This porcelain soup plate, decorated with the arms of Ker with Martin in pretence, was made in China around 1780-90. Part of the gift of Leo A. and Doris C. Hodroff to Winterthur. Image courtesy of Winterthur

Ceramics and their journeys in spotlight at 2015 Winterthur conference

This porcelain soup plate, decorated with the arms of Ker with Martin in pretence, was made in China around 1780-90. Part of the gift of Leo A. and Doris C. Hodroff to Winterthur. Image courtesy of Winterthur
WINTERTHUR, Del. – Today we have worldwide trade in electronics, but in the past, the focus was on the worldwide trade in fashionable ceramics. No one gives a second thought to the long journey his flat screen television made from factory to living room. But imagine the perilous 18th century journey on the high seas that George Washington’s Chinese Export porcelain survived between its source half way around the world and the president’s table.

The annual Winterthur Ceramics Conference at the celebrated museum in Delaware is an extremely valuable educational resource for collectors and scholars alike. The 2015 event embraced the world trade theme: “This year’s conference focuses on ceramics that were marketed internationally – from China to the United States to Mexico and beyond. Upon arrival, some of these world-traveling vessels and dishes, in turn, inspired the creation of new wares.”

Held April 23-24, the conference presents two days of lectures by specialists from Winterthur and outside institutions as well as hands-on workshops where everyone has a chance to examine objects up close. In between, participants can meet and put questions directly to the experts and share information with other collectors in a convivial setting – in other words, networking for ceramics enthusiasts.

In any discussion of international trade, the conversation usually begins with Chinese Export porcelain; the wares had immense visual appeal and technological superiority. As the conference objective notes, their popularity with the public – from Royals to the merchant class – inspired firms in England, Europe, and the Americas to replicate and innovate; every pottery attempted to duplicate the strong white fabric and delicate designs of Asian wares.

English porcelain manufacturers competed for sales to the new United States. Note the American shield on the border of a cup and saucer shown below, which were made at the Chamberlain Worcester Factory, 1800-1810. (Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hohn Mayer. Image courtesy of Winterthur)

George Washington enters the conversation because, whether setting the table in New York, Philadelphia, or Mount Vernon, the founding father did not – indeed could not, at that time – “buy American.” He used Chinese Export porcelain for formal dinners and also bought English salt-glaze stoneware, creamware, and porcelain, as well as French porcelain from Sevres and other firms. Take a tour of the family tastes in the fascinating study George Washington’s Chinaware by Susan Gray Detweiler. Or visit the Museum at Mount Vernon to view Martha’s “tea china” decorated in faraway Canton with the names of the first states of the union.

At the conference, Margaret K. Hofer, curator of decorative arts at the New-York Historical Society, will present new information in her lecture, “George Washington Sipped Here: Chinese Export Porcelain in New York.” In an interview with Auction Central News, she explained, “The reference to George Washington in my title refers to the tendency of people to venerate objects touched by history and fame, and how that has affected what has been saved and passed down – what we have to work with today as scholars.”

She continued, “One thread to my talk is just looking at a chronology of Chinese Export wares used in New York, starting back in the 17th century with a real focus around the beginnings of direct trade in 1784. I discuss particularly the Society of the Cincinnati wares and what the merchant class was buying for themselves. And I’ll definitely focus on the Arms of New York, the pieces that were so plentiful – and then on variations of them that have personalized monograms and slightly later the variations with blue enamel and gilt. I’ll show a couple pieces with real armorials, but there’s definitely not much in the American context.”

In spite of what we would consider snail’s-pace communications, buyers would special order tableware with designated decorations such as the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization founded in 1783 by officers who fought in the Revolutionary War. Washington was the president general, and Gen. Harry “Light-Horse” Lee purchased an extensive insignia service for him in New York, pieces from which still can be seen at Mount Vernon.

Daniel and Serga Nadle’s gift of Chinese Export porcelain to Winterthur included this soup plate bearing arms of Wight, circa 1810. (Image courtesy of Winterthur)

 

Elsewhere in her talk, Hofer noted, ”I’ve tried to cast a wide net to examine what New Yorkers were buying and also what it meant to them. One of the things I’ll be doing is trying to provide a broader context, so I have a lot of portraits of the owners, images of their homes, in some cases furnishings as well – to try and set it in an environment and not just consider it abstractly. Chinese Export had a real exoticism that English wares did not.”

Not everyone ordered special services, most would select patterns from a local merchant who handled imported china. The New-York Historical Society has papers (1771-1848) connected to Frederick Rhinelander, who with his brothers sold crockery and glassware. Hofer said, “He was a merchant around the time of the Revolution, who was importing a lot of Chinese Export from London, and they’re really wonderful descriptions of what he was getting and the huge quantity that was available. It’s clear that he was buying a lot for stock, and he was shipping large quantities to other smaller merchants around the region in Connecticut and New Jersey and up the Hudson.”

Leslie Grigsby, Winterthur senior curator of ceramics, will discuss floral ornaments on ceramic vases, such as those on the porcelain jar below, made by the Chamberlain Worcester Factory in England, 1815-20. (Image courtesy of Winterthur)

Porcelain was so valuable that historians also see early advertisements for china menders, who could repair cherished pieces. A related talk on the conference schedule is “Having It our Way! Western Ornamental Tastes Expressed on Chinese Armorial Porcelain” by Angela Howard, director of the English firm Heirloom & Howard in Wiltshire, which specializes in armorial antiques. Howard will also lead the workshop “A Closer Look at Armorial Porcelain,” where conference-goers will have a chance to handle examples.

Another workshop – “What a Dish! Ceramics Use in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1700-1850,” by Catharine Dann Roeber, ceramics specialist and development officer at Winterthur – will give participants hands-on experience with imported ceramics from archaeological digs on the East Coast. She explained, “I’m interested in the history of the Mid-Atlantic culture. I thought it would be fun to have a workshop where we brought in some examples of ceramics from a variety of time periods and a variety of ceramic types, which had either been documented archaeologically or through written documentation or had great provenance to families or individuals.”

“Printed Ceramics from Staffordshire to America,” the subject of Curator Emerita Pat Halfpenny’s lecture, will include the English pearlware wine cooler shown below, made by John Rogers & Son, 1818-31. Visitors to Winterthur can view “Transferware: A Story of Pattern and Color” in the galleries. (Image courtesy of Winterthur)

 

“The things that I’m using relate to materials that were excavated in some of the sites in downtown Philadelphia,” said Roeber. “I tried to get a mix, so I have American earthenwares, English stoneware, German stoneware, English earthenwares, and Chinese Export porcelains – a couple Continental porcelains as well. It’s an up-close experience. I did select one of the Society of the Cincinnati Washington porcelains because he did use those in Philadelphia.“

Breaking new ground at the conference will be two lectures by Margaret E. Connors McQuade, assistant director and curator of decorative arts at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City. Even for collectors familiar with European and Asian imports, the ceramics made in and exported from the Spanish colonies remains an unexplored field. The first talk covers “Talavera Poblana: The Origins and Production of Tin-Glazed Earthenware in Mexico,” a subject that McQuade addressed in a 1999 exhibition catalog.

This burnished earthenware vase made in Tonala, Mexico, 1675-1699, has added 18th century ormulu mounts. (Image courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America)

In a recent interview, she said, “The ware I’m going to be talking about is the tin-glazed ware produced primarily in Puebla, which is not far from Mexico City. It started being produced very early, first in Mexico City, then in Puebla. By 1537, we have documentation that there were Spanish potters setting up workshops, so very early on – primarily to supply European-style ware for the Spaniards who were settling in Mexico. The production became so important, not just for that area but also for all the Spanish colonies that includes the Southwest across to Florida. Even on the islands off Georgia, we’ve found fragments of this type of pottery in the 17th century.”

This large tin-glazed earthenware jar made in Puebla, Mexico, circa 1650, is part of the Hispanic Society’s collection. The mark on the lower section “he” is attributed to Damian Hernandez, who was a master potter and one of the founders of the potter’s guild established in 1653. (Image courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America)

She emphasized that the Mexican earthenware was influenced by – but should not be confused with – similar dishes made in Spain: “When Spanish potters arrived in the New World, they brought the potter’s wheel, the tin and lead glaze, as well as the updraft kiln which allowed them to fire at a higher temperature and achieve the glaze that was necessary. Sometimes people who are not familiar with the ware from Mexico confuse it with European ware. Because most of the ware produced in this part of the world is in fragments, archaeologists have been talking about it for a long time. We know from archaeological evidence that it was widely distributed and we know that the ware traveled throughout the Spanish territories.”

In a second talk, McQuade will address “Noble Tastes for Bucaros de Indias: Mexican and Chilean Pottery from the Colonial Period.” The curator explained, “I’m doing another lecture on the burnished pottery that came out of Mexico in the Colonial Period. While the tin-glazed earthenware became a very important production in the Americas, the burnished pottery was exported in large part to Europe, where it entered noble collections. I walk in two worlds – one is for people who focus on ceramics as a medium, the other for people who study Spanish Colonial art and decorative arts. The people who focus on European and world ceramics are not as familiar with either of these wares, while they are an important part of Spanish Colonial art history.”

A carefully chosen selection of significant works by Hans Coper was assembled by influential American collectors Betty Lee and Aaron Stern. The Phillips New York sale of the collection in late 2013 established a new price scale for the artist’s designs. In this grouping of vases, the ovoid form with disc top at right, made about 1969, brought $100,000. Phillips image

Ceramics Collector: Hans Coper, master of form and volume

NEW YORK – Hans Coper (1920-1981) was a transformative genius in the ceramics world, so it is not surprising that his impressive body of work has captured the attention of both art historians and collectors. Although the medium was clay, his vision transcended the material and became fully integrated into the world of contemporary design during the decades in which he created his sculptural vessels.

