The devil face jug became best-selling variation on the form. This example, covered in an olive green alkaline glaze and signed by Georgia potter Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), sold for $2,000 at Case Auction in 2009. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Ceramics Collector: Face jugs – expressions in clay

The devil face jug became best-selling variation on the form. This example, covered in an olive green alkaline glaze and signed by Georgia potter Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), sold for $2,000 at Case Auction in 2009. Courtesy Case Auctions.

The devil face jug became best-selling variation on the form. This example, covered in an olive green alkaline glaze and signed by Georgia potter Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), sold for $2,000 at Case Auction in 2009. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Since ancient times, potters have made rounded jugs in the shape of the human head. There are early examples from Athens, jugs with humorous expressions were made by English potteries, and even Pablo Picasso applied his unique style to head-form vases.

Face jugs from the American South belong to separate tradition that continues to the present day. These vessels have roots in African-American cultural heritage but later become a bestselling product for regional potteries in the 20th century. Both the early folk creations and the signed works of later potters are sought out by collectors.

“Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina,” a traveling exhibition organized by the Chipstone Foundation and the Milwaukee Art Museum, is now view through April 7 at the Birmingham Museum of Art. The show explores the early history of this form as it first appeared in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in the second half of the 19th century. At that time, the face jug was a small vessel of turned stoneware with eyes and teeth made from pale kaolin, a locally available clay.

The exhibition text explains, “Historians originally believed that the face jug was utilitarian and used to store water. Multiple theories later surfaced involving its function as a container of magical materials and its ritualistic use. New research has shown that the vessel was likely multipurpose – and a coded object meant to be misunderstood.”

Dr. Graham Boettcher, curator of American art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, is delighted to have the show: “It fits in beautifully with our strong ceramics focus. Clay is the one material that connects all the departments in our museum. Whenever we have the opportunity to host a ceramics exhibition – particularly one that covers new territory – we are delighted to take it. This is the first time that all of these face jugs have been brought together in one place. In the course of researching and curating the exhibition, Claudia [Mooney of the Chipstone Foundation] uncovered face jugs that were sitting in private collections which had never been on public view.”

He continued, “It’s a small show with great visual impact – I think there are 18 full jugs and a number of fragments. In a corner of the exhibition, we have added pieces from our own African collection, which are very clearly marked. We thought that was appropriate, since we have a major collection of African ceramics – I believe it’s the largest institutional collection in the United States. There are figural traditions in African ceramics, and so we show some African face jugs.”

The Birmingham Museum of Art presented its first Bunting Biennial Ceramics Symposium in February 2013. The theme – “Clay Embodied: Ceramics and the Human Form” – was a perfect complement to the face jug exhibition. Ceramic artist Magdalene Odundo was the keynote speaker, and well-known researcher Garth Clark gave a presentation on the vessel form. Curator Emily Hanna spoke on the museum’s recent acquisition of the Dick Jemison collection of African Ceramics mentioned above.

Serious collectors will enjoy reading more about the early pieces in the exhibition in the blog posts written by Claudia Mooney of the Chipstone Foundation, which can be found on the Milwaukee Museum of Art website, www.mam.org. She discusses at length the possible implications of a rare inscription on the back of one example in the exhibition, which was made around 1862.

She states: “We know that Edgefield face jugs were created by slaves, and later free African Americans in that district of South Carolina. We know that they were made from about 1860 to about 1880 or so, when they suddenly stopped being produced. We know that the form was appropriated by white potters in the 1880s.”

Working the clay with traditional techniques, a number of these later potters achieved national recognition as folk artists. Their signed face jugs are avidly sought after by collectors when they appear at southern auction houses, including Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., and Case Auctions in Knoxville, Tenn.

One of the best-known makers of 20th century face jugs is Georgia potter Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), who became a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 1983. He took over the pottery founded by his grandfather and continued by his father, when he fulfilled an order for face jugs to sell at the first Festival of American Folk Life in the 1960s.

The NEA profile of the artist estimates that Meaders may have made 10,000 examples of the form during his career: “All his life, he continued the alkaline-glazed stoneware tradition of the area, working alone with a foot-powered treadle wheel and a rectangular wood-fired ‘tunnel’ kiln.”

“The face jugs produced by Lanier underwent a considerable evolution. The first ones featured blobs of clay representing eyes, now, and mouth applied to a jug wall. Later ones featured careful attention to facial details.”

Another important maker was Burlon Craig (1914-2002) who worked in the town of Vale, N.C, and was named a National Heritage Fellow in 1984. Daisy Wade Bridges, former associate curator, contributed the chapter on “North Carolina’s Ceramic Heritage” to North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of the Mint Museums (2004), which includes a number of examples of Craig’s face jugs.

She wrote, “One other popular product of the Catawba Valley kilns has been face jugs. Probably brought to North Carolina from the Edgefield district of South Carolina, face jugs have puzzled ceramic historians for decades. … There are many folktales about their use, but about the only thing known for certain is that they are popular with collectors and sell well. As a result, they have been produced in large numbers for the past half-century. Burlon Craig’s large jugs with weeping eyes are particularly fine examples of the form.”

Many examples of earlier and later face jugs have passed through the hands of Southern pottery expert John Case. Most have molded features, but in 2011 the auction house sold a mid-19th century jug discovered in Washington County in southwest Virginia, which had a profile portrait head painted in cobalt, rather than a sculpted face. He notes, “That’s was a very fascinating piece because we have few early face vessels from the East Tennessee-Southwest Virginia area.” The exceptional unsigned jug brought $5,800.

Asked what sort of consignments of the face jug form he would like to see in the future, he refers back to the early types on view in the current exhibition: “What I would like to see is a 19th century example with exaggerated features. Some of the early brown ones are fairly simplistic, but there is an elegance in the simplicity.”

After closing in Birmingham in April, “Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina” travels to the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens for a May 4 – July 7 run.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


The devil face jug became best-selling variation on the form. This example, covered in an olive green alkaline glaze and signed by Georgia potter Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), sold for $2,000 at Case Auction in 2009. Courtesy Case Auctions.

The devil face jug became best-selling variation on the form. This example, covered in an olive green alkaline glaze and signed by Georgia potter Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), sold for $2,000 at Case Auction in 2009. Courtesy Case Auctions.

‘Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina’ is on view at the Birmingham Museum of Art through April 7. Organized by the Chipstone Foundation and the Milwaukee Art Museum, the exhibition includes this circa 1862 head with a rare inscription on the reverse. Chipstone Foundation Collection.

‘Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina’ is on view at the Birmingham Museum of Art through April 7. Organized by the Chipstone Foundation and the Milwaukee Art Museum, the exhibition includes this circa 1862 head with a rare inscription on the reverse. Chipstone Foundation Collection.

W.T.B. Gordy (1877-1955) of Greenville, Ga., made this sculptural face jug covered in smooth brown Albany glaze around 1900. In the 2009 Brunk auction of the Griffin Collection the lot, which came with an excellent provenance, sold for $8,200 (est. $2,000-$4,000). Courtesy Brunk Auction.

