In the only ceramics museum in Thuringia, the history of the pottery craftsmanship in Bürgel has been documented from its (provable) beginnings in the middle of the 17th century until our present time. Since May 2003 the comprehensive collection has been housed in the reconstructed building listed for preservation – the “Old School Building” – dating back to the 18th century.
In 1660 five potters founded a guild and henceforth supervised the manufacturing process, trade and training. A speciality of the Bürgel potters at that time was besides earthenware certain stoneware burnt at very high temperatures and salt-glazed (covered with the so-called “Blauen Schürze”).
Every imaginable vessel daily used in the household of the pre-industrial period was made of clay and sold within a radius of more than 100 km. The ceramics museum shows an outstanding selection including earthen baking moulds, feeding dishes, jugs, pots, bowls, plates, cups, grating pot as well as pharmacist’s vessels and extremely large storage vessels. When new materials became accepted for the household and kitchen, e.g. porcelain/ china, stoneware, cast iron, aluminium etc., it led to a massive slump in the market. The Bürgel pottery craftsmanship was existentially threatened, too.
However, with the support of the country’s local government the first pottery workshops were founded. Manufacturing the so-called art ceramics – lavishly decorated vessels partly made by using plaster moulds and produced in several partial castings – opened up new markets. The pottery town developed a modern profile. This reorientation supported the foundation of the “Ceramics Museum in Bürgel”, initiated in 1880 as a sample collection.
At the beginning of the 20th century Henry van de Velde developed new types of vessels for the Bürgel pottery workshops. As a result the pottery town developed to a centre of Art Nouveau ceramics. The results showing how van de Velde was striving for new shapes and colours belong to the highlights of the museum’s collection.
Besides the larger companies smaller potteries remained, trying to earn their money with manufacturing traditional dishes/ tableware.
However, the smaller potteries were the ones that helped survive the craftsmanship after the world economic crisis in the 1920s, supported by three new foundations of workshops.
Multicoloured decors made with the help of the so-called Malhörnchen (slip trailer), that means paintings with coloured slip, such decors reached their peaks in the time between the world wars.