Published: May 8, 2012
Ceramics in America 2011, edited by Robert Hunter with contributions by Sarah Fayen Scarlett, Garth Clark, George Schwartz, Dick Henrywood, Richard Duez, Don Horvath, Brenda Hornsby Heindl, Al Luckenbach, John E. Kille, Ivor Noël Hume, Merry Abbitt Outlaw, Anthony Butera, Jr., Beverly A. Straube, Bruno Fajal, Taft Kiser, Glenn Farris, Carl Steen, Angelika Ruth Kuettner, Christa N. Beranek, Rita A. DeForest, Diana Edwards, William Pittman, David Brown, Thane Harpole, Karen K. Shriver, Richard Veit, Paul Courtney, Neil Ewins, George L. Miller and Timothy B. Riordan. Chipstone Foundation in association with University Press of New England; 2011, 220 pages, hardcover, $65.
It is startling though not unwelcome to see the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on the cover of Ceramics in America, a scholarly journal devoted, as editor Robert Hunter writes, to the study of “historical ceramics in the American context.”
Published in the 2011 edition, “Mind Mud: Ai Weiwei’s Conceptual Ceramics” pushes the journal in a contemporary direction. Though only loosely about America, the essay by gallerist Garth Clark broadens the conversation by focusing on an internationally recognized talent who “takes on,” as Clark puts it, “the vast history of China’s ceramic art&• in his large-scale installations. Recently, Weiwei filled the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern with one hundred million hand painted porcelain seBookeds made by 1,600 Jingdezhen artisans working over a two-year period.
Clark’s disquisition is accompanied by two other essays exploring the influence of Chinese ceramics on the west. In the first, Sarah Fayen Scarlett examines what is now called the “Chinese Scholar” pattern, which typically depicts a seated, robed sage contemplating a landscape. Often painted in underglaze blue, the pattern spread from China to Europe and the colonies in the Seventeenth Century and was popular in Americas between 1675 and 1695.
“Ceramic wares with the Chinese Scholar pattern were among the most popular decorative items owned during this time and can offer important insights into the era when read in the context of three major cultural shifts,” writes the author, whose essay grew out of research undertaken for “Enter The Dragon: The Beginnings of English Chinoiserie, 1680‱710,” a 2005 exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Blue and white wares figure also in “Digging Up Salem’s Golden Age: Ceramic Use Among the Merchant Class,” George Schwartz’s report on ceramics and glass excavated near the Chestnut Street residence of Captain Stephen Phillips (1764‱838) of Salem, Mass. More than a third of the 1,300 artifacts unearthed at the site were Chinese Export wares, most of it Canton, Nanking and Fitzhugh.
A tamer version of the exotic is on display in “The States Border Series by Ralph and James Clews.” Dick Henrywood looks at transfer-decorated Staffordshire pottery made for export to the United States in the Nineteenth Century. The pottery was printed in blue in the 1820s and in red, pink, purple, green, brown, black and even yellow after 1830. The Clews brothers’ State Border series features a central view enclosed in a scalloped panel bearing the names of 15 American states.
“The source for all except one of the central views can now be revealed as Marshall’s Select Views, in: Great Britain; & c., published by William Marshall in London from 1825 to 1828,” writes Henrywood, who has identified the sources for scenes cataloged by David and Linda Arman in 1977.
Ceramics in America 2011 moves next to cobalt decorated stoneware by the Thompson Potters of Morgantown, W.Va. In a 2004 essay, authors Richard Duez and Don Horvath wrote about the years 1796 to 1854. This sequel updates the pottery’s fortunes to 1890.
Frequent contributors Al Luckenbach and John E. Kille document the 1660s’ British and Dutch ceramic forms unearthed from the cellar of a house site in Providence, Md. “A white-glazed delftware candlestick is perhaps the most extraordinary find, being only the second example recovered by the Lost Towns Project in more than a decade of archaeological excavations at nearly 20 Seventeenth Century sites,” write the authors. Hunter adds that the mid-drip candlestick may be the first documented evidence of this form used in an American context.
The final, entertaining essay by Ivor Noël Hume delves into the history of brown stoneware oyster jars, some made by Thomas Commeraw’s Corlears Hook pottery around 1800. Hume’s curiosity was first piqued after a group of jars, their purpose then unknown, was discovered near the ruins of a Dutch fort in Guyana in 1967.
Mary Abbitt Outlaw edits field research notes on Whately teapots in the western Catskills; a red, clay Indian basket and a Normandy stoneware pot used in Seventeenth Century Virginia; discoveries from California, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts; Edgefield, S.C. potter David Drake; and an Eighteenth Century salt glaze stoneware plate from Trinity College in Cambridge, U.K., that is perhaps the earliest example of branded collegiate dinnerware.
Ceramics in America 2011 concludes with reviews of notable books on historic ceramics published between 2007 and 2009.
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