Coper had no background in ceramics when he fled Nazi Germany for England in 1939. After being interned in Canada for two years, he spent the remainder of the war serving in Britain in a noncombatant role. At the end of the conflict, he needed work and – in a watershed moment – was hired by skilled potter Lucie Rie (1902-1995), who had left Austria for England in 1938. Coper proved to have remarkable natural abilities, both in pottery mechanics, such as throwing clay on the wheel, and also in ceramic design where he created his own vocabulary of forms.

Rie and Coper worked together for a dozen years, signing some pieces jointly – and they remained friends for the duration of his life. The Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, which owns works by both potters, notes in a joint biography: “At the same time Rie’s and Coper’s personal styles stared to diverge: While hers remained functional in focus, his became increasingly sculptural in ambition. Eventually, in 1958, Coper decided to set up his own studio … ” Also while Rie never taught formally, Coper began to teach in London in the 1960s, first at the Camberwell School of Arts and later at the Royal College of Art.

In 1958, Coper established his own studio at Hammersmith in London. In 1960, he executed an ambitious architectural commission for a wall mural at the Swinton Community School, Mexborough, South Yorkshire. While many wall murals are paintings, Coper’s design used inserted circular stoneware forms varying in size, glaze color and surface texture. The mural project set a record for the artist’s work when it sold on Sept. 27, 2011 at Phillips London “Design” sale for 181,250 pounds (est. 50,000-70,000 pounds), almost $282,000.

Never to be sold, his best-known creation is an array of six massive candlesticks which stand like abstract caryatids on either side of the High Altar at Coventry Cathedral in England. In November 1940 during World War II, the 14th-15th century St. Michael’s Church in Coventry was severely damaged by incendiary bombs; only outside walls and the tower spire were left standing. The cornerstone for a new cathedral was laid in 1956 by Queen Elizabeth II, and many important artists of the day contributed elements such as stained glass and sculpture to the interior. The completed new church standing by the ruins of the old was consecrated in 1962. Coper’s 7-foot-high candlesticks were created using thrown circular sections joined by metal supports. The trio on each side is composed of a darker center pillar flanked by banded and textured columns of lighter coloration.

Whether the revered object is an ancient Greek black-figure vase or Coper’s studio pottery, the clay has been shaped into utilitarian forms. But these works are no longer displayed filled with wine or flowers, because attention has shifted from the vessels’ function to their superb design and decoration. The Coventry candlesticks are deeply moving sculptures that bring both light and a sense of enlightenment to their altar setting. Such monumental works have only whetted the desire of collectors to own examples of Coper’s more easily possessed small scale constructions.

Han Coper’s life was cut short by illness in 1981, which makes collectors even more eager to seek out his work from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Much of the artist’s best work has been sold at Phillips in their New York and London “Design” sales over the last 10 years. Ceramics specialist Ben Williams is the firm’s expert on the artist and oversaw the New York auction of the Betty Lee and Aaron Stern Collection in December 2013, which included many carefully selected examples of Coper’s stoneware.

In an interview with ACN, he noted, “Phillips is in a position where they get offered the best in the market. The problem is – for Coper especially – that there’s not a lot of work out there. When a great collection like the Sterns’ comes up, people realize that it’s an opportunity. Even people who haven’t bought a pot in years are back in the market because they want something form that great collection. That’s when the really big jumps in price happen.”

The catalog of the Stern Collection – available online – includes stunning photos of Coper’s work as it was displayed by the collecting couple. Williams said, “Betty Lee is someone I’ve known for over 20 years. She had a really remarkable collection, so that was probably for me the pinnacle of my auction career. I said to her, rather than do an auction catalog that is a stock studio style, let’s mix it up and do some vistas to illustrate what you created in your home.”

Coper’s work long ago made the transition from ceramics sales to multimedia design sales. The same collectors who might pay millions for a Francis Bacon painting are bidding on this 20th century stoneware, so individual examples that brought four or five figures less than a decade ago, now regularly fetch six figures. As Williams put it, “We would be selling the modernist pots in amongst modernist furniture. We gave it a completely new audience and it just really took off.

“Most really great artists were being influenced by other things that were going on around them outside of clay,” he continued. “Coper, in a way, has come full circle. When he started out, he was always considered to be an artist. He was hanging out with other artists in many different media, all of those commissions that were being done around the time of Coventry Cathedral. The people who were buying that work from him in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s – all the way through really – they were people who had art on the walls and didn’t consider themselves ceramic collectors, they were collectors of fine modern art.”

Ben Williams also has seen a broadening of the market to include all of Coper’s output: “When I started working in the auctions in the early 1990s, at that point the most valuable pieces – apart from one or two very large scale works – were the late ones, the Cycladic pots. They were seen as the final statement of his career – but some of his early work is incredibly powerful as well. As a younger man, he was a very powerful thrower, and he was able to make some extraordinarily large pieces. There is more equality now in price between the best of the early work and the best of the late Cycladic pots.” As the name indicates, Coper was strongly influenced by ancient artifacts, most notably the art of the Cycladic island culture, which flourished in the Aegean around 3200-2000 B.C.

In the Stern catalog, Hans Coper is quoted as saying, “My concern is with extracting essence rather than with experiment and exploration.” Garth Clark, ceramics expert and author of many books in the field, recently talked about his admiration for Coper’s subtle artistry: “He started making pretty conventional things and then eventually his work began to change. He would play with volumes; he would flatten his pots. He would compress the volume, and it created a kind of visual illusion. Also, in his later work, he created beautiful constructions and profiles.”

Clark continued, “Right at the end, he made the Cycladic pieces. In those pots, you have these exquisite shapes and outlines – extraordinary silhouettes. And the pot itself again is not fully round so it moves them between a 2-D world and a 3-D world. That gave a very special quality to his work. No artist at the time was doing that flattening of the volume, so that was very rare.”

___

References on the artist include the still-available earlier study Hans Coper by Tony Birks and Modern Pots: Hans Coper, Lucie Rie and Their Contemporaries, The Lisa Sainsbury Collection by Cyril Frankel (University of East Anglia 2006).

 

The holy grail of modernist Roseville is the rare ‘Tank’ vase from the Futura line introduced in the 1920s. Monsen used the streamlined form as the cover illustration for his first book on the pottery. The rare design became the top lot of the March auction, selling for $13,500 (est. $8,000-$10,000). Humler & Nolan image

Roseville for the modern age: the Monsen-Baer Collection

CINCINNATI – The extensive Roseville collection of Randy Monsen and Rodney Baer offered at a Humler & Nolan auction on Saturday, March 7, was far more than your grandmother’s floral vases. The very fact that everyone’s grandmother had a couple of Roseville pieces reflects the company’s long history spanning six decades. The incredible variety of those pieces can be attributed to the Ohio factory’s bountiful output and willingness to update and experiment with ever-changing styles.

The pottery’s name came from Roseville, Ohio, where operations began in 1890, a name kept when the firm moved to the nearby ceramics center of Zanesville in 1898. The first lines were designed to compete with other well-known Ohio art potteries such as Rookwood and Weller. But with a production that continued until 1953, Roseville absorbed influences from the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Moderne and Streamline styles while it continued to satisfy grandma’s desire to see her favorite flowers on a pretty vase.

Like every serious gathering of Roseville, the 800 examples offered in the auction reflect the collectors’ own focus on their personal favorites among the company’s myriad lines. In an interview with Auction Central News, Riley Humler said, “Randy Momsen was an enthusiast to the nth degree. There are a few early pieces, but primarily we’re talking about pieces made in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Particularly of interest, he got into buying experimental pieces that were created to show but never put into production, so there are probably 30 experimental pieces that are relatively unique. He was also very interested in trial glaze pieces where they would take a standard line and use different color combinations to get a sense of what they might look like. So these are things that are fun to see because the colors are not what you expect.”

Humler continued, “Monsen really loved Roseville and he really loved the things he wrote about. He ended up writing two books, and there was a third book being written when he passed away. Each book covered half a dozen glaze lines; the first one primarily dealt with Futura, which is a very modern Art Deco line from Roseville.

If you’re interested in one of those particular lines he wrote about, the books are a great opportunity to study them.”

The publications referred to are the Collectors’ Compendium of Roseville Pottery by Randall B. Monsen. Volume 1 covers the Futura, Faline, Earlam, Artcraft, Cosmos and Artware lines; Volume 2 discusses the Baneda, Cremona, Ferella, Laurel, Montacello, and Wincraft series. For anyone who thinks of Roseville in terms of floral favorites like Magnolia, Iris, and Jonquil, Futura is the line that defies all expectations – and brings some of the highest prices in the pottery’s production.

The streamlined “Tank” shape and “Chinese Bronze” shapes may bring bids in the five-figure range, but there are dozens of other geometric forms with startling two-tone glazes. At the line’s introduction, Roseville advertised: “This delightful new pattern by Roseville – Futura – brings into your home the charm and the exhilarating tang of the modern.” Another promotion extolled “… the modernistic beauty of Futura … the dashing lines … the fearless spirit that Roseville craftsmen have so artfully given them.”

Before the sale, Humler acknowledged that this auction will establish values for the categories on offer: “There are obviously flare-ups of interest in certain kinds of things. A lot of Roseville is off considerably from what it was eight or nine years ago, but the nice thing about this collection is that there are some rarities here, some really interesting pieces. There are lines you see on a regular basis, but even there we’ve tried to include examples that are uncommon, large examples, which don’t show up a lot. It’s a pretty clean group as well.”

He concluded, “This is a significant sale of significant pieces and we’re tickled to death to have it. The breadth of it and the complexity of some of the pieces, you won’t have the opportunity to see things like this ever again. Collectors are looking for rarity; that seems to be the way things are trending today. If you like Roseville or you’re even curious about it, this is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.”

After the auction, Humler said, “We are pleased with the sale for several reasons. We had a good group of bidders and prices for Roseville were better than they have been for a bit.” He noted that four of the top five prices were paid for pieces in the Futura line: the “Tank” vase $13,500; the “Chinese Bronze” vase $10,000; a three-piece “Flying Saucer” set $8,250; and a “Jukebox” vase $4,300. Rounding out the group was an experimental vase with Mackintosh roses sold for $5,000. Colleague Mark Mussio added, “I believe provenance was the key. People were excited by the prospect of owning a piece from this amazing collection.”

