Published: June 8, 2004
Through July 25, the Brandywine River Museum’s exhibition, “Extreme Creamware: Surprising Forms and Diverse Decorations,” showcases approximately 50 examples of popular Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century English earthenware that are dramatic and often surprising.
The word creamware usually brings to mind images of pale, cream-colored earthenware, elegantly formed in classic shapes, lustrously glazed and embellished, if at all, with subdued decoration – hardly suggesting the term “extreme.” Eighteenth Century potters, however, applied a variety of methods to make a surprising array of colorful, sometimes sculptural, wares. Many of their techniques were used simultaneously resulting in striking combinations.
When Enoch Booth of Staffordshire mixed light-colored earthenware clay with flint in 1740, covered it with a lead-based glaze, and fired it at a lower temperature, creamware was born. Originally known as cream colour, creamware was inexpensive and durable, and it boasted a smooth surface and brilliant glaze perfect for further ornamentation.
Early creamware was made in the prevailing rococo style. Characterized by S-curves, asymmetry and naturalism, rococo decoration of creamware included leaves, shells, flowers and other organic forms, some of which functioned as knobs, handles or spouts. Such ornamentation came from both molding and coloring. Molds enabled potters to make intricate three-dimensional shapes in bas-relief, while smaller motifs could be made in molds and applied to the shaped body.
Creamware’s popularity soared in the 1760s due in large part to Josiah Wedgwood. In 1763, he developed a clay mix that fired to a paler color than previously used clays. This paler creamware became exceedingly popular with the upper and middle classes due to Wedgwood’s tireless marketing of an extensive product line. Two years after its introduction, he shrewdly advertised the improved ware as queen’s ware after England’s Queen Charlotte ordered a tea set from his Burslem factory. Royal patronage increased the merit of creamware in the eyes of the middle class. Other potteries copied Wedgwood’s refined creamware; by 1770, nearly 70 factories were making it.
Late creamware of queen’s ware coincided with a stylistic shift from curving rococo forms to the restrained order of the neoclassical, a style based on the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Neoclassicism was less florid and more restrained and influenced creamware forms. Potters then embellished the plain ware with elaborate lacelike patterns similar to those found on silver by punching small, shaped holes in leather-hard clay before the first firing. They also used the technique of transfer printing, introduced in the 1750s, to apply images taken from contemporary engravings. This process allowed multiple copies of the same design without the variations resulting from painting by hand.
Like fine porcelain pieces, creamware was also painted in vivid enamel colors applied over the glaze of finished pieces. Manufacturers employed off-site painters and other potteries to provide creamware blanks with their final embellishments. While most creamware made prior to 1772 is unmarked, some pieces have been attributed to particular pottery manufacturers because their decorations suggest the work of particular painters.
Although great quantities were manufactured in the early Nineteenth Century, the forms and decorations of creamware became standardized, and pieces with extreme decoration became anomalies.
Creamware may never again dominate the ceramics market as it did in the Eighteenth Century, but it continues to be made today by many large companies and independent potters who imitate the extreme forms and decoration of older pieces.
The exhibition “Extreme Creamware: Surprising Forms and Diverse Decorations” offers visitors a view of many magnificent examples.
Located on US Route 1 in Chadds Ford, the Brandywine River Museum is open daily, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Admission is $8 for adults; $5 for seniors ages 65 and over, students with ID and children ages 6 to 12; and free for children under 6 and Brandywine Conservancy members. For information, 610-388-2700 or www.brandywinemuseum.org.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm