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Academic research of Delftware result in two dissertations

Senior Makkum ‘tilemaker’ Tichelaar earns doctorate

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NIJMEGEN, the Netherlands - Delftware, arguably the most popular Dutch souvenir has become the subject of academic research on which two Dutchmen recently earned their PhDs. The Roman Catholic University of Nijmegen granted doctorates to Pieter J. Tichelaar and Jan D. van Dam.

Both new Doctors have a deep connection with Delft Blue porcelain and pottery. Van Dam is the principal curator of the ceramics collection of the Rijks-museum in Amsterdam. His thesis dealt with the history of Delftware, which often is not ‘Made in Delft’.

Officially also considered Delftware is pottery made in the northern Dutch province of Friesland where the Royal Pottery and Tile Factory in Makkum is dominant with a very distinctive style. The artisan plant originated with brickmaker Wiebe Tjaards in 1594. Eighty years later, a descendant, who then was making tiles as well, adopted the family surname Tichelaar which means tilemaker. Dr. Pieter J. Tichelaar (75) is a direct scion of the Makkumer family, and was for years the CEO of the company.

Chinese imitating Delft Blue

Faience is the official name of the multi-colored porcelain produced in Friesland. It is also known by the name of Makkum Pottery and belongs to the Delftware genre. The better known Delft Blue by definition is white with blue designs, but also has a white-purple variety. The colouration is achieved through tin-glazing, a technique also used for majolica. In Makkum, the designs are hand-painted. In the firing process the colours blend with the tin glaze.

Delft porcelain, renowned for the whiteness of the clay, already was popular in the 16th century. Imports of porcelain from China and Japan soon put a damper on the success story, but Dutch ingenuity created a new kind of Delftware especially with its own design, artwork and colouration. The ‘new’ Delftware was so well-received abroad, that manufacturers in China and elsewhere began imitating it, eventually creating so much competition that Chinese porcelain again overtook Dutch Delftware in sales’ volumes. When imports of Chinese porcelain dwindled again in the 19th century, Delftware enjoyed a third resurgence.

Although much of the current ‘Delftware’ available from souvenir shops is mass produced by different industrial processes and thereby is rated sub-standard, the authentic Delftware continues to enjoy huge popularity, especially abroad. Very few homes of Dutch immigrants - and their descendants - in North America are without a Delft Blue decorative ornament or heirloom.