W.T.B. Gordy (1877-1955) of Greenville, Ga., made this sculptural face jug covered in smooth brown Albany glaze around 1900. In the 2009 Brunk auction of the Griffin Collection the lot, which came with an excellent provenance, sold for $8,200 (est. $2,000-$4,000). Courtesy Brunk Auction.

Collectors prize the “weepy” eyes on face jugs signed by potter Burlon Craig (1914-2002) who worked Vale, Catawba County, N.C. Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., sold this 19-inch piece for $5,200 in 2007. Courtesy Brunk Auction.

Collectors prize the “weepy” eyes on face jugs signed by potter Burlon Craig (1914-2002) who worked Vale, Catawba County, N.C. Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., sold this 19-inch piece for $5,200 in 2007. Courtesy Brunk Auction.

Discovered in Washington County in southwest Virginia, this mid-19th century jug has a profile portrait head painted in cobalt, rather than a sculpted face. The unsigned piece brought $5,800 at Case Auctions in 2011. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Discovered in Washington County in southwest Virginia, this mid-19th century jug has a profile portrait head painted in cobalt, rather than a sculpted face. The unsigned piece brought $5,800 at Case Auctions in 2011. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Unlike the more polished products of 20th century potters, early face jugs are often roughly modeled with exaggerated features. This example – only 4 1/4 inches high – is on view in the traveling face jugs exhibition. Private Collection.

Unlike the more polished products of 20th century potters, early face jugs are often roughly modeled with exaggerated features. This example – only 4 1/4 inches high – is on view in the traveling face jugs exhibition. Private Collection.

This Lanier Meaders-signed early rock tooth face jug brought $1,300 at the May 2010 Case Auction in Knoxville. Courtesy Case Auctions.

This Lanier Meaders-signed early rock tooth face jug brought $1,300 at the May 2010 Case Auction in Knoxville. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Sculptor Ken Price (1935-2012) is known for clever twists on the cup form, which he embellished with bright paint. Examples rarely come on the market. This Geometric Cup (H. 5 1/4 inches) from a 1970s series made in Taos, N.M., brought $114,562.50 in a Cowans-Clark-DelVecchio auction in November 2011. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Ceramics Collector: Ken Price’s vivid table sculptures

Sculptor Ken Price (1935-2012) is known for clever twists on the cup form, which he embellished with bright paint. Examples rarely come on the market. This Geometric Cup (H. 5 1/4 inches) from a 1970s series made in Taos, N.M., brought $114,562.50 in a Cowans-Clark-DelVecchio auction in November 2011. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Sculptor Ken Price (1935-2012) is known for clever twists on the cup form, which he embellished with bright paint. Examples rarely come on the market. This Geometric Cup (H. 5 1/4 inches) from a 1970s series made in Taos, N.M., brought $114,562.50 in a Cowans-Clark-DelVecchio auction in November 2011. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Ceramics are sometimes relegated to that artistic stepchild, the “crafts” category. But no one has ever suggested that the work of Ken Price (1935-2012) is anything other than fine art, even though his miniaturized sculptures can be held in one hand.

A new traveling retrospective exhibition, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and designed by architect Frank O. Gehry, displays works from every twist and turn of Price’s career. Most valuable for enthusiasts is the accompanying 288-page catalog with magnificent images and essays by LACMA Senior Curator of Modern Art Stephanie Barron, Frank Gehry, Phyllis Tuchman and Dave Hickey, as well as past interviews with the artist himself.

In his review of the exhibition for Crafts magazine in London, ceramics expert Garth Clark wrote: “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective is kiln hot, blazing with color with works that glow like embers plucked from the fire and forms that emulate the flow of molten lava. It is a pyrotechnic display that is shockingly beautiful for those who do not already know the work, an affirmation for those who do. However, brightly as this retrospective glows, it has taken Price his entire career to reach this point, his coronation as a great American artist. Alas, he died four months earlier at age 77.”

A Los Angeles native, Ken Price received a B.F.A. in 1956 from the University of Southern California and a M.F.A. in 1959 from the renowned New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He divided his long working career between Venice, Calif., and Taos, N.M., producing some of his most celebrated pieces in the 21st century near the end of his life.

While some Alfred graduates are classed as studio potters or even just creative tableware makers, Price entered the art world at a high level. Clark pointed out, “Though one will not find an artist more dedicated to his core medium, this is not the craft-rags to art-riches scenario. Price lived his entire career in the fine arts. …”

“His first solo show was at Irving Blum’s legendary Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles in 1960, joining a stable of his surfing buddies and friends: Billy Al Bengston, Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Ed Keinholz, and others. He was also introduced to the New York artists Blum showed: Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol (whose first solo exhibition was at Ferus). This was, and remained, Price’s milieu.”

Clark wrote the extensive catalog entry when the Cowans+Clark+DelVecchio ceramics auction sold a Price Geometric Cup in November 2011 for $114,562.50. Confident in his status as a sculptor, Price was fascinated by the cup form, taking a ceramics standby and turning it on its head. He had ventured into this design area in the 1960s, but the series of strongly geometric cup shapes he created after moving his family to Taos in the early 1970s has become his most sought-after works. Examples rarely come up for sale, so the strong Cowan’s result came as no surprise; one offered at Sotheby’s in 2006 brought over $200,000.

Happy’s Curios – named after his wife Happy – was another series executed during his time in Taos (1972-1977). These colorful objects, inspired by Mexican folk art ceramics, can be more affordable for collectors. Three subtly colored tequila cups from this group sold for $4,880 at a Rago auction in 2010.

From 1991-2001, Ken Price returned to USC as professor of ceramics. The flat planes of earlier geometric pieces gave way to oozing, amorphous blobs with layered colors, which rose a foot or two off the base surface. The shapes made Catherine Wagley title her Oct. 8, 2012 exhibition review in LA Weekly: “Why are Ken Price’s Oddball Sculptures at LACMA So Compelling?”

She wrote, “But Price, who in the late 1950s fell in with the Ferus Gallery crowd now known as L.A.’s first art avant-garde, was making strange, sexy, alienlike sculptures in the last two decades of his career, forms as visceral and memorable as anything he’d done before. Hunchback of Venice (2000) has a wonky, curved, orange-on-green back and fluorescent purple underbelly you have to lean over to see. OG (2008) is a roly-poly amalgam of breastlike protrusions.”

She explained the creation process: “Price would build up clay forms like these, firing them up to 20 times each. He had stopped using glaze in the 1980s and would instead paint the surfaces with layer upon layer of acrylic before working back into the color with rubbing alcohol or wet sandpaper, making it look as if paint had eroded in places. Finally, with a Q-tip, he would add new, bright colors into those eroded spots, giving his sculptures meticulously mottled, multicolored skins.”

One only need look at Balls Congo, the 2003 work illustrated here, to understand the effect these later works have on the viewer. The speckled creature seems to rise on multiple legs in preparation for a slither across the table. These works also bring substantial prices. Last year at Phillips, Blind Bob 1998 sold for $80,500 in November and Steeps 2004 brought $98,500 in June.

