February 1, 2013
Father Maur van Doorslaer, O.S.B. is the designer of all our ceramic creations. Fr. Maur was born Etienne van Doorslaer in France in 1925. He grew up with three brothers and three sisters in Flanders, Belgium. His family were farmers and later flower growers. Beginning in 1942, he spent seven years studying in the Decorative Arts Department of Sint-Lucasinstituut in Ghent. He drew, sketched, painted and studied architecture and sculpture.
In 1951, he entered the Monastery of Sint Andries in Brugges, Belgium, which is the mother-house of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo. As a monk he studied Philosophy and Theology in preparation for his ordination in 1958. Fr. Maur was sent to Paris in 1959 and studied pastoral work from 1960 to 1961. There he visited many galleries and exhibitions and kept abreast of the trends of the modern art world. He was especially interested in non-figurative art including Geometric Constructivism, the Lyrical Abstraction of the Ecole de Paris and Abstract Expressionism. He shares a kindred spirit and friendship with many modern artists including Alberto Magnelli, Dan van Severen (who was his classmate at Sint-Lucasinstitut and borrowed his studio for 10 months in 1965), Jef Boudens and Arno Brys. The art of Jackson Pollock and Paul Klee strongly influenced his early works, as did the strict geometric order of August Herbin and Frank Stella and the dark monochromes of Ad Reinhardt.
In 1965, Fr. Maur visited St. Andrew’s Priory (now Abbey) in California for the first time. He was asked by the Prior, Philippe Verhagen, to help the monks establish a ceramics industry in Valyermo as a means of support for their monastery. During this ten month period, he visited Mexico to study their folk art and became inspired to produce a new art form for the fledgling industry. He called this new ceramic art his “cookies”, because of their simplicity of form and child-like attitude and because they reminded him of the Saint Nicholas cookies given to children in his country. The hallmark of his designs are the large, wide open eyes of his saints, madonnas and angels, expressing wide-eyed wonder at the beauty of God, his creations, our world and its beauty, seen simply, as through the eyes of a child. His artwork is not only simple, it is also joyful, humorous and kind. It touches people where they “are”, not where they “should be”.
For 36 years, Father spent five months (May to October) a year designing ceramics for St. Andrew’s Abbey. Today, we produce more than 425 plaques of his design for sale in the U.S. and abroad. We have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of collectors who look forward to each year’s new designs. Our ceramics are carried in more than 600 shops in the U.S. and Canada.
The rest of the year, Fr. Maur lived, prayed and worked in his own monastery, Sint Andries Abdij, Zevenkerken in Brugge, Belgium. In his studio, he painted his white-on-white canvasses, which are composed of basic geometric forms: crosses, rectangles, circles and squares, concentric squares, and divisions of the square into other squares and rectangles and triangles.
In his work, we find “the restfulness of symmetry, the equilibrium of the perfectly balanced composition and the harmony and stillness of an autonomous world of pure form.
One of the most frequently asked questions from visitors and customers is "How do you make your ceramics?"
It is one of those traditions that hasn't really changed much since biblical times.
1. Artist-monk Father Maur received a list of requested plaques.
60%-75% of his designs came from customer requests.
2. Father did the rough design and, if he liked it, finished drawing.
3. He then traced his design onto a plaster of Paris mold made here.
4. Father then carved the mold by hand, using a stylus.
5. We use a special clay for our artwork, a blend of clays and grog which, upon firing, yields a most agreeable and natural earth-tone and texture. The clay is rolled out to a uniform thickness on the rolling table and then cut for application to the mold.
6. The prepared clay is applied to the mold, the design is transferred to the clay and then the clay slab is most carefully separated from the mold and placed on a batt.
7. The molded clay then goes to the cutting table, where each piece is cut out by hand, using a fine needle and the hook is inserted. The finished, cut-out pieces are called Green ware.
8. The greenware is taken to the drying room where it dries for a week to 10 days.
9. When the greenware is quite dry, the kiln master will inspect each piece and place the good pieces on a cart to be moved to the bisque kiln for loading and firing.
10. The bisque kiln is loaded for firing and the kiln is lit. The temperature is raised very slowly and, after 26 hours in the kiln, reaches a temperature of 1750 degrees F. and is then turned off. The greenware has become bisqueware and is now ready for glazing.
11. The bisque is washed and then glazed or painted, one color at a time until completed. We presently use a combination of 18 (water-based and non-toxic) glazes and slips, only 4 of which we do not compound ourselves.
12. The painted or glazed bisque is now ready for the final firing. The glaze kiln is loaded by the kiln master. Stacking a kiln for a glaze-firing is an art in itself. The enormous heat must circulate evenly – or all may be lost. The final firing lasts 11 to 12 hours and reaches a temperature of 2350 Degrees F. before being turned off. In a successful glaze-firing, a near Porcelain quality is achieved.
13. The finished product then goes to the inspection room and is subjected to our careful quality control examination for the required collectible bearing our name. (Although by reason of the nature its manufacture, each piece is unique in coloration.) The finest quality plaques go to our stock room for sale in our onsite showroom, to our loyal website customers, and for resale to hundreds of gift shops throughout the United States and Canada. We even sell to select shops in Europe.
Now that you know how we make them, why not shop online and see our entire line of handmade ceramics for your home or office.