It’s been a few years since Lola Giardino left the Atlantic Ocean of Necochea, Argentina for the Mediterranean Sea of Barcelona. Nonetheless, she feels ties closer than ever to her roots.
After steadily working for over a decade towards a traditional career in web design, Lola experienced the dawning realization that while she loved what she did, and was successful to boot, it wasn’t a path that fully satisfied her creative aspirations.
What was lacking during those long days in front of a computer was something with a more tactile quality. It was then that Nona Bruna, the brand under which Lola creates pottery and textiles, was born. A tribute to her family, especially to her grandmothers, she draws on what she learned from those two venerated women and established her own small studio producing handcrafted pottery and textiles. From ancestors to ceramics, there’s also an undeniable thread running through her story – an enthusiasm for the delights of the culinary world dating back generations.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who presents a special curation of our pictures on ZEIT Magazin Online.
Where did you grow up and what brought you to Barcelona?
I was born in Tres Arroyos, but I actually grew up in Necochea, a city on the coast of Argentina, 500 kilometers south of Buenos Aires. I lived there until I finished secondary school. Then I studied in Mar del Plata where my older sister was living. I spent around six or seven years there until I moved to São Paulo. After that I lived in Buenos Aires for a while and then I moved to Barcelona. I had just obtained Italian citizenship and I was yearning to discover and travel. I had some friends in Europe so I made the decision to come.
Can you talk us through your studies?
When I finished secondary school I started a cooking course. My parents didn’t really like the idea of me becoming a cook. They insisted I go to college, so driven by their wishes and also by my desire to try new things, I decided to study graphic design. In the beginning, I didn’t really know what to expect and whether I would like it or not. I have to say I didn’t enjoy the first year very much, but I got really excited during the second one.
By the time I finished college, I came to realize there were many graphic designers in Mar del Plata and there wasn’t much space for me. At that moment, I took a course on web design, which wasn’t that popular then. I also attended drawing and photography classes. When I started I worked part time in a printing house and the other half of the day in an advertising agency designing websites. I worked as a web designer for more than ten years.
And you launched Nona Bruna afterwards?
I always had a million projects in my head about design, cooking, clothing, photography, etc. I have always felt an interest in many different things and I thought I had to choose one. I had many projects but none of them worked out. It was really frustrating. That was until, about four years ago, I took a coaching course. There I met a girl who was studying to become a coach and she proposed doing her dissertation on me. I needed to get some ideas out of my head so I accepted.
Eventually, instead of striving to choose one of the things I liked, I mixed them all and Nona Bruna was the result. At that time, I had already begun to make pottery and I realized I wanted to include it. In the end, Nona Bruna is about all the things I like: sewing, cooking, making pottery, designing, taking pictures and showing them on the Internet.
Why did you decided to call it Nona Bruna?
I was looking for a name that had something to do with my family. On one side, there was my grandmother “La Nona.” We called her that because she was Italian. On the other, there was my grandmother “La Abuelina.” I was sure I wanted to include the word “Nona” but mixing it with my other granny’s name, Lidia, didn’t really fit. I felt bad choosing the name of one of them and as Bruna was my great aunt’s name, and it was part of the family, so I went for Nona Bruna.
What role do your two grandmothers play in what Nona Bruna is today?
“La Nona” was a haute couture seamstress and she cooked incredibly well. She always cooked Italian cuisine, which for me is the best. She prepared ñoquis – gnocchis in Italian – which are still my favourite food. “La Abuelina” also sewed, and when she was young she used to teach drawing and painting. She always liked art. She used to cook a lot too. I learned how to cook and to sew thanks to them. Besides that, I owe them my taste for art and beautiful things.
That said, everyone in my family cooks. My father is very gifted in that sense, as are my two sisters. Our gatherings are always around food. We spoil each other with food. When I visit Argentina, my father always prepares Asado, stews and homemade crumb sandwiches.
I’ve also always loved cooking. I remember when I was around 14 or 15 years old, I came back from school and I watched cooking TV shows. I wrote everything down and when the show was finished I started cooking the recipe. I couldn’t help it; I was cooking all the time. Nowadays, when I am in a bad mood or I am feeling blocked, I cook.
Do you still like to follow recipes or do you prefer to build the dish as it goes?
Now I never look at recipes. I can’t follow them. I can’t help it; I need to improvise. When people ask me how did I do something, many times I can’t remember because I cooked it with the ingredients I had at hand. I wouldn’t know how to duplicate it. I like to look at the things I have and imagine what can I do with them. In general, when I go to the supermarket I always buy versatile stuff, so that I always have something to invent with.