Having finished its 2012 run at LACMA, “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective” begins a national tour with stops at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Feb. 9-May 12, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, June 18-Sept. 22.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Sculptor Ken Price (1935-2012) is known for clever twists on the cup form, which he embellished with bright paint. Examples rarely come on the market. This Geometric Cup (H. 5 1/4 inches) from a 1970s series made in Taos, N.M., brought $114,562.50 in a Cowans-Clark-DelVecchio auction in November 2011. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Sculptor Ken Price (1935-2012) is known for clever twists on the cup form, which he embellished with bright paint. Examples rarely come on the market. This Geometric Cup (H. 5 1/4 inches) from a 1970s series made in Taos, N.M., brought $114,562.50 in a Cowans-Clark-DelVecchio auction in November 2011. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

L. Red, a 1963 ceramic ovoid form painted with lacquer and acrylic, is one of 100 works in the traveling exhibition ‘Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,’ organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This 13-inch-high work is on loan from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy LACMA; photo Fredrik Nilsen.

L. Red, a 1963 ceramic ovoid form painted with lacquer and acrylic, is one of 100 works in the traveling exhibition ‘Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,’ organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This 13-inch-high work is on loan from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy LACMA; photo Fredrik Nilsen.

In 2007 this Ken Price geometric vessel brought $31,200 (est. $4,000/$6,000) at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center.

In 2007 this Ken Price geometric vessel brought $31,200 (est. $4,000/$6,000) at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center.

A glazed stoneware figural vase from the 1950s, signed ‘K. Price,’ sold for $2,000 in February 2012. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center.

A glazed stoneware figural vase from the 1950s, signed ‘K. Price,’ sold for $2,000 in February 2012. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center.

In the 1970s Price made a ceramic series inspired by Mexican folk pottery, which he called Happy’s Curios after his wife. These three subtly colored tequila cups brought $4,880 at a Rago auction in 2010. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center.

In the 1970s Price made a ceramic series inspired by Mexican folk pottery, which he called Happy’s Curios after his wife. These three subtly colored tequila cups brought $4,880 at a Rago auction in 2010. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center.

Shaped like an amorphous alien, this signature work from the current exhibition, titled ‘Balls Congo 2003,’ has the finely speckled surface characteristic of Ken Price’s later work. Courtesy LACMA; photo Fredrik Nilsen.

Shaped like an amorphous alien, this signature work from the current exhibition, titled ‘Balls Congo 2003,’ has the finely speckled surface characteristic of Ken Price’s later work. Courtesy LACMA; photo Fredrik Nilsen.

 

 

 

 

In September, the Dallas Auction Gallery sold a 31-piece Meissen coffee and tea service from the 19th century for $10,625 with buyer’s premium. This detail of the coffeepot reveals the exquisitely painted topographical scenes for which the firm was celebrated. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

Ceramics Collector: Merry Meissen! Setting a Dresden-style table

In September, the Dallas Auction Gallery sold a 31-piece Meissen coffee and tea service from the 19th century for $10,625 with buyer’s premium. This detail of the coffeepot reveals the exquisitely painted topographical scenes for which the firm was celebrated. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

In September, the Dallas Auction Gallery sold a 31-piece Meissen coffee and tea service from the 19th century for $10,625 with buyer’s premium. This detail of the coffeepot reveals the exquisitely painted topographical scenes for which the firm was celebrated. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

“Meissen was Europe’s first factory to make ‘true’ or ‘hard paste’ porcelain in the manner of the Chinese. It is also widely acknowledged as the greatest of all European porcelain factories,” writes John Sandon in the introduction to Meissen Porcelain, published in 2010 on the tercentenary of the establishment of the renowned German factory.

Today brainpower may focus on inventing new software or digital devices, but 300 years ago unlocking the formula for porcelain production was the Holy Grail. At that time, China had the know-how, and King Augustus II the Strong was buying up porcelain from the Orient, while longing to learn the secret of its manufacture.

Approaching the holidays, the host or hostess in charge may open the china cabinet, pondering what dishes will look the best and inspire a festive spirit. The king may have enjoyed a far more extravagant lifestyle at his palace in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, but his motivation was the same. He wanted to set the royal table to impress his guests.

Sandon continues the tale: “The world’s finest porcelain was discovered by an alchemist imprisoned in the king of Saxony’s castle. Working in a dungeon jail, Johann Friedrich Bottger found the ‘arcanum’, the secret process that made pure white porcelain. This precious commodity was known as ‘white gold’, for in 1710 porcelain was worth more than its weight in gold. Three centuries later, Meissen is still precious.”

Once the process of producing dining services and figures from the white porcelain was perfected, the factory focused creating new decorative techniques. Sandon’s comprehensive volume breaks down the history of decoration into chronological periods. Several strong personalities stand out, notably Johann Gregor Horoldt, who was famous for his fantastic chinoiserie landscapes around 1713-1740.

The most famous artist to work at Meissen was probably Johann Joachim Kandler (1706-1775). The skilled modeler and his workshop of craftsmen produced prototypes for Meissen’s famous figurines – often used as table centerpieces – as well as sculptural dining and serving wares. Among his creations was a series of characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte in their colorful costumes and amusing figures of formally dressed monkeys playing musical instruments.

Collecting Meissen and porcelain from other German factories should involved serious study and advice from experts in the field, because numerous pitfalls exist. Right from its 18th century beginnings, everybody else wanted to “be Meissen.” Industrial espionage was common, and styles and marks were imitated by other wannabe makers. The familiar blue crossed swords mark was added, appropriated and faked on lesser porcelain throughout Europe.

From the beginning, pieces made at Meissen – sometimes “seconds” – were purchased in the white and decorated elsewhere. And Meissen continued to replicate its own popular painting styles and figurine types from the 18th century throughout the 19th and into the 20th. These later-made pieces have become collectible in their own right.

John Sandon gives this collecting advice: “The finest specimens from the 18th century are deservedly expensive, but not every piece costs a king’s ransom. Choice pieces of 19th- and 20th-century Meissen present today’s collectors with an enormous opportunity.”

A good buying opportunity arose earlier this year when an important collection came on the auction market. Caroline Shuford, consignment director at the Dallas Auction Gallery, commented: “The Meissen in our Sept. 27th sale came from private collections in Texas, Oklahoma and from the estate of Mimi and Herman W. Lay, founder of H.W. Lay & Co. (makers of Lay’s potato chips) and former CEO of Frito Lay and Pepsico. Group lots of Meissen figures gained the most interest from buyers, as did figural cabinet plates and an exceptional topographical coffee service. The majority sold within or exceeded our presale estimates confirming that with the right pieces and conservative estimating, the Meissen market can bring strong prices.”

