Louisville Stoneware always reminds me of my wedding gifts. I recall when I had just moved to Louisville noticing that in every kitchen that I visited, I was eating off of similar plates and being served off the same types of platters and bowls. I did not register for Louisville Stoneware but managed to receive platter upon platter, serving bowl upon serving bowl and ornaments from there for our wedding. It did not take me long to figure out why this stoneware was so great. Almost 16 years later, our collection has withstood the test of time and abuse and still looks as good as new.

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The famous Bachelor Button pattern.

I went behind the scenes of Louisville Stoneware and spent an hour seeing every part of the operation. To put it bluntly, I had no idea what went into the production process and I have a whole new level of respect now for these beloved dishes.

Even 21C has a line of dishes here with our beloved penguins.

Even 21C has a line of dishes here with our favorite penguins.

The factory is located off of Broadway, near I-65. The building is old and not too exquisite when you are driving  past. If it weren’t for these tell-tale ceramic pieces on their fence, I wouldn’t know where I was.

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This is one of the oldest manufacturers of stoneware, not just in Louisville, but in the United States. It has been around since 1815. We all know about Hadley Stoneware here in Louisville, as well. To give you some perspective, Mary Alice Hadley trained and worked at Louisville Stoneware and then went off and started her own business.

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The sign on the corner of Brent Street and Stoneware Street.

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A modern sign next to an old factory.

Louisville Stoneware is a dichotomy—its product is a blend of pure science and pure artistry and both parts are dependent upon on each other. Without the perfect clay, there is no product to create. Without the expert artistry, the clay is entirely mediocre product.

The science behind clay making.

The science behind clay making.

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The perfect clay makes the perfect julep cup.

Besides the factory there is the “marketplace,” the front of the house where they sell their wares. This part of the building is about to be renovated and made into more of a local marketplace.

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Front of the house, or the marketplace.

Behind the marketplace are two areas of note: the “seconds” and sale section, where I saw two women making a beeline as I arrived, where you can buy imperfect items, most of which have imperfections that are barely visible and the artist’s area, where the employees at Louisville Stoneware can make whatever they like. This section is chock-full of talent.

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Artist’s corner featuring art from the employees.

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Art from the Master Mold Maker, Ngoc Phan.

Ngoc Phan is the master mold maker who hand carves each mold with an exacto knife. They are perfectly perfect, not created by a machine, but rather by one extremely talented man. He has worked at Louisville Stoneware for over 25 years.

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Plate mold created by Master Mold Maker Ngoc Phan.

Louisville Stoneware used clay exclusively from Clay City, Indiana, for the last 25 years, and only recently did their supply run out. They now get clay from Western Kentucky.

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A pile of clay at the factory, which is huge compared to Nancy Stephan, PR Director.

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Also included in this heap of raw materials are broken plates and clay trash to be reused. Good thing about the job is that if you mess up, you can start over.

Clay gets mixed with water and put through a sieve. It is then reworked with more water and pressed into square molds. These molds are then squeezed dry of any extra water. Then it is ready for the artisans.

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Clay gets mixed with water here. This whole process could be considered a very dirty job.

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This is how soft the clay is after the first round of mixing.

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The clay is then pressed to remove excess water.

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Here’s the clay, ready to move from the “scientists” to the “artisans.”

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He is making cup molds out of clay. Each one is made by hand.

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Orders to be filled for the day.

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She puts the handles on mugs, which she has been doing for over 20 years.

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This needs to be finished: all bubbles sanded off and scrubbed. This is considered greenware.

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Stamp of approval goes on the bottom of each piece.

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Each piece is then stamped and painted. Here we are shown what the stamp for this finished product looked like.

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The Dewey Decimal system of stamp filing. Every. Single. Stamp. Is. Here.

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Time to handpaint each item.

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After the hand-painted items are glazed, they are placed in the kiln for about a day. Here is the operational schedule for all three kilns.

Louisville Stoneware seems to be doing employee gifts for every large corporation in the state. During my tour, I saw items for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Yum!, Makers Mark, Jim Beam and many more.

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A flask? A toy? Maybe both?

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Wouldn’t this be a nice bucket for your fried chicken? At least it wouldn’t leak grease.

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Someone at LG&E is getting a mug…

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Kentucky’s Unbridled Spirit, as shown on a tray.

These are items that stand the test of time. Considering that my Louisville Stoneware has been around for over 16 years with my level of use, this stoneware is practically bullet proof. That it is also beautiful and can be customized makes this the perfect gift for any occasion.

Perfect personalized platters for $95.

Perfect personalized platters for $95.

Louisville Stoneware offers factory tours twice a day Monday through Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., or by appointment for groups. They also have a Paint-Your-Own studio open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m., with the last seating at 3:30 p.m.

Paint your own Pottery

Paint your own pottery

The Louisville Stoneware retail store is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  For more information, visit their website at www.louisvillestoneware.com.