About Tannenbaum Ceramics
Heinrich was in Germany in 1981 when his mother sent him the first people bell - a little doll crafted from clay and hand-painted by herself. She had been creative most of his childhood but now with her youngest son grown she was spending more and more time doing crafts. She made little cloth dolls and figures crafted from bent straw, but the people bell was something different. Over the next few years Heinrich helped her occasionally, and in 1982 after the birth of his first child be began working with her full time. They named the business Tannenbaum Ceramics. The name, Tannenbaum, means fir tree in German and was inspired by the traditional Christmas carol "Oh Tannenbaum."
Ida and Heinrich created a business where every ornament was crafted by hand. In order to insure the highest quality, they taught themselves how to make their own molds, and perfected their painting techniques. They chose to incorporate traditional German motifs and texts that had personal meaning to them, instilling each piece with a beautiful and unique style. When Ida passed away in 2002 Heinrich continued on in the business himself. Although Ida's special ornaments and their molds have now been retired, her wonderful body of work continues to influence Heinrich in his creation of Tannenbaum ornaments.
Heinrich creates his pieces from start to finish, hand crafting quality ornaments that combine tradition and whimsy. Tannenbaum Ceramics remains a family business, with Heinrich attending every craft show himself. In fact, Heinrich does everything himself, although he is occasionally assisted by his wife Aimee or his daughter Anna.
Heinrich spends most of his time designing new ornaments and motifs, as well as continuing to make some old favorites. He has recently been experimenting with nativity scenes, making first a standing nativity and more recently working on a hanging nativity that blends the uniqueness of people bells with the traditional nativity scene. He travels across the midwest to craft shows, some which he has been attending annually for many years.
If you're visiting this page, it's likely because you met Heinrich at a craft show or heard about him from someone who did. Heinrich prides himself on the sometimes years-long relationships he builds with his customers at craft shows. He enjoys hearing from people who treasure his or his mother's pieces. More then anything else, Tannenbaum Ceramics is about creating cherished ornaments that will become family heirlooms.
About the Creation Process
Heinrich creates each ornament by hand. He begins by sculpting an original piece out of clay and creating a custom mold. Each piece is created by pouring slip (liquid clay) into this custom mold one at a time. Then the mold must sit to allow the clay time to dry and harden. After the piece is released it is hand cleaned to remove the seam lines left by the mold and if any additional elements are necessary they are added at this time, as the clay is still malleable. Tiles are made from the same white clay but are rolled out on a slab roller and then cut.
When the pieces are leather hard, they are hand-painted with under glaze colors. These are actually colored slips that are carefully layered, frequently three layers per brush stroke, to create a "painted" design. When the ornaments are thoroughly dry they are fired in a kiln. After this first firing, the ornaments are hard but the decoration is dull and chalky. Heinrich applies a clear food safe glaze to the ornaments and fires them a second time. Opening the kiln for a second firing is always fun as the colors are bright and the surfaces are smooth and shiny. The ornaments are then strung up with ribbons and the bells get clappers. This process - every item created by hand by Heinrich himself - insures that each piece is a unique piece of art of the highest quality.