Efisio Usai was born in 1942 in Assemini (Cagliari), in Sardinia. He comes from a family which for centuries has made ceramics in Assemini, remaining loyal to some values over all these years: tradition and culture on the one hand, and passion and innovation on the other. Clay was already getting into his blood in his adolescence, when his father taught him the secrets of working with this material. In 1961 Efisio built a new workshop in the heart of Assemini, where his creations were greatly inspired by his native Sardinia. In 2018 the Fondazione Cologni honoured him as an MAM-Master of Art and Metier.

Can you tell us your story?

My story and that of the Usai family go back to the 19th century, with generations handing down the secrets and techniques of working with clay from one to the next. I was only 10 when I knew that I would become a craftsman: my father Roberto built a kiln where I could work with clay and dabble at producing vases. From then on, I realized that ceramics were to be my life. My father taught me everything he knew about ceramics and over the years I have perfected my own style and technique, taking tradition as a starting point and transforming it into my personal poetics.

My story and that of the Usai family go back to the 19th century, with generations handing down the secrets and techniques of working with clay from one to the next. I was only 10 when I knew that I would become a craftsman

Whenever I have my hands in clay working on new creations, it is like being reborn and at the same time I feel a sense of identity and well-being that only this material can give me. 

Is there a person or an event that has had a particular influence on your life as a craftsman?

The people who have had the greatest influence on my life as a craftsman are two women: my mother and my wife. The first because the way she loved me, brought me up and supported me made me the man and the craftsman that I am today, while my wife has always helped me at work and has always believed in me.

In Italy the best known ceramics are from Faenza. What can you tell us about Assemini ceramics?

Assemini is a town based on farming and trade and the production of ceramics has deep roots here, going back to the time of the Phoenicians. It was not until the Middle Ages and the guilds that it really flourished and reached its greatest splendour. The styles of that period were rediscovered and incorporated into the tradition of Assemini in the 1930s, becoming distinctive features of all the local production: stylized geometrical shapes which become exquisite decorations.

What do you feel when you get your hands “dirty”?

Whenever I have my hands in clay working on new creations, it is like being reborn and at the same time I feel a sense of identity and well-being that only this material can give me.

What is the “bride’s pitcher of Assemini"?

The “bride’s pitcher of Assemini" is a traditional pitcher which, as its name says, was the pitcher the bride carried on her wedding day, and one of the objects of her trousseau. I reinterpreted it by drawing inspiration from my Sardinia, from what my father had taught me and from history: creating floral compositions that are always different is fundamental for me, I love this symbol of the purity and beauty of a bride.

How do you bring together tradition and innovation in your work?

I have always tried to keep up with the times, remaining faithful to the deep roots of Assemini tradition, but developing new and contemporary solutions at the same time. I rework the classic styles to give new life and a new vitality to the shapes, which become original and innovative, but always connected to the long history of ceramics from Assemini.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to enter the world of ceramics?

Young people must not give up; they have to be tenacious and determined, aware that they need great passion and strength of will but that they are repaid by the joy of creating a work with their own hands. There is nothing that can equal that satisfaction!

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