The coffee and tea service is an excellent example of how Meissen continued to turn out wonderful porcelain in the 19th century, which replicated the topographical painting style and colored grounds that originated in the first half of the 18th century. The 31-piece service included coffee and teapots, sugar and cream vessels, 12 cups and saucers, two small trays and a bowl. They are marked with crossed swords in underglaze blue as well impressed and painted numerals.

Whether gathering a few decorative pieces or planning more serious acquisition, potential buyers can start by visiting one of the excellent collections on view in American museums. “White Gold: Highlights from Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain” – on view through Jan. 6 at the Frick Collection in New York City – displays approximately 70 pieces from Henry Arnhold’s promised gift to the museum. The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710-50 by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, Sebastian Kuhn and Heike Biedermann is available from the bookstore.

On view at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Fla., is the Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain. Research on the collection appears in a 600-page catalog authored by Ulrich Pietsch, director of the state collection of Meissen porcelain in Dresden, Germany.

Warda Stevens Stout left her Meissen collection to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, a special house museum in Memphis, Tenn. Visitors can see the best pieces in the current exhibition “Fire and Desire: A Passion of Porcelain in the 18th Century” through Jan. 20. A catalog of the collection by Christina H. Nelson and Letitia Roberts will be available in March.

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


In September, the Dallas Auction Gallery sold a 31-piece Meissen coffee and tea service from the 19th century for $10,625 with buyer’s premium. This detail of the coffeepot reveals the exquisitely painted topographical scenes for which the firm was celebrated. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

In September, the Dallas Auction Gallery sold a 31-piece Meissen coffee and tea service from the 19th century for $10,625 with buyer’s premium. This detail of the coffeepot reveals the exquisitely painted topographical scenes for which the firm was celebrated. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

Each piece in the elaborate service was painted with a unique view of figures on the shoreline. The lot was part of a consignment of Meissen from the family of Mimi and Herman W. Lay, founder of H.W. Lay & Co. and former CEO of Frito Lay and Pepsico. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

Each piece in the elaborate service was painted with a unique view of figures on the shoreline. The lot was part of a consignment of Meissen from the family of Mimi and Herman W. Lay, founder of H.W. Lay & Co. and former CEO of Frito Lay and Pepsico. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

The collection of Warda Stevens Stout at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis is one of the most important Meissen collections in American museums. This teapot, circa 1725, is decorated with the chinoiserie scenes popular in the factory’s early years. Courtesy Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

The collection of Warda Stevens Stout at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis is one of the most important Meissen collections in American museums. This teapot, circa 1725, is decorated with the chinoiserie scenes popular in the factory’s early years. Courtesy Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

This elegant swan platter, 19th century after an 18th century model by J.J. Kandler, brought $1,125 at auction in Dallas this fall. The original Swan Service – over 2,000 pieces commissioned by Count Bruhl – was the most famous ever made at Meissen. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

This elegant swan platter, 19th century after an 18th century model by J.J. Kandler, brought $1,125 at auction in Dallas this fall. The original Swan Service – over 2,000 pieces commissioned by Count Bruhl – was the most famous ever made at Meissen. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

Another elaborate Meissen service, made for Saxon Prime Minister Count Sulkowski, circa 1735, included this tureen and cover now in the Stout Collection in Memphis. View highlights in the current Dixon Gallery exhibition ‘Fire and Desire: A Passion for Porcelain in the 18th Century.’ Courtesy Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

Another elaborate Meissen service, made for Saxon Prime Minister Count Sulkowski, circa 1735, included this tureen and cover now in the Stout Collection in Memphis. View highlights in the current Dixon Gallery exhibition ‘Fire and Desire: A Passion for Porcelain in the 18th Century.’ Courtesy Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

This satirical figure of Count Bruhl's tailor astride a shaggy goat, late 19th century after the 18th century model by J.J. Kandler, sold for $14,340 in 2009. The original statuette appeared on the king’s table as part of a complex centerpiece. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

This satirical figure of Count Bruhl’s tailor astride a shaggy goat, late 19th century after the 18th century model by J.J. Kandler, sold for $14,340 in 2009. The original statuette appeared on the king’s table as part of a complex centerpiece. Courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery.

Meissen master Johann Joachim Kandler began modeling figures from the Italian commedia dell’arte in 1735. This circa 1744 group from the Stout Collection depicts a dancing harlequin and columbine. Courtesy Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

Meissen master Johann Joachim Kandler began modeling figures from the Italian commedia dell’arte in 1735. This circa 1744 group from the Stout Collection depicts a dancing harlequin and columbine. Courtesy Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

 

 

Wedgwood applied Egyptian designs in relief to their dry rosso antico body. This early 19th century red and black teapot – complete with crocodile finial – sold for $2,151. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Ceramics Collector: Splendor of the pharoahs revived on porcelain

Wedgwood applied Egyptian designs in relief to their dry rosso antico body. This early 19th century red and black teapot – complete with crocodile finial – sold for $2,151. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Wedgwood applied Egyptian designs in relief to their dry rosso antico body. This early 19th century red and black teapot – complete with crocodile finial – sold for $2,151. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

In September, the Neal Auction Co. sold the furniture and decorative arts collection of legendary New York collector Lee B. Anderson. Entranced by the revival styles of the 19th century, Anderson accented his formidable holdings in Classical and Gothic Revival forms with a fine selection of artifacts in the rarer Egyptian Revival style. Buyers responded enthusiastically to the lots of French and English porcelain featuring motifs drawn from the tombs and temples along the Nile.

Over 30 years ago, Kevin Stayton, curator of decorative arts at the Brooklyn Museum, wrote an essay on “Revivalism and the Egyptian Movement” in connection with an exhibition – “The Sphinx and the Lotus” – at the Hudson River Museum. He said, “The mysteries and the majesty evoked by ancient Egypt have long occupied a secure niche in the mind and art of western man.”

“Indeed perhaps the greatest difficulty in defining an Egyptian revival in the 19th century is isolating a moment in history when the fascination with Egypt and things Egyptian is entirely lacking. Whether for its associations with exotic romance and absolutist power or for the purely aesthetic appreciation of its commanding forms and brilliant control of pattern, Egyptian art has played a role in Western culture since the Roman Emperors raided the land of the Pharaohs and re-erected looted obelisks in Rome …”

As the curator pointed out, Egyptian Revival is “The Thing That Wouldn’t Die.”

The Roman Emperor Hadrian, who ruled 117-138 A.D., decorated a wing of his Tivoli vacation villa like an Egyptian sanctuary. Artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) illustrated how Egyptian motifs could be used in decorating the interiors of his own day. Architects from past to present have adapted ancient elements such as the obelisk, pyramid and pylon to fit modern purposes.

Although the relics of Egypt’s ancient civilization never completely disappeared, certain historical events brought the style back to the forefront of the public’s fashion consciousness. In the days before modern media, people were starved for accurate visual representations of far-off wonders. Fortunately, when Napoleon made his 1798-1801 expedition to Egypt, he took along artist Vivant Denon (1747-1825). His detailed drawings of monuments and scenes from daily life were published as Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte in 1802.