A note for the future: Randy Monsen was especially interested in the design work of Frank Ferrell who worked for a number of potteries over the years and ended up at Roseville. The designer was responsible for some of Roseville’s most stylish Art Deco pieces, and the reference books mentioned above reflect Monsen’s research on Ferrell. Monsen and Baer also purchased works by the designer from his time at the Weller and Peters and Reed potteries, and those will be offered during the Humler & Nolan Keramics 2015 session on June 6.

Click here to view the fully illustrated catalog for this sale, complete with prices realized.

 

 

This 4-inch vase with a crystalline floral glaze and carved neck was made by Adelaide Alsop Robineau. Marked with her logo and dated 1919, the work brought $35,600 with premium at Treadway Toomey Auctions in December. Treadway Toomey Auctions image

Ceramics Collector: Stars in alignment at University City

ST. LOUIS – When a single art pottery vase by Frederick Hurten Rhead was sold in April by John Moran Auctioneers for a record-breaking $570,000, collector attention again focused on the University City pottery and porcelain works. Production at the studios lasted only a few years and never achieved commercial success. Yet, for one shining moment, the project united the talents of three luminaries of the ceramics world – the British-born Rhead, America’s premier woman potter Adele Alsop Robineau, and French porcelain master Taxile Doat.

Around the turn of the 20th century in St. Louis, wheeler-dealer businessman E.G. Lewis was constantly on the lookout for new commercial opportunities, although he had a history of not finishing what he started. No doubt encouraged by his wife, Mabel, he got into the specialty magazines-for-women field. By the time of the famous Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, he had purchased 85 acres for residential real estate development and built his publishing headquarters there. University City, where he invested, still exists as a separately governed town within St. Louis and the beautiful Woman’s Magazine Building is now its City Hall.

Women’s rights and women’s education were the viral topics of the day. Seizing the moment, Lewis set up what he called the American Woman’s League and conceived a grandiose scheme to establish a university curriculum of correspondence courses to sell to his magazine subscribers. He began by hiring well-known teachers for an Art Academy to offer instruction in drawing, painting, sculpture, and above all ceramics. The time between Lewis’ proposal of the idea in 1909 and the last kiln firing in 1914 was short, but the pottery and porcelain made by the faculty in that brief period remains as a breathtaking tribute to a dream that was never quite realized.

Collectors face two difficulties in their study of University City’s output. Little of the output of the ceramic studios was offered for sale, and there is no distinct, easily recognizable unifying style. Fortunately, the entire complex story of Lewis and his educational venture is explored in the excellent catalog University City Ceramics: Art Pottery of the American Woman’s League by David Conradsen, curator of decorative arts, St. Louis Art Museum, and Ellen Paul Denker, written to accompany a 2004 exhibition.

An archival photo reprinted in the catalog documents Lewis’s initial success in staffing the Art Academy ceramics division with internationally recognized talent. The occasion was the first kiln firing at University City in April 1910; the production is displayed on tables in the front. At center stands Adelaide Alsop Robineau (1865-1929), one of the most influential American ceramists of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Based in Syracuse, New York, she was a brilliant studio potter devoted to creativity not commerce. In 1899 with her husband, Samuel, she had founded the magazine Keramic Studio, which explored ceramic manufacture and decoration.

Standing on the right in the 1910 photo is Taxile Doat (1851-1939), the venerable French master with a snowy beard, who arrived in St. Louis from France in 1909 to head the ceramics department at University City, where he remained until its closure in 1914. While working in porcelain at Sevres, he had specialized in delicate pate-sur-pate decoration using classical themes, but he also experimented in his private studio with Japanese forms and glazes. The Robineaus had published a translation of Doat’s book on porcelain technique, Grand Feu Ceramics, which had influenced Adelaide to become an expert in that medium.

At left in the photo is Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880-1942), who arrived at University City to write the correspondence course in pottery making and to teach advanced students, while he made exquisite works of his own, which would further the reputation of the school. Born and trained in England, Rhead and his wife, Agnes, had been in the United States since 1902; he had worked in many of the Ohio potteries and eventually continued his career in California after leaving St. Louis in 1911. He was already well-known to American potters through his articles in Keramic Studio.

The St. Louis Art Museum is fortunate to retain works by all three of these notable University City ceramists in its permanent collection and examples can be viewed online at www.slam.org. In an interview with ACN, curator David Conradsen noted, “Doat had published the secret of how to make porcelain, which was the province of national manufactories like Sevres. Businessman E.G. Lewis seized on the idea of hiring Robineau and Doat. If she can teach herself how to make porcelain using this formula as published by Doat, any American woman can do it. And then he added Rhead for good measure, an artist who was published almost weekly in Keramics Studio.

“He brought this extraordinary group of talent to University City, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t have a longer run. But what we’re left with are these extraordinary objects and the story of these fascinating individuals. There’s the problem of what Lewis said he was doing and what he actually did. He talked big, but I do think he was kind of a visionary. He just had too many balls in the air and he never stuck with anything long enough to see it succeed. It’s easy to second guess Lewis but when you look at the objects, they speak for themselves. The ceramics are his lasting legacy.”

Each of the three artists under discussion had distinguished careers before and after the University City venture, so collectors must consider what pieces were made there and what was manufactured elsewhere. An index on marks in the Conradsen catalog is a guide to possible variants. The record-setting Rhead peacock vase had an impeccable provenance beginning with its purchase in St. Louis in 1910 and ending up several generations later in Southern California, and Rhead did some his best work while in residence at University City. A 1910 panel of tiles with peacock design is a prize possession of the Two Red Roses Foundation, which is planning a new Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement scheduled to open in Florida in 2017.

Adelaide Alsop Robineau also was at University City for only about two years, yet it was there that she created her masterpiece, the intricately carved “Scarab Vase” now at the Everson Museum of Art. This vase and several others created for the American Woman’s league were part of the presentation that won her the grand prize at the international exposition in Turin, Italy in 1911. One mark she used was her monogram with an incised UC and a date.

Although much of her work is now in museums, Robineau’s forms and other ceramics by the University City artists do show up at auctions. Don Treadway of the Treadway Toomey Galleries said recently, “I’ve actually sold a good bit of Robineau and University City privately. I have two clients in the St. Louis area who like it because of the local connection. I have had numerous things through the years by all of these people, but it’s pretty difficult to find most of it. In terms of the more important artists in American art pottery, these were some of the best and some of the most elusive. You can have all the money in the world but you can’t always find pieces.” Treadway was fortunate enough to sell a rare Frederick Rhead vase in 2007 which had been consigned from a California collection.

Taxile Doat had a long and prolific career, principally in France, so his work shows up at European auction houses as well as in American sales. He arrived in University City with a large study collection of his porcelains, and then – as was the case with Robineau – went on to do some of his most spectacular exhibition pieces while working at the school. Another archival photo shows him at work in the studio on a monumental porcelain charger commemorating the first convention of the American Woman’s League. Collectors can choose from wide variety of Doat styles ranging from classical works for Sevres to simple Japanese forms with stunning glazes.

University City Ceramics catalog is available for $29.95 from St Louis Art Museum bookstore; call the shop at 314-655-5249 or email museumshop@slam.org.

 

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

Ceramics Collector: Christopher Haun, patriot potter

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In America’s early history, skilled artisans supplied consumers’ demand for utilitarian and luxury goods to fill their homes. While making the objects we cherish as antiques today, these craftsmen – potters, cabinetmakers, silversmiths and glassblowers – were also the backbone of our young democracy. They stepped out of their workshops to vote, enlist as soldiers, and run for local office. The best known example of the active artisan/citizen is probably Revolutionary patriot Paul Revere.

In July, a superb earthenware ring bottle marked “Haun” sold for $30,680 (est. $16,000-$18,000) at a Case Antiques estate auction in Knoxville, Tenn. As fresh as the day it was made, the form was glazed in a bright snake green produced by copper oxide and covered in complex impressed patterns. Purchased with a purpose in mind, the unusual form is headed for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in the William C. and Susan S. Mariner Southern Ceramics Gallery scheduled to open in October 2015.

The maker’s mark is that of Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), another artisan with an interesting history of leaving his workshop to fight for what he believed in. Case is well-known for its finds in the field of regional painting, furniture and decorative arts. The ring bottle turned up at a local appraisal fair and was consigned by a family who had carefully preserved it because they knew it had a connection to the Civil War. Catalog entries at the firm frequently go beyond aesthetic description to make important contributions to our understanding of the historical background of the objects.

Christopher Haun belonged to a related group of potters in Greene County, which also included other established makers such as William Hinshaw and J.A. Low as well his younger brother Lewis Haun. Like many people in eastern Tennessee, Haun was strongly Union in his sympathies when the Civil War began. Several potters were among the raiding party who burned a Confederate railroad bridge at Lick Creek, an act for which five men including Haun were executed in 1861.

He wrote a letter to his wife from a Knoxville jail telling her to contact his potter friends about finishing off his current wares and then to sell the equipment in his workshop. John Case credits East Tennessee pottery expert Carole Wahler for her detailed research on the craftsman which has led to a better understanding of his work; an entry on the Haun Pottery appears on her website www.cwahlerantiques.com.

Case stresses the importance of Haun and his work: “We’re talking about this extraordinary potter, who I think is one of the finest potters of the 19th century. In a few short years, a number of pieces have surfaced that would be considered masterpieces of the ceramic art.” He stresses that only recently have these facts about Haun’s life and career emerged to provide a background for his beautifully crafted pots. In May 2010, the auction house sold a rare pitcher decorated in lead glaze with manganese or iron oxide loop designs for $9,988 (est. $3,500-$4,500). In the fall that year, they offered a well-shaped redware jar covered in cream slip and decorated with a bold green loop pattern that brought $36,800. Both were marked “C.A. Haun.”

