshop, it’s almost perfect … apart from a few holes in the roof.”

It was here that Ian met and married his Irish wife. The couple have two daughters, Molly – a recent graduate and artist who works alongside Ian and is already testing her own creative ideas – and Martha, an engineering undergraduate. Over the years, Ian’s enthusiasm for ceramics has never waned.

“I think the more you do something, the more interesting it becomes,” he reflects. “You add little things and refine things. Now I’m doing more tiles and more prints, so it keeps things interesting. It’s always a balance between producing work I believe has quality, and making a living. People are surprised that I’ve been here so long and a Scot is doing a traditional Portuguese craft.”

Fortunately, with so many Portuguese customers, Olaria Pequena has not been too adversely affected by the pandemic.

Olaria pequena is Portuguese for ‘little pottery’.

Instagram: @the.little.pottery


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