I had the chance to visit master potter Julio Miranda Thiel's workshop at the Beldi Country Club just outside of Marrakech. I met Thiel at a dinner a few nights before and he graciously invited me out one morning to see how he marries traditional Moroccan craftsmanship—the town of Safi is the hub of the country's considerable ceramics trade and turns out loads of potters—with more modern forms. Thiel himself studied design in Chile and Argentina and told me that his education was "thoroughly modernist." Here's what I saw.
Here's Thiel standing outside of his pise workshop. The structure itself is made of mud and straw and is astoundingly cool in the hot sun. Thiel has lived in Marrakech for decades.
The majority of Thiel's work is either for private clients (this stuff is for the Frenchman Peirre Berge, who was Yves Saint Laurent's boyfriend and longtime resident of Marrakech) or for hotels. Here Thiel keeps to some pretty traditional forms in the cases of the tagines and ashtrays, but tones down the decorative patterns in favor of one bright color.
This collection is for a hotel and again has an appealingly minimal aesthetic. Thiel imports much of his clay from Spain, but says that little beats Moroccan know-how. He told me that once he shows his staff of five how he wants something done, after two or three tries they get it perfectly and can repeat it endlessly.
These striped pots were made for a Paul Smith clothing store in Brussels.
There are a pair of potter's wheels in the back of the studio. Here one of Thiel's workers throws some small vases.
Some of the firing takes place in this electric oven, though Thiel also uses a gas oven and various sunbaking techniques.
These are for the Royal Mansour but have yet to be fired. I ate at the restaurant inside the grand hotel and the food, service, and presentation were all stellar.
Here's a much broader swath of what Thiel and his crew create. One of his most recent clients was the Mansour Hotel in Marrakech, a palatial hotel that the King built in part to show off the breadth of Moroccan artisanal skill.
In this collection, as in much of his work, Thiel took his inspiration from Berber design. But instead of looking necessarily to their ceramic traditions, he found this design on Berber garments.
On our way out, Thiel pointed out these rustic pots as having both strong forms and a more minimalistic design. He passes them every day on the walk into his studio and their place in his work is clear indeed.