The circular form of the ring bottle allowed it to be tied to a saddle or hooked over an arm for carrying. After the auction, Case noted that this was the only known example of the form from the Haun pottery works: “And I’m afraid it will be for the future – it’s unbelievably rare. This green bottle is so elegant in form and perfectly crafted. It was difficult to make these ring bottles; two halves of clay had to be joined at a seam so the section is perfectly circular. On top of that, he ran a band around the outer circumference and then added the stamps – surely he was showing off. I don’t know of a finer example in the South or in the North. And it’s redware on top of which he put down these amazing glazes of lead and copper oxide; you can’t really do that with stoneware. It looks like it was made two weeks ago.” Collectors attending next February’s Williamsburg Antiques Forum can look forward to a lecture on Haun and his pottery by John Case.

Skillful execution and excellent condition naturally led to the purchase of the Haun rarity as an important exhibit for the new gallery planned for MESDA. Robert Leath, chief curator and vice president, collections & research, at Old Salem Museums & Gardens wrote: “With the addition of the ring bottle to the Mariner Collection, we are delighted that both he and his pottery will be represented in the Mariner Gallery when it opens next year in October 2015.”

A recent MESDA announcement about the gallery noted that the installation “will be the first permanent museum gallery of its kind devoted solely to early southern pottery, combining masterpieces from both the museum’s public and the Mariners’ private collections. … Together, these objects will tell a more complete story of the southern ceramics traditions and how it evolved from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century than has ever been told before, detailing the lives of individual potters from Duche to Aust to Chandler, and all the major centers of southern ceramics production from Baltimore to Edgefield to western Tennessee.”

Currently, Case presents two large estate auctions a year at their headquarters in the historic Cherokee Mills building in Knoxville. The next major auction will be held in Jan. 24. For more information visit www.caseantiques.com.

To follow the activities of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Old Salem Museums and Gardens, visit www.mesda.org. On Oct. 23-25, the eighth biennial MESDA Conference with presentations on Southern material culture and decorative arts will be held at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

The potting skill of Christopher Haun can be clearly seen in the graceful shape of this 13-inch high jar with attached loop handles. The jar, covered with cream slip decorated with an abstract design in green, sold for $36,800 four years ago. Courtesy Case Antiques

The potting skill of Christopher Haun can be clearly seen in the graceful shape of this 13-inch high jar with attached loop handles. The jar, covered with cream slip decorated with an abstract design in green, sold for $36,800 four years ago. Courtesy Case Antiques

The stamped mark of C.A. Haun appears on the jar’s shoulder underneath a splash of copper oxide glaze. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

The stamped mark of C.A. Haun appears on the jar’s shoulder underneath a splash of copper oxide glaze. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

Although missing its handle, the redware pitcher clearly bears the stamp of C.A. Haun by the compass star on the upper rim; the lot brought $9,988 at Case in 2010. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

Although missing its handle, the redware pitcher clearly bears the stamp of C.A. Haun by the compass star on the upper rim; the lot brought $9,988 at Case in 2010. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

John Case shows off the perfect condition and circular form of the Haun ring bottle. An elaborate impressed pattern enlivens the vessel’s green-glazed surface. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

John Case shows off the perfect condition and circular form of the Haun ring bottle. An elaborate impressed pattern enlivens the vessel’s green-glazed surface. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

This decorated lead-glazed earthenware dish attributed to Gottfried Aust of Salem, N.C., circa 1775-1785, will be another exhibit in the new Mariner Gallery at MESDA. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

This decorated lead-glazed earthenware dish attributed to Gottfried Aust of Salem, N.C., circa 1775-1785, will be another exhibit in the new Mariner Gallery at MESDA. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Destined for display in the Mariner Gallery, this simple crock bears the signature “Mary Adams” and was made 1810-1830 in Hagerstown, Md. This is the earliest signature of a female potter on a Southern piece. Adams was the daughter of potter Jonas Knode and widow of potter Henry Adams. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Destined for display in the Mariner Gallery, this simple crock bears the signature “Mary Adams” and was made 1810-1830 in Hagerstown, Md. This is the earliest signature of a female potter on a Southern piece. Adams was the daughter of potter Jonas Knode and widow of potter Henry Adams. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Ceramics Collector: Newcomb Pottery

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

NEW ORLEANS – “Women, Art, & Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise” presents the largest comprehensive exhibition of arts and crafts from the famous New Orleans college workshop to tour the country in thirty years. The highly sought-after art pottery is placed in the context of other crafts practiced at Newcomb – textiles, metalwork, jewelry, bookbinding and works on paper. At the same time, the traveling exhibition focuses on the transformative role art education played in the lives of Southern women.

The exhibition was organized by Sally Main, senior curator of the Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Following an initial run in New Orleans, the show will be on display at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens May 17 to Aug. 31 and continue touring to other institutions for the next three years.

An added bonus for collectors was the publication of a groundbreaking new volume, The Arts and Crafts of Newcomb Pottery (Skira Rizzoli 2013) with contributions from Sally Main, Ellen Paul Denker, Martin Eidelberg, David Conradsen, Adrienne Spinozzi and Kevin W. Tucker. The attention focused on Newcomb by the book and exhibition resulted in strong prices for the art pottery in recent auctions and encouraged buyers to seek out other decorative arts made at the college.

In an interview with ACN, Sally Main explained, “This Newcomb show introduces people to the other crafts. Everybody knows the ceramics, but the other pieces are just as beautiful – these women were amazingly talented. The textiles were important to me, to get them out and introduce them to people, because the textiles were second only to pottery in sales, and they’re absolutely beautiful. The juxtaposition of colored threads makes them glow. The textiles look like pointilliste paintings.”

She continued, “Then the metalwork and jewelry were stunning. The proficiency with which they executed these things belied how new they were to the craft itself. They were doing extraordinary things.” The metalwork classes were so successful that they went coed, when Mary Williams Butler allowed male students from the Tulane School of Architecture to take instruction. At the time, William Spratling was teaching architecture at Tulane; he learned skills there that he later used in his famous silversmithing project in Taxco, Mexico.

Founded in 1886, Newcomb College was an experiment in educating women side-by-side with the male students at Tulane. The curator pointed out, “Another experiment was the idea that you educate women in the arts to give them an opportunity to achieve economic independence. Women could get married, or become teachers, or open their own shop. The college opened a door that wasn’t there before.” Newcomb arts and crafts were sold to the public then, and the objects created – led by the desirable art pottery – continue to appeal to the public today.

Newcomb students looked around them for inspiration when they picked up their brushes; the pottery emphasized the flora and foliage of the South as well as evocative moonlit landscape scenes. The appeal of these designs was demonstrated when the Neal Auction Co. sold a 1904 vase decorated by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis for a world record price of $169,200 in 2009 and a 1908 vase with a circle of pine trees decorated by Leona Nicholson in 2007 for $67,000.

At Neal’s Louisiana Purchase auction last November, shortly after the Newcomb exhibition’s opening, a large high-glaze vase, decorated with calla lilies by Mary Williams Butler in 1902, brought $35,850, and a 1902 vase with stylized foliage by LeBlanc sold for $21,510. Entry-level collectors were able to pick up smaller vases from the 1920s and 1930s for prices in the $2,500-$3,500 range. Interest in Newcomb art pottery extends far beyond New Orleans. Rago Auctions in Lambertville, N.J., has sold many examples in the past 15 years for five-figures including an 1902 LeBlanc vase circled with stylized rabbits for $84,000 in 2006.

Amanda Mantle Winstead, senior appraiser of Fine Arts at Neal, also runs her own art consulting firm and is a graduate of Newcomb College. She emphasized that prices depend very much on what comes up for sale: “You have different levels based upon the very distinctive periods of Newcomb. You can talk about the early high-glaze pieces, then you have a sort of transitional period when they’re going into the landscape design that is so identified with Newcomb, then you get into a period of floral decoration when they’re really producing a lot of pottery. The high-glaze period is at the forefront of the Arts and Crafts Movement and stylistically is different from later periods – different glazes, different designs, different palette. There was not as much produced so there is not as much in the marketplace. That is still your high point in terms of value.”

She noted that the record price in 2009 for the clematis vase by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc resulted from a combination of factors: “It was beautifully carved and modeled – it had a lot of dimension to the surface of the pot. And then the glaze coupled with that made it so strong aesthetically. The size was big, the condition was perfect – everything came together. And that day you had the right people bidding on it – an institution, a dealer in New York, and a very aggressive private collector in New Orleans. It was definitely an A+ vase.”

“It’s all about the collectors and what they’re looking for,” she added. “I’ve worked with many collectors over the years, and they seek out certain designs and periods. Some want the best examples of landscape vases from the 1910s and 1920s. They don’t even look at the high glaze – that’s not the aesthetic they’re interested in. These vases are also very desirable, so the bottom range is $2,500-3,000, while a great large landscape vase might be $15,000-$20,000. There are variations in the designs, for example, palm trees with the moon is really unusual.”

Winstead concluded, “The exhibition absolutely has increased interest in Newcomb works. The installation at the Newcomb Art Gallery was gorgeous, fabulously presented with the textiles, and the metalwork, and the china decoration all in one exhibition. And the book is incredibly well done. Anytime you have this kind of exhibition, it can only help, and we’ve seen new registered bidders. Looking to the future, the more exceptional the pot, the more money it will bring.”

Search catalogs for past and future offerings of Newcomb Pottery at www.nealauction.com or at the Live Auctioneers website.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Neal Auction Co. set a world auction record for Newcomb Pottery in June 2009 when this high glaze vase, decorated in 1904 by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc with an incised design of Jackmanii Climbing Clematis, brought $169,200 after spirited bidding (est. $35,000-$50,000). Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

'Women, Art, & Social Change,' a traveling exhibition organized by the Newcomb Art Gallery, unites the famous art pottery, such as this exquisite palm vase by an unknown decorator, with the textiles and metalwork created by women at the college. Courtesy Newcomb Art Gallery; collection of Don Fuson.

