Created and run by a tight-knight family, Olaria Nova is a mandatory stop in Lagos for lovers of artisanal pottery

Family matters: A unique space and a reference point in Lagos for over 30 years

– December 2, 2023 | Text Beatriz Maio | Photos João Cabrita Silva

José and Sabine de Sousa’s shop, located in the city centre, is a unique space that has become a reference point in Lagos for over 30 years. It is a place where you can breathe in love, creativity, and harmony, where joy and a sense of well-being are inevitable, be it because of the items on display, with strong colours and patterns, or the familiar and comfortable atmosphere.

The ceramic pieces are all made by members of the family, each with their own style and particularities. The son of Portuguese immigrants, José was born in Africa, and studied in the United States, where he learned the art of pottery, which he perfected when he moved to his parents’ homeland, whilst Sabine trained in Germany, where she is from. Her proximity to the Baltic Sea and love for the beach brought her to Lagos, where she met her husband through their connection to the well-known local sculptor and ceramicist Jorge Mealha.

Together, they opened Olaria Nova in 1990, which was initially just a corridor, and ended up expanding in the first few years. “We were very successful straight away,” stated Sabine, recalling that they began with painted utilitarian pieces, such as cups and jugs, and then went on to explore other arenas.

The couple’s three children help with the sales side, with their daughter Marlise and son Daniel working in production as well, using the knowledge they acquired from their parents. Later, Mónica Pereira, Daniel’s girlfriend who also enjoys this craft, joined them.

The family works together every day in a large workshop in Espinhaço de Cão, between Lagos and Aljezur.

“It’s where everything happens,” Daniel said, whilst Sabine recalled how empty the place was when they bought it and the children were still little. “We were always here, we used to play here,” added Marlise.

Nowadays they value teamwork very highly and can’t imagine living any other way. The family often works side by side so the exchange of ideas is constant as is the sharing of colours.

“We always ask each other’s opinion when we’re producing, which means that each piece has everyone’s touch and is like a fusion,” revealed Daniel, clarifying that this is why they all sign their works with ‘Olaria Nova’ rather than their own names.

Although they create the pieces individually and have their own personal projects, no one works independently, not least because a batch is made up of around 100 to 200 pieces.

“When people buy something, they’re buying a little bit of all of us,” the craftsman emphasised, mentioning that their aim is for people to feel happy when they buy their items and proud when they use them.

These can also serve as a souvenir of a Portugal trip, reviving memories of moments spent here, or as a topic of conversation, agreed the family, who make pieces of all sizes and functions at different temperatures.

“Over the years we have perfected our techniques and refined our style to make pieces that will last a lifetime and can even be passed down from generation to generation,” commented Sabine.

The products are all handmade, with the help of a wheel or mould, and they make both functional and decorative pieces on a small scale. “The idea is not to have a mass production, so that each one is unique, it’s rare to have items that are the same,” Daniel explained, adding that they are, however, receptive to their customers’ wishes, and if someone asks them to replicate an item, they are willing to do so.

They ship abroad and their pieces have made their way into the world, from the United States, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United Arab Emirates to Australia, which gives them a “full field feeling”.

It is through customer feedback that they learn which items are the most popular and which colours or patterns the majority prefer, an advantage of direct sales that never fails. “From there, we can produce more in the same style,” Daniel highlighted, adding that “the shop is always changing” – visiting it after three months makes all the difference to the items you will find.

Aside from standing out for the particular way they work and run their business, they have unique clothing collections, produced annually in Indonesia. They are the ones choosing the patterns, the garments, and the quantity of each piece.

As you walk around the shop, you come across items from different countries, which José and Sabine bring back from their travels and fit in with the shop’s concept. “Sometimes we travel on purpose to places that might have things we want to bring into the shop, like Morocco or Indonesia, and that gives us the chance to expand our contacts,” said Sabine.

Even though cultural diversity thrives at the shop, which can also be seen in the various collections of ceramics, with influences from Mexico to Northern Europe and Japan, national products, such as leather handbags, are prioritised. Other unique elements are Daniel’s panels, which immediately capture anyone’s attention, whether because of the designs or the colours, and José’s sculptures, an area he has been venturing into and which could not be going better.

Olaria Nova (which means “new pottery” in Portuguese) was the name chosen by Sabine and José over 30 years ago and continues to live up to what the entire family identifies with, at the time because there weren’t many potteries and now because there are always new products.

“It has survived the years and the changes because it makes a difference,” the family concluded, predicting a bright future where they will explore new ideas, have more experiences, and grow as artists. “We’re constantly trying to evolve and we’re open to new techniques. There will certainly always be new items,” they assured.

Follow Olaria Nova on Instagram and Facebook.

Author: Inside Magazines

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