What do you like most about the process?
I love kneading. It’s a little bit like clay. I guess it has to do with the fact that I like working with my hands. I love doing homemade pasta, ñoquis, sorrentinos and bread. Overall, my cooking is Italian. But I also love to do the folding in the Argentine empanada because it is very manual. I have come to realize my gift is in my hands.
How do you incorporate healthy habits to your cuisine?
I am very drawn to nutrition. My little sister is a nutritionist and I have learned a lot thanks to her. For instance, I used to be a butter enthusiast and now I hardly ever use it. I always try to do a healthier version of the classic recipes, even the family ones. I prefer whole-wheat flour to white flour, cane sugar instead of refined or oil to butter. I hardly ever use milk and when I do it I use oat or soymilk. I have come to realize that is just a matter of teaching your taste buds healthier habits.
Speaking of working with your hands, when did you started to make pottery and why?
About four years ago I got tired of working as a web designer. I felt the urge for a change and I started to try several things. I learned more about photography, and I began to draw and paint. I felt more and more attracted to pottery and I remember my mother used to make ceramics when she was young. I began to play with clay to stay close to her and I fell in love.
There is a touch of imperfection in everything you do, is there any ceramist who has influenced your style?
When I started learning how to make pottery, the pieces came out a little misshapen, very organic. Later on, when I thought about becoming a professional potter, I bought white clay and clear enamel in an attempt to do the fine china sold in stores. It came out horribly. It was then that I realized that I had to go back to basics, which is what’s natural to me. When I make pottery I do it as it comes: I take the clay and I start to shape it. That’s why I never do two identical pieces. The result depends on the day, on my mood, and so on.
As for my influences, I try not to educate myself too much in order to keep my eye fresh. I am very self-demanding and if I know I am doing it the wrong way, then I can’t stop, as I would never be satisfied. There are many potters that tell me I shouldn’t do things the way I do. But for me this is just a game and I want the clay to surprise me. I don’t want to set boundaries.
Are you testing anything new right now?
I am always trying new things. Right now I am mixing clays. I talked to a potter friend and she told me that was very dangerous because everything could get ruined. But in the end, I just test and mix to see how it comes out. I am also doing coffee filters, more mugs, milk jugs and pots with legs.
What’s the best part of the process?
My favorite part is shaping the clay. Sometimes, I have a very clear idea of what I am going to do and I even have a sketch.
What is your routine?
One could say I don’t have much of a routine. But I really like working at night when nobody calls and there are no e-mails to be answered. I listen to music, I am alone at the studio and I work.
You have collaborated with other projects such as Caravan Made, Perdiz and Ärce, what do you like about working together with other people?
What I like about collaborating with others is working on a theme. I have to think about what kind of clay I should buy, what enamel, the size and shape of the pieces. Somehow this emphasizes my creativity as it shows trails to follow. Moreover, these are creative people we are talking about and the relationship becomes a constant learning process.
How do you keep yourself inspired?
I travel as much as I can to keep my mind open. I go a lot to the beach for the fresh air. I love watching movies and I especially like French cinema aesthetic. I also read a lot; I swap between learning books that teach me something and novels that make me dream. Besides, I also try to be surrounded by creative people to both inspire and be inspired.
Where do you travel for holidays or weekend getaways?
I visit Argentina every year to see my family. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing it but it does me so much good. I always try to get away anytime I can, not just on the weekends, also during the working week. I try to go to the beach, to the mountains, to visit new towns, etc. I love Paris and New York. I also like Amsterdam a lot and Sant Pol de Mar, a coastal town very close to Barcelona.
What are your favourite shops, restaurants and cafes in Barcelona?
My favourite cafe is Granja PetitBo. When it first opened I helped them in the kitchen. I worked there for six months and the place has stayed very close to my heart. I go there a lot during the week to read or meet my friends and clients. There is also a place very close to my house where I love to have lunch. It’s called Portolés and they serve typical Catalan cuisine, it’s delicious.
As for shops, I love visiting Les Encants or Ribes & Casals for fabrics.
What do you foresee for Nona Bruna in the future?
At the moment I want to expand the pottery line. I would like to do many more pieces and see what happens. I am also doing more aprons, some tote bags and cases. I am also looking for a publisher for a small cookbook idea about milk bread that I have.
Thank you, Lola, for sharing your distinct history and craft with us.
Lola Giardino is the founder of Nona Bruna, focusing on down-to-earth handmade products.
Interested in more stories we’ve co-published with Zeit Online? Have a look here. Also, meet many more interesting individuals from Barcelona.
Photography: Cecilia Renard
Interview & text: María Solares