‘Women, Art, & Social Change,’ a traveling exhibition organized by the Newcomb Art Gallery, unites the famous art pottery, such as this exquisite palm vase by an unknown decorator, with the textiles and metalwork created by women at the college. Courtesy Newcomb Art Gallery; collection of Don Fuson.

From the exhibition, this rare plate was decorated with an overall cactus design around 1903 by Newcomb College student Harriet Joor. As usual, resident potter Joseph Meyer created the clay form, which was incised, painted, and finished with a glossy glaze. Newcomb Art Collection, Tulane University

From the exhibition, this rare plate was decorated with an overall cactus design around 1903 by Newcomb College student Harriet Joor. As usual, resident potter Joseph Meyer created the clay form, which was incised, painted, and finished with a glossy glaze. Newcomb Art Collection, Tulane University

The resurgence of the market for Newcomb was apparent last November when this large high-glaze vase, decorated with calla lilies by Mary Williams Butler in 1902, brought $35,850. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

The resurgence of the market for Newcomb was apparent last November when this large high-glaze vase, decorated with calla lilies by Mary Williams Butler in 1902, brought $35,850. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A 1908 high-glaze vase with a circle of pine trees decorated by Leona Nicholson is an excellent example of how carving and modeling was used to add depth to the painted design; this vase doubled its estimate to bring $67,000 in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A 1908 high-glaze vase with a circle of pine trees decorated by Leona Nicholson is an excellent example of how carving and modeling was used to add depth to the painted design; this vase doubled its estimate to bring $67,000 in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Sisters Amelie and Desiree Roman were members of the Saturday drawing classes for women, which began at Newcomb in the 1880s. Amelie enjoyed considerable success as a decorator – she painted this delightful rabbit mug around 1902 – and went on to teach at the college. Courtesy Newcomb Art Gallery; collection of Caren Fine.

Sisters Amelie and Desiree Roman were members of the Saturday drawing classes for women, which began at Newcomb in the 1880s. Amelie enjoyed considerable success as a decorator – she painted this delightful rabbit mug around 1902 – and went on to teach at the college. Courtesy Newcomb Art Gallery; collection of Caren Fine.

A rare form, this high-glaze handled tyg, decorated circa 1900-1901 by Amelie Roman, sold for $22,325 in 2005. The inscription reads: ‘One Sip of This Will Bathe The Drooping Spirits In Delight Beyond The Bliss of Dreams.’ Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A rare form, this high-glaze handled tyg, decorated circa 1900-1901 by Amelie Roman, sold for $22,325 in 2005. The inscription reads: ‘One Sip of This Will Bathe The Drooping Spirits In Delight Beyond The Bliss of Dreams.’ Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A Newcomb Pottery floral vase decorated by Anna Frances Simpson, 1911, will be among the offerings in the April 25-27 auction at the Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A Newcomb Pottery floral vase decorated by Anna Frances Simpson, 1911, will be among the offerings in the April 25-27 auction at the Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Ceramics Collector: Historical Staffordshire tableware

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

With holiday entertaining just around the corner, everyone is asking, where are those dishes? The very concept of a matching set of dishes goes back to Roman times, and by the 18th century wealthy consumers were ordering extensive porcelain services with unifying patterns from Chinese, English and European sources.

Middle- class households had the same desire for attractive services—at more affordable prices. Spurred on by the popularity of blue and white Chinese porcelain, British potteries developed a method of transfer-printing complex designs on ceramics. During the early decades of the 19th century, a repertoire of Oriental designs was quickly expanded with patterns based on scenic contemporary prints.

For American collectors, the most important patterns are those defined as Historical Staffordshire, transfer-printed pottery with views of American patriotic figures, national buildings, and scenery created to appeal to buyers in the newly formed United States. The early October sale of the Goldberg & Brown Collection of Historical Blue Staffordshire at Pook & Pook featured an illustrated catalog of almost 600 lots, which celebrated the intricate patterns and complex forms of this desirable ceramic specialty.

Henry Francis du Pont was an enthusiastic and influential collector of transferware with American views, buying examples during the 1950s to furnish the Blue Staffordshire Room at Winterthur. Leslie Grigsby, senior curator of ceramics and glass at the museum, says, “I think he was interested in it all through his collecting career. He often was collecting to furnish a particular room, and there are over 180 pieces of underglaze blue in that one room.”

Perhaps England had been on the losing side—not only during the War of Independence but more recently in the War of 1812—but savvy British businessmen quickly geared up to produce patriotic designs that could be sold through American merchants. For example, the Staffordshire firm of Enoch Wood & Sons created a pattern call “Commodore Macdonough’s Victory,” celebrating his defeat of the British on Lake Champlain. Commercial advantage obviously trumped any lingering hard feelings.

As can be seen in the Pook catalog, most designs for the American market feature views of important buildings or attractive landscapes and seascapes based on prints made by artists who had visited the United States. Fortunately for collectors, many bear the printed or impressed name of the maker on the back as well as a scene title. In the Wood & Sons series of Erie Canal views, the maker specifies the scene, such as “Aqueduct Bridge at Rochester,” providing valuable historical information.

Unlike our modern “service for 12” in a single pattern, Staffordshire transferware sometimes features different central views, united by a common decorative border. American designs are printed a strong saturated cobalt blue which ranges from bold to almost inky dark, so we can assume that was what sold best in this country. Following these rules of supply and demand, the rare views that bring top prices today were surely the least popular sellers when new. Collectors will also pay a premium for rare forms that seldom appear. The same dignified designs that were applied to coffee pots also covered chamber pots and pitcher and bowl sets for the bedroom.

Hayden Goldberg and his partner Curtis Brown were especially fond of the Boston State House pattern by John Rogers & Son. While a useful 17-inch platter brought $830, a decorative reticulated serving basket and tray with the scene sold for $4,740 (est. $1,000-&2,000). An even rarer form—a 4-inch-high ladies spittoon—brought $7,110.

The rarest pattern in the entire sale was a plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in the Connecticut River Valley, one of only three known, which sold for a stunning $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). The plate was impressed “Clews” for the James and Ralph Clews works in Cobridge, Staffordshire.

Lots which combined a spectacular form with a desirable view also did well. There were two reticulated baskets with a view of the West Point Military Academy as it appeared in the first quarter of the 19th century. One with a matching undertray sold for $4,977 (est. $2,000-$3,000) and another with an undertray with a scene of the Catskill Mountains sold for $5,688 (est. $2,500-$3,500).

Lafayette (1757-1834), the French nobleman who had fought by Washington’s side in the Revolutionary War, became America’s first pop culture hero when he returned to the United States for a visit in 1824. Staffordshire were quick to produce transfer patterns with portrait busts, scenes of his activities, and even views of his ancestral home in France. A large platter with the legend “Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden New York 16th August 1824” made by Clews sold for $2,673 (est. $300-$500).

An even rarer feather edge platter with a transfer-printed image of Gen. Lafayette taken from a well-known portrait brought $6,518 (est. $3,000-$5,000).

Designs featuring founding father George Washington were equally popular. One of the highest prices in the sale was realized for a pearlware plate with bust of Washington and the Great Seal sold for $8,295 (est. $1,500-$2,500). Clews produced a pattern labeled on the front “America and Independence,” which featured a bust of Washington and the names of fifteen states in a surrounding border. A platter, 17 inches by 14 inches, with the design was a good buy at $1,778. The entire catalog can be viewed online at www.pookandpook.com and print copies are still available from the auction house.

After the auction, Jamie Shearer, Pook & Pook vice president and American decorative arts specialist, commented, “Anything that was special or in excellent condition, private buyers were adding those to their collection and were willing to pay extra for those lots. The color is so vivid and bright.”

He also emphasized the breadth of this collection: “Goldberg was not focused on any one series. If it was blue and he didn’t have that form or pattern, that was what he bought.” The catalog opens with a tribute and brief history of the collection. Hayden Goldberg purchased his first piece of historical blue Staffordshire in 1963, a good time to be buying in the field.

Asked what means most to collectors today, Shearer noted, “In today’s world, most advanced collectors are more condition-oriented because they have access to so much more through the Internet. In the past, you might see 50 pieces at shows and auctions in a year. Now you can see 50 pieces in any given hour. So now with that access, people feel they can wait for an example in excellent condition.”

At Winterthur, Grigsby is spreading the word about the online exhibition “Patriotic America,” which can be accessed through www.winterthur.org or at www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com. The introduction explains: “Patriotic America offers a comprehensive set of images of America in the 1820s, documenting a time of great celebration in the country. In 1815, when trade between America and England resumed following the War of 1812, Staffordshire potters were eager to regain access to one of their most lucrative markets. This virtual exhibition brings together the production of more than twelve British potters who created an aesthetic that would be desirable to Americans eager to purchase objects highlighting their growing nation. Many of the images were inspired by paintings and engravings depicting the new nation’s remarkable landscape and notable architecture. Succeeding generations have treasured these wares, and they survive as a testament to the skills of the Staffordshire potter and the patriotism of his American consumer.”

The exhibition was a joint project of Winterthur, the Transferware Collectors Club, and Historic New England. Collectors can mark their calendars—the Transferware Collectors Club will be coming to Winterthur on Oct. 17, 2014 as part of their annual conference, which will be held in Pennsylvania next year. For more information on the organization’s activities and history of transfer-printed Staffordshire wares, visit www.transcollectorsclub.org.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Rare views bring top prices. This Clews plate with the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Massachusetts, one of three known examples, brought $21,330 (est. $4,000-$6,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Henry Francis du Pont was an enthusiastic collector of transfer-printed American views, which he used to create this impressive display in the Blue Staffordshire Room at Winterthur. Courtesy, Winterthur; photo by Lizzie Himmel.

