BY TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
The Vaselli Chapel inside the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, Italy, is small and “quite easy not to notice,” says ceramic artist Susan Snyder. Yet its 16th-century hand-painted tiles featuring fantastical creatures, bold mandala patterns, and inexplicable, offbeat symbols (like a human heart that appears to be floating in underwear) provide direct and ongoing inspiration for Snyder’s Susanna Italiana Pottery.
A Bloomington native, Snyder spent a year in Bologna in the early 1990s while an undergraduate at Indiana University, then returned to the small town of Faenza, Italy, for master training in maiolica pottery. She spent 1,100 hours learning the Renaissance-era born craft, which employs a white, tin-glazed base that makes its colors especially vivid and often depicts mythical or historical scenes.
“I loved the bright colors,” Snyder says. “And the ability to use the clay as both a canvas and three-dimensionally was very appealing.”
Upon returning to Bloomington, Snyder built her career by teaching ceramics classes at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center while selling her dinner sets, tiles, and backsplashes in galleries, regional arts and crafts shows, and working on custom projects for clients’ homes. Her work has been featured on the HGTV program That’s Clever!, in two books by Lark Crafts, and the Russian magazine Home.
For inspiration, a dog-eared, out-of-print book depicting all of the tiles in the Vaselli Chapel stays within reach. “I’m not doing exact replications,” Snyder says. For example, an image of a 16th century snail gets a more whimsical expression. “I feel I’m keeping the tradition and the designs alive,” she says. “For all I know, many of these animals were done just once. So here, 500 years later, they come back again.”
For information on pottery classes and where to purchase Snyder’s work, visit susannaitaliana.com.