The History of La Meridiana
International School of Ceramics in Tuscany

The Beginning

La Meridiana is the achievement of a project initiated by Pietro Maddalena, supported by Giuliana Rodolfi, and realised with the fundamental help of a large number of enthusiastic people.

Pietro, an engineer by training, went to England in 1970 with the intention of staying for a few years. In 1973, he was literally struck by the sight of a potter on his wheel. Due to the irresistible attraction of the spinning wheel, he decided to take a sabbatical year in clay only to end up doing a three-year Diploma in Art and Design, specialising in pottery at West Surrey College of Art in Farnham.
When he was ready to come back to Italy he was asked to help at Dartington Pottery Training Workshop a project set up at the instigation of David Leach for a couple of months but ended up remaining until the end of 1979.

Finally, in 1980 Pietro returned to Italy, with a mission: to introduce stoneware to the Italian ceramic world, which was dominated by terracotta and majolica low fire ceramics.
He had no illusions about the difficulty of his task, but undeterred, set out to find suitable premises in which to realize his purposes.
Thus began the story that led to the creation of La Meridiana.

The School

Pietro’s courses have been running for over 40 years and for the first ten years they were held in the tiny hamlet of Riparbello, where the search for rent of suitable premises had ended. It was there that David Leach in 1983, and then John Colbeck in 1984 offered courses on stoneware to groups of around 20 young Italian potters.
The courses were almost entirely confined to the summer months because this gave Pietro time to produce and develop his own work.

The18th-century farmhouse in the heart of Tuscany certainly had the potential! Again, it needed total renovation: rewiring, replumbing, replastering the interior walls, remaking floor throughout and why not install new doors and windows! Pietro, buoyed by his courage set out to realize his vision, using his extensive practical skills.
In a Working Marathon that has lasted over the past thirty years, and with the help of skilled craftsmen, he transformed the property into the inspirational setting that you all know. The location, with a steep, stony cliff was transformed in a magical garden with trees, flowers, sculptures and a little lake.
A former vine storage area was transformed into a studio space, while Pietro’s private studio was set in the former stable. Today, three distinct studios, one of which in the garden area where La Meridianas’ wood kilns stand are available for courses.

The pattern of summer courses continued to grow, with an almost exclusively European clientele. At that time, La Meridiana did not have a separate dining area for students and Giuliana prepared and served lunches from her kitchen in what was her apartment’s sitting room. Memorable and popular as her lunchtime meals were, it was an arrangement that clearly could not continue and one of the initial new constructions was for the kitchen, which also provided an outdoor area for coffee and tea breaks.
In 1999, Pietro took the bold step of booking a space at NCECA, the annual potters’ conference in the USA, to promote La Meridiana. As an Italian, who had crossed the Atlantic, he was warmly welcomed and made important contacts. This ushered in a new era, with worldwide bookings and the workshop programme expanding into the spring and autumn. Additionally, collaboration with Universities and institutions such as Potter’s council (now ICAN) started.

Collaboration

A very special person, artist, educator and writer has been most influential in the development of La Meridiana: John Colbeck.
A gentle, informed and passionate professional, he has taught throughout his life and was for many years Head of Ceramics at Bath Academy of Art and author of important books on ceramics.
Through his expertise, he has been fundamental in the development of our program and has been regularly teaching at La Meridiana for the past 40 years.

One fundamental priority of La Meridiana during all these years, which is in part responsible for its international recognition, has been the search for the most outstanding artists to invite to teach. Wally Keeler, Takeshi Yasuda, Sandy Lockwood, Beth Cavener, Simon Levin, Luca Tripaldi, just to name a few.

 

The staff

Parallel to the evolution of La Meridiana, the team has grown.
The first full time employee was Roman Sonyk in 2004. Roman became an integral part of La Meridiana (with students wanting to take him back home), always busy, always ready to help and always with a smile.

La Meridiana lunches are famous for being both wholesome and delicious. Lucia Zucconi an accomplished chef, who now also makes pots, was head cook from 2004 until 2020.
She is author of the Meridiana cook book “Clay, Gnocchi and More”.

A little later, in 2006 a chance meeting with Claudia Bruhin led to an association that has seen La Meridiana develop to its present maturity. As Director, Claudia has overseen the expansion of courses, which now occur throughout the year.

Eve Carrebourgh has been associated with La Meridiana since 2016. She has created the formidable library of glaze tests, which is an invaluable teaching resource for the courses.

Franco Rampi occupies a somewhat unique position in the history of La Meridiana. A man of many talents is the much appreciated instructor of a range of throwing courses, from short duration to two-month intensive immersion

Now in its developed state, La Meridiana has a significant number of staff

Foreground: Claudia, Consultant – Pietro, Founder
Second line: Roman, Technician – Alessia, Head office – Lorenzo, Cook – Valentin, Assistant – Eve, Research.
Top:  Susy, Cook – Francesca, Management

If your past memories, present experience or future expectations about la Meridiana are positive and you wish to be part of this project, please take a look at our Community Builders project.