Published: September 21, 2004
Eighteenth Century English Ceramics from the Catherine H. Collins Collection, one of the largest and most unique collections of its kind in the Southeast, will make its public debut October 3 at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA).
The exhibition features a select 100 works from the collection, highlighting the evolution of ceramic production in England during the Eighteenth Century. An illustrated catalog will accompany the exhibition and will be available in the museum store. The works will be on view through February 6. Admission is free.
Catherine Hammond Collins (1922-98), a Birmingham native, began collecting ceramics as a girl. Determined that her objects would one day become part of the Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection, she focused on acquiring objects of ceramic types from factories not yet represented in the museum’s permanent collection. Over a period of several years, she amassed a collection totaling more than 350 pieces from more than 20 factories or production areas, which came to the museum after her death in 1998. This important addition to the museum’s ceramic collection will ultimately be integrated into the large-scale reinstallation of the English Galleries, scheduled for next summer.
Several of the pieces are made of intricately modeled soft-paste porcelain with overglaze enamel decoration in shades of bright yellow, blue and red. Highlighting the most lavish of detail in the collection is a “Goat-and-Bee” jug from the Chelsea factory (established in 1744/45), the first to successfully produce porcelain in England.
Early productions from this factory, intended for the rich and fashionable, were based on contemporary silver designs. The molded jug is decorated with two recumbent goats and a small bee applied to a branch below the lip. The handle is embellished with leaves, and the body with applied flowers.
A portion of the collection focuses on whimsical and unusual pieces produced at the time. Collins enjoyed collecting these “conversation pieces,” or unusually shaped vessels like a teapot in the shape of a house or a creamer in the shape of a cow. She also collected colorful porcelain figures typical of the era.
Although many objects in the collection reflect English form and function, several of the pieces illustrate the influence Asian import ceramics had on the local market. For example, many porcelain factories produced objects after traditionally Asian blue and white designs. These became extremely popular among the English middle class. From simple table and tea wares to elaborately embellished vases and figures, a variety of pottery techniques and styles in use during the Eighteenth Century are represented in the Collins collection.
The museum is offering a fall series of lectures for $30 ($10 each). The first is “Wedgwood: Observations from the Podium,” by Stuart Slavid, vice president, director of fine ceramics, Skinner, Inc, Boston, on Thursday, October 7, at 1:30 pm. The second is “Eighteenth Century English Ceramics” by Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, PhD, The Marguerite Jones Harbert and John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative Arts, Birmingham Museum of Art, on Thursday, October 14, 1:30 pm. The last lecture is “Art, Society and Fashion: English Portraiture,” with Heather McPherson, PhD, professor of art history, University of Alabama at Birmingham, on Thursday, October 21, 1:30 pm.
Free gallery talks are scheduled for Sunday, October 24, 2 pm, with a docent; Tuesday, October 26, at noon, with Larry Allen, ceramist; and Tuesday, November 9, at noon, with Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, PhD, BMA, curator of decorative arts.
With the addition of the Catherine H. Collins Collection, the Birmingham Museum of Art now houses more than 2,000 pieces of English ceramics, one of the largest collections of its type in the Southeast. This collection, together with the Elizabeth Chellis Wedgwood Library, purchased by the museum in 1991, establishes Birmingham as a major center for the study of Eighteenth Century English ceramics.
Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am until 5 pm; and Sunday, noon until 5 pm. The BMA is on 2000 Eighth Avenue North at Richard Arrington Jr Boulevard in downtown Birmingham, off Interstate 20/59. For information, 205-254-2566.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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