Making an impression: the story of Casa Gangotena’s ceramicist

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Marco Ullauri is a master potter in Quito and the artisan behind the distinctive crockery of Casa Gangotena. More than 25 years ago, he and his wife began on a path that would see them making countless ceramic pieces.

It all started when he was studying economics while his wife was studying art, and she began to lean towards pottery. When he saw her working with clay, Marco decided that he too would like to make this art his way of life. Once the two had studied different techniques in Talavera de la Reina, a town in Spain known for its pottery, they came back to Ecuador to put into practice the knowledge they had acquired.

Ceramic plates from Quito
Different designs of ceramic plates made by Marco.

One of the greatest challenges they faced on their return was replacing the ceramics of the greatest domes in the whole of Latin America; those belonging to the La Compañía church located in Quito’s Old Town. They fitted a total of 10,470 tiles, each exactly uniform, in the colours of turquoise, ochre, white and black. For that, they used a technique that copied a traditional one, but with up-to-the-minute technology. From then on, Marco has applied this new concept of bringing traditional practices up to date, revitalising them with modern technology and quality.

His workshop is his pride and joy, and here he is entirely self-sufficient. All the supplies and resources that he uses are made within this very workshop.

The most important element in creating any ceramic piece, he explains, is fire.

“That makes you humble, because with fire there’s no discussion, it is relentless. I can manipulate the earth; I try to control fire but it is terrible,” he says.

Ceramic object from Quito, Ecuador
Marco incorporates details of Quito’s history and local elements into his work.

“Life is a sum of impressions; a picture is the sum of impressions. That is the beauty of life, capturing the marks that life has left on you. These marks give you the paintbrush, the colour, the canvas. This is what you can see in the crockery of Casa Gangotena. That is life, the impressions.”

Byron Rivera, the Gastronomic Director of Casa Gangotena, contacted Marco after seeing his plates displayed in Quito. The pieces of crockery of Casa Gangotena are each distinct, though work together as a harmonious collection. To make them, Marco used a technique called crystallisation, which entails the creation of very particular conditions, both thermic and atmospheric. The challenge, then, is to make the crystal grow.

“It is like creating a life, this magnetic thing, attracting crystal. And all of a sudden a crystal appears, it’s as if a life has formed. Just like that, one molecule joins with another, then they form cells, and so on. Just like creating a life, one plants a seed but doesn’t know how it is going to crystallise,” he says.

Casa Gangotena's cuisine on a ceramic plate
Casa Gangotena’s food is served on Marco’s ceramic plates which elevate our connection with Quito’s history.
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