The overall result was passionate fervor for fashion, furniture and fine art featuring Egyptian themes which continued throughout the 19th century. The immediate effect on ceramics was the production of two massive Egyptian services at the French national porcelain manufactory of Sevres, under the leadership of Alexandre Brogniart.

A dessert service made for presentation to Czar Alexander I was sent to St. Petersburg in 1808 and now can be seen in the Kuskovo Palace, which serves as the Russian State Museum of Ceramics.

Empress Josephine had visited the factory during production and ordered a second Egyptian larger dinner service, to be paid for out of her divorce settlement. Eventually presented to the Duke of Wellington by a later monarch, the set is on display at Apsley House, his London residence. The plates from these services were carefully painted with Egyptian scenes after the Denon drawings. The deep blue and gold border designs feature ancient motifs including Horus falcons, scarab beetles and lotus flowers.

The specially designed serving pieces, such as sucriers, are further enhanced by handles and finials in the form of human or animal figures. Most notable were the sculptural centerpieces of white bisque, which depict architecturally accurate Egyptian temples and sphinxes. These services are among the most ambitious creative projects ever completed in clay.

The numerous smaller porcelain factories surrounding Paris quickly turned out their own cabinet plates painted with Egyptian scenes and patterns. Depending on the skill and imagination of the artist, some are more accurate, while others are decidedly fanciful. Pyramids rise at odd angles, sphinxes look more Renaissance than Middle Eastern and hieroglyphics are invented to fill space. The demand for exotic porcelain was extreme, and firms made money by putting their best decorators to work.

Across the Channel, Wedgwood – famous for fine Classical works – was encouraged to retool for Egyptian Revival by the 1801 British defeat of Napoleon in Egypt. The Rosetta Stone, which proved the key to the ancient Egyptian language, was put on display at the British Museum alongside other sculpture and artifacts retrieved from the valley of the Nile.

Wedgwood’s Egyptian designs are well-modeled and archaeologically accurate; they appear in the firm’s most popular wares. Collectors can find blue and white jasperware interpretations of the human-headed Canopic jars. Tea services were produced in a black and red ware called rosso antico; crocodiles form the finials. Black basalt ware, sometimes accented with gold, was used for elegant sphinxes.

While the most superb Sevres pieces are in museum collections, 19th century French and English porcelain in the Egyptian style was popular enough in its day that antique examples continue to appear at auction. Vigilant collectors can successfully locate and bid on desirable pieces at many price levels.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Wedgwood applied Egyptian designs in relief to their dry rosso antico body. This early 19th century red and black teapot – complete with crocodile finial – sold for $2,151. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Wedgwood applied Egyptian designs in relief to their dry rosso antico body. This early 19th century red and black teapot – complete with crocodile finial – sold for $2,151. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Responding to the passion for all things Egyptian, Paris porcelain decorators painted cabinet plates with scenes of the Nile. This example from the Lee Anderson Collection brought $2,868. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Responding to the passion for all things Egyptian, Paris porcelain decorators painted cabinet plates with scenes of the Nile. This example from the Lee Anderson Collection brought $2,868. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Sevres produced two elaborate porcelain services decorated with views of ancient monuments recorded during Napoleon’s 1798-1801 expedition to Egypt. One service, enhanced by a centerpiece of bisque architectural constructions, was given to Czar Alexander I and can be seen at the Kuskovo Palace Museum of Ceramics in Russia.

Sevres produced two elaborate porcelain services decorated with views of ancient monuments recorded during Napoleon’s 1798-1801 expedition to Egypt. One service, enhanced by a centerpiece of bisque architectural constructions, was given to Czar Alexander I and can be seen at the Kuskovo Palace Museum of Ceramics in Russia.

A pair of decorated cabinet plates with a russet marble border, marked by Paris porcelain makers Locre, Russinger, Pouyat, realized $5,079 at auction in September. The plate on the right features the Egyptian goddess Isis on a pedestal between two sphinxes. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A pair of decorated cabinet plates with a russet marble border, marked by Paris porcelain makers Locre, Russinger, Pouyat, realized $5,079 at auction in September. The plate on the right features the Egyptian goddess Isis on a pedestal between two sphinxes. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A pair of Wedgwood sphinxes in the firm’s black basalt ware brought $4,780. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

A pair of Wedgwood sphinxes in the firm’s black basalt ware brought $4,780. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

An elaborate Egyptian offering scene circles a two-handled Coalport vase, circa 1810, recently sold for $1,037. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

An elaborate Egyptian offering scene circles a two-handled Coalport vase, circa 1810, recently sold for $1,037. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Enhanced by an intricate gilt border, this Paris porcelain cup and saucer with Egyptian deities against a dark ground brought $837 at auction. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Enhanced by an intricate gilt border, this Paris porcelain cup and saucer with Egyptian deities against a dark ground brought $837 at auction. Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Over 3 feet high, an impressive moon pot with splashes of cobalt soared to $19,250 (est. $4,000-$6,000) at a Leslie Hindman sale in Chicago this May. Courtesy Leslie Hindman.

Ceramics Collector: Toshiko Takaezu: Connection with the earth

Over 3 feet high, an impressive moon pot with splashes of cobalt soared to $19,250 (est. $4,000-$6,000) at a Leslie Hindman sale in Chicago this May. Courtesy Leslie Hindman.

Over 3 feet high, an impressive moon pot with splashes of cobalt soared to $19,250 (est. $4,000-$6,000) at a Leslie Hindman sale in Chicago this May. Courtesy Leslie Hindman.

Artist Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011) had a career that spanned six decades. Now best known as a studio potter, she also worked in fiber, paint and bronze. Her porcelain and stoneware creations, offered through galleries during her lifetime, are now achieving extraordinary success in the secondary auction market.

In a recent interview, Garth Clark of the Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio ceramics sales in Cincinnati, said: “She was a force during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s – right up until she passed away. Her work – once she established a look – remained very consistent: bulbous forms with tiny mouths at the top. In a way, the real individuality was in her glazes and glaze painting. She’s Hawaiian, so she grew up in a melting pot of cultures. She was very much influenced by Japanese culture in general.”

Takaezu’s parents had moved from Okinawa to Hawaii. A member of a large family, she grew up in a rural setting on the island of Maui. At one point, she accompanied her mother and a sister to Japan, where she spent some time in a Buddhist monastery. After art school at the University of Hawaii, she studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (1951-1954), with Finnish ceramist Maija Grotell. She went on to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Art (1955-1964) and Princeton University (1967-1992).

In her studio in Quakertown, N.J., she created some of her best mature work. The nearby Hunterdon Museum in Clinton presented a comprehensive exhibition “Toshiko Takaezu: At Home” in 1998. Travelers can find examples of her ceramics in many permanent collections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Renwick Gallery in Washington to the Honolulu Museum of Art and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan.

Clark continued: “In terms of the market, she has been extraordinarily resilient. The collecting of her work has been very active. Most people thought, because she was so productive, that – after a bit – the market would go down, without her very big personality there to keep things going. But she has turned out to be one of the most sought-after potters of her era.”

