A look at Aurora Artisanal
September 11, 2019
At MacKenzie-Childs, handmade is our heritage, dating back to our founding in 1983.
To celebrate the layers of artistry that are our hallmark, we are highlighting what we call Aurora Artisanal, a collection of products that includes ceramics, furniture, and lighting that are handmade and hand decorated at our studios in Aurora, New York.
“Aurora Artisanal is really the fundamental thrust of everything we are about at MacKenzie-Childs,” says Rebecca Proctor, our creative director and chief brand officer. “It’s what we do right here on our farm and in our production studios with our team of amazing craftsmen. It’s at the very heart of what makes us so unique.”
There are about 60 artisanal employees in our company who take part in our “high-touch” creation of handmade products. Their duties range from molding, firing, and hand-painting pottery to embellishing furniture and lighting. We love how no two pieces are exactly alike and that each has a personality that reflects the hands of the artisans who created it.
Here’s what happens in each department:
MacKenzie-Childs began as a maker of pottery, and ceramics are still our heart and soul. There are about 30 artisans working in eight areas within our ceramics department; 16 of them have a collective 400 years of employment with the company.
Each ceramic product has several artisans involved in its creation, including those who mold, dip, and finish the raw clay, to the painters who paint the patterns, to the kiln workers who fire the piece.
Our ceramics begin as blocks of red clay or liquid clay called slip. Pieces with flatter surfaces, such as dinner plates, are pressed into shape with a machine called a RAM Press, while our largest dinner and serving pieces are hand-pressed directly into a mold. For upright silhouettes, the slip is poured into a plaster mold that draws the moisture out, allowing the slip to form a shell. The excess slip is emptied, and after enough drying time, the mold is removed to reveal the slip-cast silhouette.
From there, pieces are further dried for ease of handling. Once the clay has dried to a leather-hard stage, the silhouette is trimmed, finished, and further dried before moving to the kilns for the bisque fire. Once removed from the kiln, each piece is inspected for any defects before decorating.
In-glaze surface decorations, like our Taylor designs, are applied using traditional majolica techniques. Once bisque fired, the piece is glazed, hand-painted, and returned to the kiln for the final glaze fire.
On-glaze decoration, like our Courtly Check designs, are fired to bisque, glazed and fired, then hand-painted and fired again. Pieces that are embellished with hand-applied gold or platinum lustre, which is made from precious metals, receive an additional firing.
So many details come together in our furniture decoration department, where tables, chairs, cabinets, chests, and other unique pieces get their hand-painted patterns.
Unfinished pieces, which are usually wood but can be ceramic, arrive primed, ready to be decorated in water-based paints. A few furniture pieces are constructed on-site, start to finish, such as our Ridiculous Bench. Other frames are made in the United States or are imported. Almost every piece is painted one at a time, usually freehand, by a single artist, and there are about a dozen painters in the department. Each painter is trained in every technique, and there can be several techniques on a single piece.
Each piece that the department produces originates as a single prototype from our design department. Then, using the designers’ detailed drawings and production notes, a decorator recreates that piece, making a few tweaks here and there to produce it efficiently and repetitively. When a new piece of furniture is introduced, eight to ten initial copies are created. After that, production is determined by demand.
Accessories and Finishing
It’s the hand-applied finishing touches that also make our pieces special. Often, those details occur in two of the smallest departments at our Aurora studios, finishing and accessories.
The three artisans in our finishing department each specialize in a different craft. One handles assembly, adding knobs, brass studs, and other embellishments. Another trims transfer decorations and wallpapers and applies them to our dressers and cabinets. The third works in the spraying booth, giving a final shine to many furniture surfaces. They’re also multitaskers, deftly moving from one job to another and pitching in on occasion to help in other departments.
The sole artisan in our accessories department works to assemble our lamps and chandeliers, which often begin as ceramic bases that are also made here. Working from detailed drawings, lighting is assembled step by step, with everything that you can’t see on the inside (wiring, washers, and all sorts of screws and nuts) to all the pretty things on the outside. Among the lighting pieces that we produce in Aurora are our Globe Lamps, our Courtly Check Hanging Lamps, and the Thistle Chandelier.
So, there you have it: a look at Aurora Artisanal. Once you know more about the craftsmanship that goes into every piece, you’ll see that Aurora Artisanal is truly special and something well worth celebrating.