Calcúra is an editorial visual journey through Sardinia: through a series of conversations and photo stories Acre has created a showcase of the Sardinian creative scene.
Several voices have been told, and each of them represents an interweaving, a root in the soil that creates intimate worlds just waiting to be discovered.

Maria Paola Piras, daughter of art, was trained under the guidance of her father Carmine, an artist whose career ranged from sculpture to experimental archaeology. We met her in her studio in Oristano, where her passion for ceramics and her land have led to create unique pieces by experimenting with ancient techniques, materials and forms.

Maria Paola Piras vasi ceramiche Sardegna
Courtesy of Maria Paola Piras

Tell us who Maria Paola Piras is and how your approach to the arts, particularly ceramics, came about. 

As a child of art, I have always attended the workshop (Maria is in fact a child of art, sharing a studio and growing up artistically with her father Carmine Piras, a successful sculptor, founder of the obsidian museum, coordinator of an artistic workshop for experimenting with sculptural techniques, from the most ancient to the most modern, which boasts collaborations with local, national and international museums).

I’ve always put my hands in clay, I did a bit of study with sculpture. Then over the years I got more and more passionate about it until I decided to enrol at the Art Institute here in Oristano. There were those old teachers who really taught you about ceramics, design, drawing… I was really passionate about it.

I started by making reproductions for museums, I was particularly interested in Nuragic ceramics. Then I became passionate about cataloguing all the vases found here on behalf of the museum. That’s how I came up with the idea of studying this type of pottery and making it suitable for today. In addition to working for museums, I also work on interior design, making special ceramics for interiors.

vasi ceramiche Sardegna Spotti Milano
Courtesy of Maria Paola Piras

Now I’ve started working with Pretziada, a company in Sardinia, which is very interesting because they are able to take Sardinia all over the world. I was very pleased to create a collection for them. I’ve also done other work that doesn’t concern ceramics: working here in the family workshop I’ve worked in restoration for many years.

One of the jobs that I was very passionate about was the restoration of the wallpaper from the Aymerich di Laconi palace, dating back to the end of the 19th century. It is unique because there are very few copies in Europe, so it was a very fascinating job.

When I graduated I did a year outside the family workshop. So I worked in a restoration centre in Oristano where one of the last card restorers in Sardinia was working. When you’re in the workshop you’re lucky to observe, to discover the manual gestures and slowly you manage to assimilate this way of working which is in any case ancient.

In my family we are a generation of craftsmen: some worked with wood, some with baskets, some with ceramics. All this knowledge has survived until today and I think it is very important to continue to transmit it. Lately this work of the craftsman has been a little bit put aside and it is also right to get involved again; to talk to the elders as well, not to put them aside, because they are a great treasure and you have to protect them.

sardegna vasi ceramica maria piras
Courtesy of Maria Paola Piras

You told us earlier about your decision to establish your work and your life here in Sardinia, in Oristano. What are the pros and cons of a choice like this?

I had to live outside Sardinia for a while. It’s great because you have lots of stimuli and you can discover new things. But then, I always feel a bit lost and I want to come back here because I miss this land. It’s a magical place, it makes you feel good, and every time I want to go back home. That’s why I decided to stay here. 

One of the pros is definitely the lifestyle you maintain here. You don’t have the hustle of the city, everything is quite calm, you’re 5 minutes away from the sea. The cons are not so much against let’s say. Because you can get everywhere thanks to the new technologies. With the internet you can stay here and really move all over the world. It’s up to us to decide if it’s difficult or not…

Maria Paola Piras vasi ceramiche Sardegna
Courtesy of Maria Paola Piras

Tell us how one of the ceramics designed by Maria Piras was created. 

I do research on soils. I go around the countryside looking for types of clays, I do some studies. Then from there I create a line, then I have some very particular vases that I have an interest in. From there I make a lot of drawings, so I take them apart and put them back together, I try to modify the handles, or lengthen the neck. I prepare all the mixtures so I also try to give it the surface I want to give it, so smoother or rougher, adding sand to purify it a bit.

Or I look for clays around the Mediterranean: there are companies that have special mixtures, I experiment with these clays too. From there I make the vase, which I do entirely by hand, so I make pieces of clay that I first shape by hand and then decide on the finish. For the finish I make the tools myself, so I use horn, stone, shells, I use natural things that I find and modify.

Then I light the fire (laughs) and create another magic which is the firing. So I look for particular woods, I use oxides, I make mixtures, I do a bit of alchemy, I create some particular things. In short, I have fun, also because fire brings out very particular colours, they seem almost metallic. It’s fun because you never know what’s going to come out, so it’s always a surprise. I repeat, it’s really magic.