“She did some enormous works, particularly toward the end of her career. She had a couple of shows at the Charles Cowles Gallery in New York at the end of the 1990s, where she produced forests of giant pots. Her most collectible work tends to still be in a medium range of anything from 5 to 25 inches – that’s the work that is most popular. An electric cobalt blue is one of her distinctive glazes. She has a very wide palette of glaze color and texture, but the cobalt blue gets collectors going and is most desirable.”

Takaezu was surrounded by an enthusiastic circle of friends and supporters during her lifetime. In addition to exhibition catalogs, there are several well-illustrated books, which allow collectors to see the range of her creativity. Toshiko Takaezu: The Earth in Bloom by J. Stanley Yake, presents beautiful images of the artist and her work. He became acquainted with her at Skidmore College where she made many of her larger sculptures.

Yake quotes her as saying, “In my life I see no difference between making pots, cooking and growing vegetables. They are all so related. However, there is a need for me to work in clay. It is so gratifying and I get so much joy from it, and it gives me many answers in my life.”

Another volume, The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence (2011), edited by Peter Held, offers a scholarly analysis of Takaezu’s life work and includes essays by Paul Smith, director emeritus of the American Craft Museum, and Janet Koplos, former senior editor of Art in America. Jack Lenor Larsen, an internationally known textile designer, author and collector, provides a foreword.

Held is Curator of Ceramics at the Ceramics Research Center, Arizona State University Art Museum at Tempe. He noted in his introduction, “She never deviated from her overriding vision: using monolithic shapes and a simplicity of form and surface treatment to make tangible connections with a broad audience at a primal level. Their authority reveals her clarity of purpose and a humanness evoking a range of emotion.”

“Some interpret them as koans, objects that defy rational thinking or materiality, that hold the power to influence how one perceives the world, and that can spark enlightenment and personal fulfillment. Living in a culture that embraces rapid technology and change, Takaezu highlights the ordinary with her art, by meditation on the nuances of the everyday in fine detail.”

A sign of the potter’s current market strength was an extraordinarily tall moon pot (43 inches high), marked “TT” that sold at Leslie Hindman in Chicago on May 2 for $19,250, well beyond its $4,000-$6,000 estimate. The sculpture featured a shaded black glaze streaked with cobalt. The good news, however, is that many other moon pots in subtly varying shapes and colors sell at auction for less than $5,000. Small utilitarian pieces, such as tea bowls and plates, can be purchased for several thousand dollars.

Speaking to collectors, Garth Clark adds a special note in conclusion: “The reason why her work does so well is that, if you buy 20 pots of more or less the same form but different sizes and put them together on a table, it is just ravishing. With her pieces – because the form is very similar but the scale or color varies – you can create these thrilling tableaux.”


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Over 3 feet high, an impressive moon pot with splashes of cobalt soared to $19,250 (est. $4,000-$6,000) at a Leslie Hindman sale in Chicago this May. Courtesy Leslie Hindman.

Over 3 feet high, an impressive moon pot with splashes of cobalt soared to $19,250 (est. $4,000-$6,000) at a Leslie Hindman sale in Chicago this May. Courtesy Leslie Hindman.

In an evocative photo taken over a decade ago, potter Toshiko Takaezu walks among a group of her larger works, which seem to have sprung from the earth. Photo by Tom Grotta.

In an evocative photo taken over a decade ago, potter Toshiko Takaezu walks among a group of her larger works, which seem to have sprung from the earth. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Collectors instinctively connect with Takaezu’s moon pots. This 1993 example in soft shades of rose and lavender, 71/2 inches high, sold at a Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio auction last November for $5,100. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

Collectors instinctively connect with Takaezu’s moon pots. This 1993 example in soft shades of rose and lavender, 71/2 inches high, sold at a Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio auction last November for $5,100. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

Takaezu experimented with unusual forms; a double-spouted teapot, circa 1956, sold for $1,762.50 at Cowan’s in June. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

Takaezu experimented with unusual forms; a double-spouted teapot, circa 1956, sold for $1,762.50 at Cowan’s in June. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

Perfect for an outdoor setting, this rare glazed porcelain garden stool with rattle, 1965-1970, brought $8,540 at Rago’s in February 2011. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

Perfect for an outdoor setting, this rare glazed porcelain garden stool with rattle, 1965-1970, brought $8,540 at Rago’s in February 2011. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

With its sought-after shape and glaze colors, this 24-inch-tall moon pot with rattle surpassed its $4,000-$6,000 estimate to bring $16,120 last year in a Rago ceramics sale. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

With its sought-after shape and glaze colors, this 24-inch-tall moon pot with rattle surpassed its $4,000-$6,000 estimate to bring $16,120 last year in a Rago ceramics sale. Courtesy Rago Auctions.

Beginning collectors can find entry points among Takaezu’s smaller works. This matching bowl and plate, circa 1975, sold for $330 this June. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

Beginning collectors can find entry points among Takaezu’s smaller works. This matching bowl and plate, circa 1975, sold for $330 this June. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

A small moon pot from 1968 brought $3,231.25 at Cowan’s last November. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

A small moon pot from 1968 brought $3,231.25 at Cowan’s last November. Courtesy Cowan’s+Clark+Del Vecchio Auctions.

This pair of cylindrical ceramic vases with elaborate polychrome decoration brought $11,456 at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans in 2007. Adding to their value was an inscription on the base: “S. Child & Co., Baltimore, Exposition Universelle Paris 1878.” Courtesy Neal Auction Company

Ceramics Collector: Int’l World’s Fairs transformed decorative arts

This pair of cylindrical ceramic vases with elaborate polychrome decoration brought $11,456 at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans in 2007. Adding to their value was an inscription on the base: “S. Child & Co., Baltimore, Exposition Universelle Paris 1878.” Courtesy Neal Auction Company

This pair of cylindrical ceramic vases with elaborate polychrome decoration brought $11,456 at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans in 2007. Adding to their value was an inscription on the base: “S. Child & Co., Baltimore, Exposition Universelle Paris 1878.” Courtesy Neal Auction Company

PHILADELPHIA – Beginning in the 19th century, international world’s fairs presented cutting-edge fashions in art and design. Before the rise of the cinema or the widespread use of photography, fairs were literally a window on the world for the visitors who filled the aisles.

Fanciful buildings held displays which presented the latest achievements in technology, cultural artifacts from distant countries, and fine and decorative arts. In the latter category, companies and individual artisans competed for prizes which could assure future success in the marketplace.

A new exhibition, Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939, explores the influence these events exerted on the public’s aesthetic perception. Organized by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the show will travel to museums throughout the country during the next two years.

The exhibition catalogue for Inventing the Modern World, edited by Catherine L. Futter and Jason T. Busch of the organizing institutions, is an essential reference for all collectors of decorative arts. The pages are filled with examples of the ceramics, glass, silver, textiles, and furniture that greeted visitors to the fairs.

The volume published by Skira/Rizzoli will be on sale at museum stores and is available online for around $50. In addition to scholarly essays, the book contains valuable appendices on the chronology of the events and exhibiting firms and designers.

