Silky warmth of clay

Silky warmth of clay

Jozef Lenhart

In addition to working as an artist, ceramicist Jozef Franko has been active in ceramic tile stoves making and in collecting for twenty years. He has designed 1500 stoves. „I realised that they are perfect pieces of craft work when I was making the replicas of old ceramic tile stoves for the Presidential Palace. Before, stoves were only of marginal importance for me. It is the work only a few people can master. They are combination of technical perfection and potter´s proficiency. A tile stove maker must combine his skills as a structural engineer to make it standing and as a ceramicist to make the design real.“

We in Slovakia know the medieval tile stoves only by tiles. Tiles from the tile stoves made by the tile stoves makers from Banská Bystrica in the second half of the 15th century are the most popular ones. They were made when the towns of Banská Bystrica, Banská Štiavnica and Kremnica were among the richest towns of the Hungarian Empire. Anonymous local potters achieved the creative mastership similar to the contemporary Gothic sculpture-making production. The glazed Gothic stove represents the top artwork of the medieval tile stove making in Europe. We know them under the name “apostolic“ stoves as they depict the apostles made by the high-relief technique.

Similarly to his artwork, collecting is an important part of life of Jozef Franko. Majority of his collection of tile stoves and tiles were made in the 19th century. It is the representation of current trends, starting from neo-styles, Art Deco and ending with the austere modernism. The collection involves painted majolica tile stove that were made in the jar manufactory in Modra around 1930s – 1940s.

To retain tile stove making craft, J. Franko wants to establish a training centre for stove tile makers including an exhibition of history of heating in the Carpathians. After 1989, he was a pioneer in reviving this extinct craft. Franko and his friends have formed a tile stove making school and the guild, now the organisation with the most numerous membership of stove tile makers in Slovakia.