Henry Francis du Pont was an enthusiastic collector of transfer-printed American views, which he used to create this impressive display in the Blue Staffordshire Room at Winterthur. Courtesy, Winterthur; photo by Lizzie Himmel.

Large tureens remain the show-stoppers of any set of dishes. This example stamped J. & W. Ridgway, which features views of the Alms House Boston and the Deaf and Dumb Asylum Hartford, sold in October at Pook & Pook for $5,214. Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Large tureens remain the show-stoppers of any set of dishes. This example stamped J. & W. Ridgway, which features views of the Alms House Boston and the Deaf and Dumb Asylum Hartford, sold in October at Pook & Pook for $5,214. Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Reticulated baskets with lacy cutout borders are another desirable form. Decorated with scenes of the Upper Ferry Bridge over River Schuylkill and Woodlands near Philadelphia, this example brought $9,480 (est. $1,500-$2,500). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Reticulated baskets with lacy cutout borders are another desirable form. Decorated with scenes of the Upper Ferry Bridge over River Schuylkill and Woodlands near Philadelphia, this example brought $9,480 (est. $1,500-$2,500). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Part of the Beauties of America series by J. & W Ridgway, this strainer for a platter features a desirable early view of the Capitol in Washington, which brought $3.081 (est. $800-$1.200). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Part of the Beauties of America series by J. & W Ridgway, this strainer for a platter features a desirable early view of the Capitol in Washington, which brought $3.081 (est. $800-$1.200). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

The Staffordshire firm of Thomas Mayer produced a series featuring the arms of the American states. This attractive leaf-shaped serving dish with the Arms of South Carolina sold for $3,081 (est. $1,000-$1,500). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

The Staffordshire firm of Thomas Mayer produced a series featuring the arms of the American states. This attractive leaf-shaped serving dish with the Arms of South Carolina sold for $3,081 (est. $1,000-$1,500). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

A true souvenir plate, this feather edge platter with printed portrait at center celebrates the 1824 visit of Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette and brought a final price of $6,518 (est. $3,000-$5,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

A true souvenir plate, this feather edge platter with printed portrait at center celebrates the 1824 visit of Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette and brought a final price of $6,518 (est. $3,000-$5,000). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

The Boston State House pattern was a favorite in the Goldberg-Brown collection. The same dignified scenes were applied to tableware and personal items such as wash sets, and this diminutive ladies’ spittoon, which brought $7,110 (est. $1,200-1,800). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

The Boston State House pattern was a favorite in the Goldberg-Brown collection. The same dignified scenes were applied to tableware and personal items such as wash sets, and this diminutive ladies’ spittoon, which brought $7,110 (est. $1,200-1,800). Courtesy Pook & Pook.

Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

Piero Fornasetti porcelain: classic themes, fantastic variations

Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

CHICAGO – Surrounded by the glories of Italian art, Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) possessed a magical talent for transforming classic themes into brilliant contemporary design. Very much the Renaissance man, he was painter, sculptor, craftsman and decorator who applied his creativity to everything from an ocean liner to a porcelain plate.

Richard Wright heads a Chicago auction house specializing in modern and contemporary design and says, “I love Fornasetti. His work is a refreshing breeze in what can be an austere modernist aesthetic. A Fornasetti piece in an interior can add a note of surrealism, a more decorative flourish.”

He clearly values the past. It makes complete sense that he is an Italian designer,” continues Wright. “Also there is an element of humor to Fornasetti that is refreshing to see in the modernist tradition.”

Fornasetti spent most of his life in Milan, where he pursued formal studies at the Brera Academy in 1930-1932 but was expelled for “insubordination,” an indication that his artistic life might not follow a traditional path. Early projects included everything from printed designs for silk scarves to frescoes in a Padua palazzo. In 1940, he met Gio Ponti (1891-1979), a noted Milanese architect and designer, with whom he would collaborate on furniture and interiors.

In an Italian Masterworks sale last December, Wright sold an ash Ponti/Fornasetti bookcase design, for $50,000. He said, “We’d love to get more. Those are really sought-after. Ponti being at the top of the Italian design market, he’s known as being a rationalist but it’s wonderful that he let his pieces be decorated on every surface.” Fornasetti adds a flourish of joy to the purity of Ponti’s designs.

Fornasetti continually experimented with trompe l’oeil decoration of the sort that covers the Palladian cabinet, circa 1955, which brought $43,750 in the same sale. The case piece is modern in form, yet sports the façade of a classical building.

More tricks of the eye cover the surface of Fornasetti’s screens, such as one Wright sold in 2008 for $7,200 which appears to reveal the inside of a country gentleman’s dressing room. He notes, “The screens are great, they’re one of his most famous designs. There are many variations.” They are tremendously popular because they add such a decorative pop as a room accent.

Wright is delighted to be able to offer one of Fornasetti’s curvaceous Musicale chairs in the Living Contemporary sale coming up on Sept. 26 (est. $2,000-$3,000). The form was originally designed in 1951, and this example is from an edition of 20 issued in 1991. Although Piero Fornasetti is gone, his son Barnaba continues to operate the family studio. On the inventive website www.fornasetti.com collectors can find the artist’s designs, biographical details and information on the Milan store.

Wright points out, “I think from a collector’s standpoint it is important to understand how to date the material. Certain designs are still being made. We work directly with the Fornasetti studio. Barnaba is a great representative of the legacy; we pass every piece we get by him. They’re very good about dating and helping us to identify all the work correctly.”

On the website, ceramics collectors will immediately spot an image of Fornasetti standing next a wall of plates, and truly the porcelain plate held such a fascination for the Italian designer that he never tired of creating new patterns for their circular surface. His best-known series, Tema e Variazioni, features more than 350 trompe l’oeil and surrealistic variations on a single woman’s face. The artist saw a photograph of Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri (1875-1944), and he never tired of her beauty.

As pointed out on the official website, “For Piero Fornasetti, a single idea provided enough inspiration to create infinite variations. … By allowing his imagination to roam freely, Fornasetti was able to constantly reinvent or reinterpret an image.” The collection of a lifetime—whether you gather four or 50—a group of Tema e Variazioni plates provides an eye-riveting display for any interior.

Paul Vandekar, who sells fine early English, European and Asian pottery and porcelain as Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc., has added wall of Fornasetti designs to his display at antique fairs. He says, “We’ve always been very venturesome in what we sell. I like very strong designs—I love things that have an amusing element to them, I love trompe l’oeil.”

He adds, “Changes in taste that have been going on, and we wanted to buy 20th century objects; the Fornasetti porcelain seemed to be a natural progression for us.” Vandekar finds in Fornasetti’s designs the same sort of whimsy he values in English pottery. Also the use of classical and neoclassical motifs makes a connection between the 20th century porcelain and the 18th and 19th ceramics he offers. While many collectors do hang the plates on a wall, Vandekar says that other buyers arrange them as a dramatic table setting for the dining room.

In addition to the Cavalieri face variations, Fornasetti made other assemblages such as sets of a dozen plates that form a Renaissance Eve or Adam when hung in the correct order. A rarer series called Le Oceanidi features surrealistic combinations of pretty women and seashells.

Collectors entering the field should spend some time studying Fornasetti’s porcelain designs, which were transfer-printed on blanks that he purchased. Some designs are rarer than others. Some patterns were reissued by Rosenthal in Germany and bear that mark. The family company has also added some new variations since the designer died. Prices vary widely, and the plates are often sold at auction in assembled groups. Individual examples may still surface at house sales and markets. The designs are hard to resist, however, so the collector may just fall in love at first sight.

An overview of Fornasetti’s work is available in Fornasetti: The Complete Universe by Mariuccia Casadio, edited by Barnaba Fornasetti with an introduction by Andrea Branzi. Other references include Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams by Patrick Mauries and Piero Fornasetti: A Conversation between Philippe Starck and Barnaba Fornasetti by Brigitte Fitoussi.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

Ceramics specialist Paul Vandekar has added Fornasetti’s 20th century designs to the inventory he exhibit at major antique fairs, where they sell in the $200-1,500 range. The dealer particularly likes the trompe l’oeil twist of this Tema e Variazioni plate. Courtesy Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge.

Five plates from the Tema e Variazioni series featuring the face of opera singer Lina Cavalieri brought $2,375 at a Rago auction in March. All are 10 1/4 inches in diameter and are marked “Fornasetti Milano Made in Italy.” Courtesy Rago Auctions.

Five plates from the Tema e Variazioni series featuring the face of opera singer Lina Cavalieri brought $2,375 at a Rago auction in March. All are 10 1/4 inches in diameter and are marked “Fornasetti Milano Made in Italy.” Courtesy Rago Auctions.

Fornasetti’s furniture is often ornamented with classical motifs; a Palladian Cabinet brought $43,750 in a Wright sale of Italian Masterworks last December. Courtesy Wright.

Fornasetti’s furniture is often ornamented with classical motifs; a Palladian Cabinet brought $43,750 in a Wright sale of Italian Masterworks last December. Courtesy Wright.

Like a large wall puzzle, 12 plates, designed by Fornasetti in 1954, can be assembled to form an image of Eve. The transfer-printed porcelain set brought $2,125 at Wright in 2011. The artist also created a set featuring Adam. Courtesy Wright.

Like a large wall puzzle, 12 plates, designed by Fornasetti in 1954, can be assembled to form an image of Eve. The transfer-printed porcelain set brought $2,125 at Wright in 2011. The artist also created a set featuring Adam. Courtesy Wright.

Fornasetti experimented with many trompe l’oeil designs, which decorated not only his porcelain plates but also furniture forms. This folding screen with a sporting gent’s accessories sold for $7,200 at Wright in 2008. Courtesy Wright.

Fornasetti experimented with many trompe l’oeil designs, which decorated not only his porcelain plates but also furniture forms. This folding screen with a sporting gent’s accessories sold for $7,200 at Wright in 2008. Courtesy Wright.

Wright auction in Chicago will offer this Musicale chair design by Piero Fornasetti in their Living Contemporary sale on Sept. 26 (est. $2,000-$3,000). Courtesy Wright.

