Engelbert was born in a small Dutch village near to the Belgian border and from an early age helped his father, the local florist, in their family shop. Plants and flowers were obviously in his DNA as he chose to pursue his studies in horticulture.
However, a fascination with the ceramic pots used by his father to display flowers led him to America, where a chance encounter resulted in him becoming the protégé of a leading ceramic artist from Mexico and the concept of Livin’ Beauty ceramics was born.
It was here that Engelbert learned to master the incredible precious metal techniques, that when fired in the kiln produce mesmerising swirls of colour in the glaze, creating items of truly exquisite exclusivity.
Engelbert expanded his repertoire by studying “Raku” pottery, a Japanese word for Joy. The craqueled effect dates from the 16th century and is said to have been discovered by happy accident when a ceramic potter prematurely opened a kiln and the rapid cooling created a craqueled pattern in the glaze of a tea service being made for the Emperor.
Englebert spent 3 years in a small farm outbuilding, patiently honing his Raku skills and combining them with smoking techniques discovered by the American artist, Paul Soldner in 1960, that further accentuate the craqueled patterns in the glaze.
It has not been an easy journey for Engelbert. His liquid clay mixes and moulding techniques are not used commercially, and it can take up to 2 months to produce an item. He has had to discover the ideal clay recipes and firing techniques himself through painstaking trial and error. As he says: "Nobody has written a book on how to do this style of ceramics, there was nothing to follow."
His passion has fed his resilience. When many seasoned professionals told him that it could not be done, he carried on regardless.
These days he presents his creations at the prestigious Maison et Objet exhibition in Paris and has received commissions from around the world including the Dutch royal family.
Unlike hand thrown pottery onto a potter's wheel, Engelbert uses a liquid clay mix that is poured into moulds.
The clay mix is crucial and Engelbert combines clays from around the world to produce the right balance of binding strength between the clay platelets and mineral content.
Finding the right combination of clays for his style of ceramics took over two years of trial and error before he discovered the perfect recipe. Needless to say, this recipe is now a well-guarded secret.
The liquid clay is poured into porous moulds that Engelbert builds from hand carved, wooden mould masters of his designs.
The water in the liquid clay is absorbed by the porous moulds, leaving behind clay deposits on the internal surfaces of the mould. Eventually the deposits build to a thick wall that stops further water passing through.
At this point the residual liquid clay is emptied and the remaining shell is left to dry out.
Engelbert uses a two stage firing process that can take up to thirty hours including cooling. The first stage hardens the items ready to accept a glaze. Known as bisque firing, this process eliminates any remaining water and makes the items less fragile.
After creating and applying the precious metal glazes, Engelbert fires the items again. Through a process of methodical trial and error he has discovered the correct firing temperatures to achieve variations in colour. For example, with only slight differences in temperature he can achieve a green or red colouration on a ceramic pot with a copper glaze.
A rapid cooling technique is used to create the craqueled effect in the glaze. The glaze cools more quickly than the clay creating minute cracks.
Engelbert moves the items from the kiln to a reduction chamber lined with unbleached, natural paper which combusts due to the heat from the ceramic piece. The tiny cracks are filled with the soot and ash created by the burning paper, this accentuates the craqueled pattern and creates a unique design every time.