In a recent interview, Catherine Futter, the Uhlmann Curator of Decorative Arts at the Nelson-Atkins, voiced her goals: “I want people to realize the scope of what was there, and how exciting it was to encounter these objects which were technically and stylistically innovative. World’s fairs transmitted ideas. Although there was competition, the goal was to create a better world.”

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry held in London in 1851 – often referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition – is regarded as the opening salvo in a string of international events held in North and South America, Europe, and the Far East during the following century. The massive building constructed of iron girders and glass plates was a wonder in itself. Period prints show well-dressed Victorians strolling along interior streets with store-front windows displaying products from many nations.

While London continued to offer exhibitions during the latter half of the 19th century, fashion-conscious Paris stepped up with a series of Expositions Universelles in 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900. The famous 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs popularized Art Deco and changed the course of art history. Fairs eventually spanned the globe – Vienna 1873, Cape Town 1877, Melbourne 1880, Madrid 1892, Stockholm 1897, and even Hanoi 1902 among many others.

On this side of the Atlantic, Americans enjoyed multiple events including the Philadelphia International Centennial Exhibition in 1876, the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the “Meet Me in St. Louis” Louisiana Purchase International Exposition of 1904, and the famously futuristic New York World’s Fair of 1939.

After years of research into these events, Catherine Futter said, “In the decorative arts, one of my major interests is examining where cultures come together and the transference of ideas. One of my specialties is chinoiserie and japonisme. I’m especially interested in the effect of Asian culture on western art but also in the effect of western culture on Asian art, and of course the world’s fairs were a huge catalyst for that.” Her essay in the exhibition catalogue is titled “’The Federation of Mankind’: Cross-cultural Influences in Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs.”

One of the best examples of world’s fairs setting a style for decorative arts and interior design is the impact that viewing Japanese artifacts had on the West. Many visitors had never seen art or even a living person from Japan before, and suddenly everyone wanted a vase with Japanese motifs or a “japonesque” cabinet. Put in modern terms, the viewers were simply “blown away” by the style.

In the catalogue, Futter writes: “At the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, not only did Japanese manufacturers participate with a pavilion, bazaar, and garden, but also a variety of European and American manufacturers showed Japanese-influenced designs in every medium.”

The Atlantic Monthly review effusively exclaimed, “The gorgeousness of specimens is equaled only by their exquisite delicacy…. After the Japanese collection everything looks in a measure commonplace, almost vulgar.” The style was so popular in the West that Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 operetta The Mikado, set in an imaginary Japanese court, became their longest-running hit.

The world’s fairs had a major impact on decorative arts collecting from the very beginning. Today bidders will pay a premium for objects with a documented history of exhibition at a particular event, even more if the object in question won a medal for excellence. Private collectors often must compete directly with museum curators who want to acquire the same lots.

Catherine Futter, who has acquired choice pieces for the museums where she has been curator, noted that this competition has a long history. Many exhibits at the fairs were for sale at various price points and went home with visitors. Meanwhile, institutions were buying entire displays for their permanent collections.

The curator said, “In Europe, design and decorative arts museums acquired massive numbers of objects at the fairs. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg acquired 1750 objects from the Vienna 1873 fair. In 1900, the Danish Design Museum bought an incredible collection of objects at the Paris fair. The museums went shopping for things.”

“A lot of these applied arts museums were affiliated with schools, so it was a way to train students and educate manufacturers and designers and finally to show the public what good design was. World’s Fairs were all about education and, of course, design museums and their schools shared that goal.”

She continued, “The Victoria & Albert Museum comes out of the 1851 exhibition. In this country, there were quite a number of objects purchased from the Philadelphia 1876 exhibition, both for what became the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.”

For views of the site plans and fantastic architecture of these extraordinary events, World’s Fairs by Eric Mattie, published by the Princeton Architectural Press, is the authoritative study. Travelers can visit surviving structures around the world. For example, the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition is now the St. Louis Art Museum.

Inventing the Modern World continues at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City through August 19. The show travels next to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for a October 13, 2012-Febrary 24, 2013 run, followed by visits to the New Orleans Museum of Art and The Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C. in 2013.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


This pair of cylindrical ceramic vases with elaborate polychrome decoration brought $11,456 at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans in 2007. Adding to their value was an inscription on the base: “S. Child & Co., Baltimore, Exposition Universelle Paris 1878.” Courtesy Neal Auction Company

This pair of cylindrical ceramic vases with elaborate polychrome decoration brought $11,456 at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans in 2007. Adding to their value was an inscription on the base: “S. Child & Co., Baltimore, Exposition Universelle Paris 1878.” Courtesy Neal Auction Company

London goldsmith Robert Phillips made exquisite gold mountings for antique Mughal carved rock crystal bowls; this example sold at Skinner’s last October for $201,450. Phillips exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle, and this object may have been part of his display there. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

London goldsmith Robert Phillips made exquisite gold mountings for antique Mughal carved rock crystal bowls; this example sold at Skinner’s last October for $201,450. Phillips exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle, and this object may have been part of his display there. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

A period photograph of the entrance to Great Britain’s display at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle illustrates how decorative arts were presented to the public. New design trends were set, as both private buyers and institutions purchased objects that caught their fancy.

A period photograph of the entrance to Great Britain’s display at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle illustrates how decorative arts were presented to the public. New design trends were set, as both private buyers and institutions purchased objects that caught their fancy.

Among the objects on display in Inventing the Modern World is this Rookwood Pottery vase decorated by Kataro Shirayamadani (1865–1948), which was exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle.  The Japanese-born artist was superbly qualified to satisfy the popular demand for decorative arts influenced by Asian styles. Courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum

Among the objects on display in Inventing the Modern World is this Rookwood Pottery vase decorated by Kataro Shirayamadani (1865–1948), which was exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. The Japanese-born artist was superbly qualified to satisfy the popular demand for decorative arts influenced by Asian styles. Courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum

Tiffany & Company was quick to adopt exotic techniques and designs first viewed by the public at world’s fairs. This silver vase with copper, gold, iron and niello from the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle displays strong Japanese influence; the loan from a private collection is part of Inventing the Modern World.

Tiffany & Company was quick to adopt exotic techniques and designs first viewed by the public at world’s fairs. This silver vase with copper, gold, iron and niello from the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle displays strong Japanese influence; the loan from a private collection is part of Inventing the Modern World.

