Faux-cus on the Pros is the series where we talk to other artisans in the field of design. Today, I’m thrilled that we have the chance to speak to Gina Garner, who creates incredible Italian-Renaissance inspired ceramic pieces. Her work has received many accolades, including features in museum collections and magazines such as House Beautiful. She writes a beautiful blog, Art and Alfalfa, that focuses on her wonderful country life, her travels and of course, her hand-painted ceramics. Let’s head to Utah to sit in her lovely home, relax and chat a bit.
Gina Garner: I was born in a small fishing village by the Baltic Sea, in East Prussia (Germany). During the war, my mother, sister and I were forced to flee our home and relocate to East Germany. When my father was released from prison camp in Siberia, Russia, we planned our escape to West Germany.
I have painted since I was a small child, influenced by my father, a master woodcarver and watercolorist. I would accompany him on painting expeditions to small farm villages in East Germany. While living in East Germany I was trained as a topographic draftsman. My first job, after escaping to West Germany, was hand painting greeting cards for a German card company.
After immigrating to the United States, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Utah, focusing on Anthropology, The Applied Arts, Art History, and in particular, the Italian Renaissance. Each year, my husband and I, travel to various regions of the world, bringing back new ideas and many Old World techniques. With the renewed interest in decorative painting finishes, I now devote much of my time teaching workshops at our local college and teaching classes to designers, professional painters and private individuals.
In 2004, I designed a kitchen for a local attorney. When we searched for hand painted tiles they were not available. Those from Europe were too expensive mostly because shipping had become prohibitive. So I decided that I would learn and teach myself how to paint ceramic tiles. It was not that difficult and with a ceramic shop willing to fire my tiles, owning a kiln was not so important.
I have since traveled to Italy, Holland, France and Belgium and I have made it a point to learn and paint ceramics with several fine maiolica (or majolica) painters of Europe. For the past 4 years, I have painted with Professor Nicola Boccini and Maestro Romano Ranieri of Deruta, Italy, one of the major centers of Maiolica production.
My husband Gene and I live in a small artist/farming community of central Utah. After many years of travel to Italy and studying the work of Andrea Palladio and his country villas in the Veneto, Italy, we decided to build an Italian inspired small villa in the middle of an alfalfa field. Here is where we tend our fields and gardens and take care of the many animals that have adopted us. We designed every phase and did a lot of the physical work, such as laying all of the marble and I did all of the wall finishes, including gilding and marbling. Several years ago, a Hollywood film company filmed our house. We were awarded first place in International Design an in addition, an award winning Magazine featured our house in a 13-page spread.
Where do you see ceramic design heading in the future?
We traveled to Deruta, Italy, only a few months ago. Things have changed. No one was visiting Deruta, one of the major centers for hand painted ceramics. Ceramics are expensive and because of their weight, shipping is very expensive. U.S. companies are not importing for those same reasons. The more than 600-year-old ceramic industry of Italy is suffering. Artists are looking for solutions and they are also looking for employment in other industries. I’m afraid, that at least for now, a very old tradition is losing its fine artists.
What are some of your favorite color and/or product combinations you’ve seen?
I’m no Minimalist. I like living with objects and art which we have acquired from our travels. I love color. Not garish colors. The kind of colors designer John Saladino chooses for his interiors…the lavender that is almost gray and the green that reminds one of the foaming ocean. The charming and warm interiors designed by Charles Faudree hold just about the right amount of exuberance. I like classic designs and I love to mix the humble with the splendid. Too much is not enough has always been my motto.
What are some of the most wonderful materials you’ve come across?
Italian powder pigments, which I bring back from Italy, provide color and an intensity that is quite remarkable. While taking lessons in Belgium, I was introduced to a product, Peptapon. It is made in Germany and acts as a binder with ceramic powder pigments. It is a product that prevents the smearing of pigment.
What artist would you like to commission to create a work of art for your home?
That’s easy. An Italian artist and mural painter who lives in Calistoga, California by the name of Carlo Marchiori.
What one existing book or movie title describes your life?
Actually it is a piece of Music from an opera by Verdi, Nabucco, the Slave Chorus. Not because I see myself as a slave but because the music has just the right amount of highs and lows, which describes my life perfectly.
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Such an incredible life. Her artistry is sublime, no? Speaking of sublime, I’d also love to commission Carlo Marchiori! Interestingly enough, I found out via Art’s the Answer that the architects who designed Carlo Marchiori’s Ca’Toga also designed Gina’s home. Very nice! Gina does have a wonderful, refined and warm way about her — it truly reflects in her colorful work and in the blog posts she writes. She also sells her work via eBay and her Etsy shop, Maiolica, and explains that, “I have found a niche for a product that has not been imported in the last few years. There are only a handful of tile companies who will import special orders”. Every year, her town of Spring City, Utah is “open” to the public and they have several fine artists living in the small community with visitors coming from far and wide to purchase art. Sounds like an amazing way to live life! Thank you, Gina, for sharing your life and artistry with us. Have a wonderful day, everyone!
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