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Women's stories

"...a hand characteristic of the Salerno area, famous for Vietri, is recognised by a ceramic solo: it is Ernestine. Her shapes and colours move from Art Nouveau evocations and free themselves in lively movements and hues”.

Cava de' Tirreni, SA, Italy

Art historian

Naples, Italy

Maria Grazia Gargiulo

"...a hand characteristic of the Salerno area, famous for Vietri, is recognised by a ceramic solo: it is Ernestine. Her shapes and colours move from Art Nouveau evocations and free themselves in lively movements and hues”.

A focus, organized as part of the International Matres Festival, an important time for the enhancement and exhibition of women's work in the arts, was dedicated to this figure of ceramist/designer.

It is flowers, to be drawn as infinite signs of a world where nature is woman: flowers thanks to which Ernestine represents a happy ceramic island, capable of involving those who simply look at her “objects.” A few years had passed since World War II everything was gray, where fears had zeroed in on men and things, and the reference to the chronicle remained a further testimony to the dramas experienced. Then re-beginning precisely from nature appeared the way out to take. 

Ernestine Cannon designs and plays with decorations, she creates a series of objects for domestic environments that have a new force full of light, an energy given by nature, a generating mother capable in all its forms of moving the world. Her home, becomes the space of art, the main source of inspiration. In the very few shots that tell us about her, we remember her in her home in Ravello, in her beloved garden. Photographed at her desk, with floral compositions of still-lives, we see her drawing in front of a large vase of flowers.

She was an avid floriculturist whose art poured into her garden care, and her surrounding herself with beauty made her a sensitive and creative woman. Ernestine’s works testify to the need for one of a tale. The adventurous story of her exhilarating and privileged career as a designer-ceramist allows her to bring to life a world made of flowers, realizing jasmine, ferns, daisies, leaves, anemones, violets, and so many types of leaves.

As a mother of a nature that has the flavor of botany, study and observation, Ernestine works on preparatory drawings in watercolor, to be transported later to ceramics. Her works selected for this small tribute to the ceramist are seen varieties of violets, scattered leaves, enchanting flowers, enlargements of buds, with decoration so recognizable that it is her signature.

The discovery of nature, especially the study of flowers: they were her fortune, the capital from which to start again without forgetting The Importance of Being Called Ernestine.

American Ernestine Virden Cannon (1904-1969) arrived in Italy in the mid-1940s and chose to settle in Salerno. Architect Gio Ponti called her from the pages of Domus magazine “the longest-lived woman potter in the world.” And it is thanks to her and architect Matteo D’ Agostino that the artistic adventure of industrial production of Ernestine ceramics began in the late 1940s, a dream that would last until 1968.

Drawing, form and decoration are the stylistic figures of the two protagonists: Ernestine Cannon and Matteo D’ Agostino. The former with the watercolor technique gives life to a series of highly modern floral decorative motifs, the latter, heir to a family of ceramic manufacturers in Salerno, is a creator of new forms and modernist interior designs. Together they renew the Vietrese ceramic tradition and conquer foreign markets, especially the American one, becoming already in the 1950s one of the leading factories of industrial design in Italy; valuable is the collaboration of a young German ceramic engineer, Horst Simonis, who represents the “third” strong point. Thanks to Simonis, the factory becomes a true center of research and experimentation on colors and glazes.

The famous “Selenium Red” and “Cobalt Blue” were born, coloring the many furnishing complements designed by Cannon for the home and shaped by the strength of D’ Agostino; which are still cult objects among international collectors.


curtesy@ Francesca Salemme Collection 

I thank Francesca Salemme for her story


When I was a child, we ate in brightly colored floral dishes in my house. They were Ernestine's plates. To this day, one of the most frequently used services on my mother's table at summer lunches and dinners is the one with the Amaryllis decoration, which has survived use and removals almost intact. Of another, however - turquoise monochrome flat plate, soup and dessert plates with a garland of fruit - only the cheese bowl remains, in imperishable memory of what once was. In my memory, however, there remains the memory, sharp even though I was very small, of the times when my mother used to take me with her to a place - which I later found out was a ceramic factory, the Ernestine factory on Via Irno - to choose vases, plates, and forms to buy for herself or give to friends. As a reward for patience and composure (I don't remember ever breaking anything there) I would receive one of the ceramic piggy banks, shaped like a cat or a baby elephant (although I also loved the whale-shaped ashtrays).It was by virtue of that childhood memory that, at some point, abetted by a cup of tea - served in a white cup with the decoration of a black outlined chrysanthemum with a woven handle - that I began first to collect and then to collect the ceramics of what I discovered to be the most famous Salerno factory after World War II, born out of the partnership between the American Ernestine Virden Cannon (1904-1969), the woman who came from nowhere, and Matteo D'Agostino (1905-1968). As I collected plates and shapes, cats and ornaments (I have been desperately looking for a large moonstone for years, but that is another story) I became engrossed in their private (passionate and tormented) and entrepreneurial (passionate of exemplary) story, a story that could easily be the plot of a movie: not many people know that one of the decorations is dedicated to and inspired by their tormented love and brings together her tears and the broken hearts of both... The Lady of the North arrived adventurously in Salerno during World War II, in Italy still split in two between German occupation and Allied advance, and gave a turning point to the art ceramics of the Salerno area, emancipating them from Vietri and projecting them into a world market. Ernestine grasped the happy impulse due to the end of the conflict, the new spirit of reconstruction, the exit from catastrophe, the hopeful and bright future of the modern, transferring that spirit into the luminous decorations and modern forms, however related to the imagery of the place: she took care of the former, floral, colorful, graceful, essential; Matthew the latter, sinuous, soft, surprising.