Wright auction in Chicago will offer this Musicale chair design by Piero Fornasetti in their Living Contemporary sale on Sept. 26 (est. $2,000-$3,000). Courtesy Wright.

Less often found, a set of eight Le Oceanidi plates sold for $5,313 at Rago’s in March. All are marked ‘Fornasetti Milano Made in Italy’ and date to the 1950s-1960s. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

Less often found, a set of eight Le Oceanidi plates sold for $5,313 at Rago’s in March. All are marked ‘Fornasetti Milano Made in Italy’ and date to the 1950s-1960s. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

At the first Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction in the fall of 2010, this ‘Gash’ stoneware stack pot made in 1978 sold for $105,750, a record for Peter Voulkos’ pottery. Shown in two important exhibitions during the ceramist’s lifetime, the abstract reworking of a classical caryatid form – 48in high – is comprised of four distinct sections. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

Ceramics Collector: Peter Voulkos, Abstract Ceramicism

At the first Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction in the fall of 2010, this ‘Gash’ stoneware stack pot made in 1978 sold for $105,750, a record for Peter Voulkos’ pottery. Shown in two important exhibitions during the ceramist’s lifetime, the abstract reworking of a classical caryatid form – 48in high – is comprised of four distinct sections. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

At the first Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction in the fall of 2010, this ‘Gash’ stoneware stack pot made in 1978 sold for $105,750, a record for Peter Voulkos’ pottery. Shown in two important exhibitions during the ceramist’s lifetime, the abstract reworking of a classical caryatid form – 48in high – is comprised of four distinct sections. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

CINCINNATI – Values are rising for masterworks by ground-breaking artist Peter Voulkos (1924-2002), but collectors still can find representative pieces made during his prolific career at many price points. Among many Voulkos lots in the May Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction in Cincinnati, a signed 1957 vase, which had been exhibited at the potter’s 1995 retrospective in Japan, sold for $24,000, and a signed stoneware sculpture with an incised and painted surface, also from 1957, brought a strong $33,600.

Born in Bozeman, Mont., to Greek immigrant parents, Voulkos began his art studies in his home state and went on to receive an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. He spent much of his life teaching others, first at the Los Angeles County Art Institute, now the Otis Institute of Art and Design. Most notably, he established the ceramics department at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught from 1959 to 1985.

The potter was pursued by many of the same demons that hinder other great artists, but throughout his life, he continued to turn out carefully crafted pottery in his unique style. Plates of varying sizes were a favorite form—he was a master at turning pieces on the wheel—and he may be best known for his cylindrical “stack pots,” which often bring the highest prices for his work at auction. He made a late-life foray into bronze-casting sculpture in the stack pot form, examples of which are in the collection of Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.

Earlier this month at a Rago Modern Auction in Lambertville, N.J., a circular stoneware charger with glazed details (D. 20 inches) —signed and dated 1987—sold for $8,750. David Rago commented later, “Voulkos was to clay what the abstract expressionists were to canvas. Voulkos had his issues, usually revolving around women and liquor. But then, he was flesh and bones after all. What I found interesting is that his later work, that done within a decade of his death, seemed to improve on things he’d done 10 to 15 years earlier. Certainly some of his germinal abstract expressionist work in the ’60s is serious stuff, and I’m not saying that he didn’t create masterpieces in the ’70s and ’80s. But I tracked him while he was still alive, and he just seemed to get stronger as an artist.”

Ceramics expert Garth Clark has written excellent catalog entries to accompany the important works by Voulkos offered in the Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions. In a recent interview with this columnist, he analyzed recent sales: “Overall his market is very strong. From 1956 onwards, he has a sort of sculptural art vision of where he wants to take pottery. He was influenced by several things; one was Japanese potters who worked in that form. But he was also influenced by the Abstract Expressionists—and that started him off in a new direction.”

Until recently, he continued, “Nobody paid much attention to his early work, from 1949 through up to 1956-57 when his work became radicalized. But prior to that, he made the most beautiful classical pots and he made mainly functional pots during that period. They are exquisitely thrown. In Voulkos’ first year of doing pottery, he was throwing as well as somebody who had spent five or six years doing it. He had an instant gift on the wheel – and the ability to manipulate clay on the wheel and really throw beautiful pots can take years and years for a potter to get to that point. Voulkos burst on the scene with his amazing pots, perfectly thrown —that was a very precocious talent that he had.”

Clark pointed out that, when his work changed in the mid-1950s, he still carefully controlled the results: “Those pots that look so rough—to throw them requires great skill. He would throw a perfectly formed pot, then alter it so it became less so. Everything he did was on the wheel, and then once it was thrown, then he’d start altering it and cutting it and pushing holes through and shifting the piece so it was more asymmetrical. Now people are paying attention to the early pots as well. For the longest time, nobody was interested because they wanted his ‘art work’ from 1956-57 onwards.” He added that some of these early works had done well in the Cowan’s sales, bringing prices in the $2,000-$7,000 range.

In addition to the distracting demons, Voulkos had a brash public persona, which contrasted sharply with the more thoughtful artist that good friends connected with in private. Clark noted, “He was not good at marketing. He did a lot of things that were self-defeating and had very few major dealers during his career. He did things that damaged his marketability. Because he didn’t handle the business side of things very well, dealers were a little reluctant to work with him. So during his own lifetime, I don’t think he achieved the prices he should have. And I think that’s what now makes him attractive—people realize that he one of the top ceramicists of the 20th century. So collectors are starting to come into the market and begin to look for his work.”

In fall 2010, Clark wrote eloquently about a 1978 Voulkos stack pot named “Gash” that sold for a record $105,750 at Cowan’s: “Beginning with its forceful title, this piece is about the innate power of the stack pot. It has four distinct volumes. The first three, which are tightly thrown, thick-walled and unlike some stacks barely diminish in width as they rise, give the vessel a solid, stoic stance. A long thick neck rises from the center of this totem, an assertive column that does not narrow at the top, holding on to its power to the end. The middle of the neck has a beautiful moment when the wall pulls inward then swells out, voluptuously and sensually, pushing the eye upward to the climax of the rim. This is Voulkos’ throwing at its most seductive.

“The surface is no less compelling. Vertical and horizontal lines with their interstices rubbed with manganese oxide create an almost geometric framework for this organic jar. Some lines end with a piece of porcelain that has been pushed through the clay, a punctuation point. Vying for attention is the deep cut that circles the bottom of the neck and then soars upward visually dissecting it in half. Meandering through the pot, almost a form of automatic drawing, are more free-form cuts where the artist seems to be listening to the clay, letting it direct his knife. But it is the cut in the third tier that gives this stack pot its title, Gash, cut all the way through, removed and then replaced into the vessel …”

He concluded the entry, “It stands with the self-importance of a Greek classical caryatid, not the artist’s goal—indeed he tried to suppress figurative associations—but, as is often the case with pots, the anthropomorphism remains insistent. This pot, a record of a loving and transforming assault on shape and surface is, in short, a masterpiece.”

Collectors will continue to scour auction listings, using their own judgment to separate the attractive from the irresistible. But when the most eloquent works, large or small, come up in sales, expect future prices to continue to reinforce the importance of Peter Voulkos’ creations in the history of ceramics.

Bibliography on the artist’s career includes Peter Voulkos: a Dialogue with Clay by Rose Slivka and The Art of Peter Voulkos by Rose Slivka and Karen Tsujimoto. Potter Ken Price, featured in a January column, was a student of Voulkos, and their relationship is explored in Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968 by Mary Davis MacNaughton.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

At the first Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction in the fall of 2010, this ‘Gash’ stoneware stack pot made in 1978 sold for $105,750, a record for Peter Voulkos’ pottery. Shown in two important exhibitions during the ceramist’s lifetime, the abstract reworking of a classical caryatid form – 48in high – is comprised of four distinct sections. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

At the first Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction in the fall of 2010, this ‘Gash’ stoneware stack pot made in 1978 sold for $105,750, a record for Peter Voulkos’ pottery. Shown in two important exhibitions during the ceramist’s lifetime, the abstract reworking of a classical caryatid form – 48in high – is comprised of four distinct sections. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

Top Voulkos lot in the May Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction, this signed but untitled sculptural stoneware work from 1957 has an incised and painted surface. Final price: $33,600. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

Top Voulkos lot in the May Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auction, this signed but untitled sculptural stoneware work from 1957 has an incised and painted surface. Final price: $33,600. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

A rare early work by Voulkos, this portrait charger incised with portrait of a woman was made around 1952 at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana; the stoneware plate brought $3,000 at Cowan’s in May. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

A rare early work by Voulkos, this portrait charger incised with portrait of a woman was made around 1952 at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana; the stoneware plate brought $3,000 at Cowan’s in May. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

In the mid-1950s, Voulkos experimented with using stencils to created raised abstract figural designs in the glaze of his pots. This signed 1957 vase, which had been exhibited at the potter’s 1995 retrospective in Japan, sold for $24,000 at Cowan’s in May. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

In the mid-1950s, Voulkos experimented with using stencils to created raised abstract figural designs in the glaze of his pots. This signed 1957 vase, which had been exhibited at the potter’s 1995 retrospective in Japan, sold for $24,000 at Cowan’s in May. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

Earlier this month, this large gas-fired charger with glazed details – signed and dated 1987 – sold for $8,750 (est. $4,000-6,000) at a Rago Modern auction. Courtesy Rago Auctions

Earlier this month, this large gas-fired charger with glazed details – signed and dated 1987 – sold for $8,750 (est. $4,000-6,000) at a Rago Modern auction. Courtesy Rago Auctions

This early glazed stoneware platter – ‘D. 14’ – was signed and dated 1962. The volcanic energy of the work helped the lot realize $11,250 at a Rago Auction in February 2012. Courtesy Rago Auctions

This early glazed stoneware platter – ‘D. 14’ – was signed and dated 1962. The volcanic energy of the work helped the lot realize $11,250 at a Rago Auction in February 2012. Courtesy Rago Auctions

Carefully constructed to look like it might collapse, this stack pot titled ‘Siguirilla’ was made in 1999, late in Voulkos’ career, and sold for $77,550 at Cowan’s in November 2011. The name for the gravity-defying composition is taken from the vocabulary of flamenco guitar. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

Carefully constructed to look like it might collapse, this stack pot titled ‘Siguirilla’ was made in 1999, late in Voulkos’ career, and sold for $77,550 at Cowan’s in November 2011. The name for the gravity-defying composition is taken from the vocabulary of flamenco guitar. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Delvecchio Auctions

Voulkos founded the pottery department at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for many years. This unsigned unglazed stack pot was made in Berkeley in the 1960s and came from the collection of Steven Urry, a friend of the artist. The work brought $15,000 at Rago Auctions in 2012. Courtesy Rago Auctions

Voulkos founded the pottery department at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for many years. This unsigned unglazed stack pot was made in Berkeley in the 1960s and came from the collection of Steven Urry, a friend of the artist. The work brought $15,000 at Rago Auctions in 2012. Courtesy Rago Auctions

On view at Winterthur, this monumental punch bowl, 1820-1840, is part of an exhibition previewing a promised gift of Chinese export porcelain from the collection of Daniel and Serga Nadler. The bowl is decorated with figures in what is sometimes called the 'Mandarin' style, using a palette inspired by famille rose enamels. Photo credit: Daniel Nadler.

Ceramics Collector: Winterthur deep in Chinese export porcelain

On view at Winterthur, this monumental punch bowl, 1820-1840, is part of an exhibition previewing a promised gift of Chinese export porcelain from the collection of Daniel and Serga Nadler. The bowl is decorated with figures in what is sometimes called the 'Mandarin' style, using a palette inspired by famille rose enamels. Photo credit: Daniel Nadler.

On view at Winterthur, this monumental punch bowl, 1820-1840, is part of an exhibition previewing a promised gift of Chinese export porcelain from the collection of Daniel and Serga Nadler. The bowl is decorated with figures in what is sometimes called the ‘Mandarin’ style, using a palette inspired by famille rose enamels. Photo credit: Daniel Nadler.

Prized by collectors and coveted by museums, Chinese export porcelain continues to be worth its weight in gold. In April, Winterthur in Delaware devoted its annual ceramics conference and exhibition space in the galleries to the popular topic as it revealed that yet another outstanding group of porcelain was destined for the permanent collection.

Serious students of ceramics who regularly attend this important educational event were delighted to read: “This year’s conference celebrates the recently promised gift to Winterthur of The Daniel and Serga Nadler Collection of Chinese Export Porcelain and features a galleries display of more than 60 objects from that collection.” Lectures presented by experts from both sides of the Atlantic explored Chinese porcelain and its markets around the world as well as the Western wares it inspired.

Leslie B Grigsby, senior curator of Ceramics & Glass, when interviewed before conference, said, “We try to vary our subjects each year, but anytime we do a Chinese subject, there’s such a wide interest in it that many people sign up. We enjoy doing it and it certainly is more fun when the audience gets excited as well.” Among the speakers were Rose Kerr, former keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on “Chinese Export Porcelain at the V&A,” collector Daniel Nadler on “New Century/New Markets: Chinese Export Porcelain in the 1800s,” and Grigsby on “An Adoration of the Orient: the Chinese Taste Reflected in Western Ceramics.”

Winterthur’s core collections of American furniture and decorative arts were assembled by legendary collector Henry Francis DuPont (1880-1969). The inventory includes a wide variety of ceramic types, including wares from England, Europe and Asia popular with American consumers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Among the holdings are over 5,000 Chinese export porcelain objects, many of them produced for the American market. George Washington was only one of the founding fathers who sent special orders for porcelain wares to China, and the museum has more than 70 pieces from his dinner service decorated with the emblem of the Order of Cincinnati.

The Chinese export holdings were further enriched when the Hodroffs presented choice examples from their extensive collection to Winterthur. These wares were documented in Made in China: Export Porcelain from the Leo and Doris Hodroff Collection at Winterthur (2005) by Ronald W. Fuchs II in collaboration with David S. Howard, which has proved an invaluable illustrated reference for collectors.

The introduction sums up the material’s appeal to both the original purchasers and today’s collectors: “With its fine white body, delicately painted decoration, and associations with the exotic and mysterious world of Asia, porcelain has symbolized wealth and refinement from the time it was introduced to the West during the Middle Ages. Since then, as many as 100 million pieces of ‘china,’ as it became known, have been transported to Europe and American – encouraging the development of international trading networks linking Asia and the West; inspiring major developments in the European ceramics industry; and revolutionizing the way people drank, dined and decorated their homes.”

The future acquisition of objects from the Nadler Collection will add even more depth to Winterthur’s Chinese ceramics holdings. Collectors around the country can view examples at www.winterthur.org under “Online Collections.” There the museum announced: “The Nadler Collection of Chinese export porcelain, recently promised to Winterthur, focuses on objects from the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China from 1645 until 1908. Many of the pieces date to the 19th century and include wares made for different market around the world.” Using the link above, collectors can access a digital copy of Daniel Nadler’s book China to Order, which explores polychrome porcelain from the Qing Dynasty.

Leslie Grigsby explained how the Nadler Collection will enhance the museum’s Chinese export porcelain collection: “It includes objects that were created for markets that we in America don’t normally get exposed to – for example, the Indian market and the Near Eastern market. There are also exceptional pieces that were created for the American and English markets. The Nadlers’ taste is a different one from the Hodroffs’. In many cases, the brilliant colors and the divine motifs contrast in a wonderful way with what we have from the Hodroffs.”

Intelligent collecting in any field requires both knowledge and experience, and Chinese export porcelain can be especially challenging. The country that gave its name to “china” has never stopped producing porcelain. Motifs, colors, even marks have been cleverly copied over the centuries. Background research by reputable auction houses can help separate “period” pieces from objects made to appear antique. Chinese buyers often prefer to purchase porcelain from well-documented American collections.

Leo and Doris Hodroff made gifts not only to Winterthur but also to museums in Minneapolis and Palm Beach, Fla., where they had residences. Other pieces from the vast collection, however, were sold at Christie’s in New York in 2007 and 2008, setting benchmarks in the market and attracting buyers from all over the world. A “Hong” punch bowl, circa 1775-1780, sold to a European private buyer for $103,000; a famille rose dinner service to a U.S. collector for $67,000; and a blue and white Kangxi period vase to an Asian dealer for $58,600.

Regional auction houses around the country regularly handle Chinese export porcelain from local estates. Both American and Asian buyers track upcoming sales in New Orleans. Last year, a near pair of blue and white porcelain bowls with Kangxi marks from the Irving and Bettie Redler Collection was sold at the Neal Auction Co. for $8,365. In 2009, a monumental famille rose punch bowl decorated with figures and flowers in bright enamels brought $14,100.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

On view at Winterthur, this monumental punch bowl, 1820-1840, is part of an exhibition previewing a promised gift of Chinese export porcelain from the collection of Daniel and Serga Nadler. The bowl is decorated with figures in what is sometimes called the 'Mandarin' style, using a palette inspired by famille rose enamels. Photo credit: Daniel Nadler.

On view at Winterthur, this monumental punch bowl, 1820-1840, is part of an exhibition previewing a promised gift of Chinese export porcelain from the collection of Daniel and Serga Nadler. The bowl is decorated with figures in what is sometimes called the ‘Mandarin’ style, using a palette inspired by famille rose enamels. Photo credit: Daniel Nadler.

The Nadler Collection includes export porcelain made for British colonials living in India. This oval dish, circa 1760, is decorated with the figure of a mahout on elephant back. The white-on-white border ornamentation was widely imitated in the West. Photo  credit: Daniel Nadler.

The Nadler Collection includes export porcelain made for British colonials living in India. This oval dish, circa 1760, is decorated with the figure of a mahout on elephant back. The white-on-white border ornamentation was widely imitated in the West. Photo credit: Daniel Nadler.

This monumental Chinese famille rose porcelain bowl (diameter 23 1/2 inches), made in the 19th century during the Qing Dynasty, is decorated in vibrant enamels with panels of floral and figural scenes. The lot surpassed its $7,000-$9,000 estimate to bring $14,100 at a Neal auction in 2009. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

This monumental Chinese famille rose porcelain bowl (diameter 23 1/2 inches), made in the 19th century during the Qing Dynasty, is decorated in vibrant enamels with panels of floral and figural scenes. The lot surpassed its $7,000-$9,000 estimate to bring $14,100 at a Neal auction in 2009. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

In April 2012, this near pair of blue and white bowls sold at Neal’s for $8,365 (estimate: $1,500/$2,500). The dishes with their center and border paintings of court ladies bore Kangxi marks which would date them 1662-1722. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

In April 2012, this near pair of blue and white bowls sold at Neal’s for $8,365 (estimate: $1,500/$2,500). The dishes with their center and border paintings of court ladies bore Kangxi marks which would date them 1662-1722. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

A fine pair of blue and white Chinese export porcelain dishes decorated with flowering plants and encircled by a foliate border, probably 17th - 18th century, sold for $2,987.50 (estimate: $300-$500) a year ago at a Neal auction. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

A fine pair of blue and white Chinese export porcelain dishes decorated with flowering plants and encircled by a foliate border, probably 17th – 18th century, sold for $2,987.50 (estimate: $300-$500) a year ago at a Neal auction. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

A charming 18th century famille verte biscuit-glazed porcelain figural group, possibly depicting figures from Chinese mythology, brought $5,842 in New Orleans last fall. The lot was consigned to Neal’s by a New Orleans family. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

A charming 18th century famille verte biscuit-glazed porcelain figural group, possibly depicting figures from Chinese mythology, brought $5,842 in New Orleans last fall. The lot was consigned to Neal’s by a New Orleans family. Courtesy Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.