Antiques influenced late 19th century fashion for japonisme, which was fueled by world’s fairs, frequently come up at auction. In February, Case Auctions in Knoxville sold this 61-piece set of Tiffany “Audubon” pattern silver flatware for $9,512 over a $4500-6500 estimate. Courtesy Case Auctions

Antiques influenced late 19th century fashion for japonisme, which was fueled by world’s fairs, frequently come up at auction. In February, Case Auctions in Knoxville sold this 61-piece set of Tiffany “Audubon” pattern silver flatware for $9,512 over a $4500-6500 estimate. Courtesy Case Auctions

An excellent example of the “Jazz” punch bowl, made 1929 by Viktor Schreckengost at the Cowan Pottery in Cleveland, will be sold next weekend at Rago Arts in Lambertville, N.J. – estimate $40,000-$60,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

Ceramics Collector: Viktor Schreckengost’s Jazz Age pottery

An excellent example of the “Jazz” punch bowl, made 1929 by Viktor Schreckengost at the Cowan Pottery in Cleveland, will be sold next weekend at Rago Arts in Lambertville, N.J. – estimate $40,000-$60,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

An excellent example of the “Jazz” punch bowl, made 1929 by Viktor Schreckengost at the Cowan Pottery in Cleveland, will be sold next weekend at Rago Arts in Lambertville, N.J. – estimate $40,000-$60,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

The “Jazz” bowl created by Viktor Schreckengost (1906-2008) is an acknowledged icon of American Art Deco, summing up in a single object the spirit of an exciting era. Although this object may now be the best known of his works, the prolific artist enjoyed a long career as an industrial designer and influenced future generations through 50 years of teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Born into a family of ceramic workers in 1906, Schreckengost began his long association with Cleveland when he moved to the city to study art in 1929. An artistic turning point came when he saw the work of Michael Powolny in an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art and earned a scholarship to study with the European artist at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna.

Some of his earliest designs, including the “Jazz” bowl, were made for the Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, a town on Lake Erie east of Cleveland. The pottery had opened in 1884 but closed in December 1931 as a result of Depression economics. Schreckengost went on to found the department of Industrial Design at the Cleveland Institute of Art and remained on the faculty until his death.

In a 2008 obituary, the Cleveland Plain Dealer paid tribute to his diversity: “Schreckengost’s output as a designer was immense. His products included pedal cars, printing presses, stoves, refrigerators, collators, machine tools, riding lawn mowers, lawn furniture, tractors, dinnerware, toys, streetlights, broadcast equipment, gearshift consoles, flashlights, theater costumes, stage sets, artificial limbs, typesetting machines, coffins, calendars, chairs, electric fans, lenses, logos, ball gowns and baby walkers.”

Yet he remains best known for the porcelain he produced at the Cowan Pottery when he was in his twenties. Under “Ceramics” in the classic reference American Art Deco, author Alastair Duncan’s writes, “ Schreckengost’s own recollection serves best to trace the events leading to the creation of his ‘Jazz Bowl,’ a period masterpiece which captured the dazzling mood of the early 1930s in a montage of skyscrapers, musical notes, cocktail glasses, gas lamps, and champagne bubbles.”

Duncan goes on to quote the artist’s memories recorded in a 1983 Plain Dealer interview: “They had a customer – ‘a lady in Albany’ is all they said – who wanted a punch bowl ‘New Yorkish’ in effect. New Yorkish! Now, that really piqued my interest and I imagined what the city meant to me. I always felt New York was most exciting at night when it had a funny blue light over everything and great jazz bands were playing everywhere, Ozzie Nelson, Cab Calloway.”

The Cowan Pottery customer turned out to be Eleanor Roosevelt whose husband had just been re-elected Governor of New York prior to his 1932 run for President. Among the cocktail glasses and tall buildings, the pattern features a number of signs including a circular medallion with the word “Jazz,” which has given the pottery line its name. The future First Lady liked the resulting design so much that she ordered several more.

The total number of these large punch bowls (H. 11 ½’, D. 16”) produced is unknown; many have been lost or destroyed. Designs were incised by hand, highlighted in black slip, and covered with an overall Egyptian blue-green glaze that varies slightly in hue. A slightly shorter bowl with flared rim decorated with the same design was also made. An equally lively “Jazz” dance design is found on a series of wall plaques.

David Rago, president of the Rago Arts and Auction Center, is enthusiastic about the upcoming sale: “I can talk to you about the Jazz bowl for three days, if you want. It’s one of the most significant pieces of American pottery in the first half of the 20th century. There are different ways of looking at it. On the one hand, the bowl stands on its own as a work of art by a master. But it also says a great deal about what happened to American ceramics when the Art Pottery movement died and the Studio Pottery movement kicked in.”

Rago continues, “They’re all a little different because they are done by hand. You put them side-by-side, you’ll see slight variations – which is great. What makes this one special is that it may be the last one in private hands.” Other examples have entered permanent collections at museums, including the Jazz punch bowl sold in Rago in October 2010 for $158,600. Another sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 for over a quarter million dollars.

Price variations are often due to condition; Rago notes that the bowl shape is easily damaged. For the example coming to auction, he says, “The condition is almost perfect. It’s super clean, very crisp, and new to the market. If a museum – or a private collector -wants an iconic example of American Art Deco pottery, this may be the last chance to acquire it.“ View the bowl and complete catalogue at www.ragoarts.com.

Collectors who do not have six-figures to spare should note that other Schreckengost ceramic designs sell at very reasonable prices. He created a variety of patterns for dinnerware and modeled lines of figurines depicting circus performers and sports figures. See what is available in the Schiffer’s Viktor Schreckengost Designs in Dinnerware by Jo Cunningham.

The best reference for an overview of the designer’s diverse output is Viktor Schreckengost: American Da Vinci by Henry Adams. In 2006, the designer – at the age of 100 – was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush. The Cleveland Museum of Art contains an important collection of his work including an example of the “Jazz” bowl.

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Click to view the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers.com in Rago’s June 16-17 auction featuring a 1929 Schreckengost Jazz bowl.


ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


An excellent example of the “Jazz” punch bowl, made 1929 by Viktor Schreckengost at the Cowan Pottery in Cleveland, will be sold next weekend at Rago Arts in Lambertville, N.J. – estimate $40,000-$60,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

An excellent example of the “Jazz” punch bowl, made 1929 by Viktor Schreckengost at the Cowan Pottery in Cleveland, will be sold next weekend at Rago Arts in Lambertville, N.J. – estimate $40,000-$60,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

Motifs circling the large bowl evoke the pleasures of nightlife in New York. The sgraffito design was highlighted in black slip and then covered in a transparent Egyptian blue glaze. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

Motifs circling the large bowl evoke the pleasures of nightlife in New York. The sgraffito design was highlighted in black slip and then covered in a transparent Egyptian blue glaze. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

On the designer’s “Jazz” plate or plaque, an animated couple hit the nightclub dance floor. This example brought $17,500 in February; another version sold April 2008 for $66,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

On the designer’s “Jazz” plate or plaque, an animated couple hit the nightclub dance floor. This example brought $17,500 in February; another version sold April 2008 for $66,000. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

This pedal car in the form of an airplane was part of a series Schreckengost designed in the 1950s for bicycle manufacture Murray Ohio. The delightful toy came up five years ago at Rago’s where it sold for $3,360. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

This pedal car in the form of an airplane was part of a series Schreckengost designed in the 1950s for bicycle manufacture Murray Ohio. The delightful toy came up five years ago at Rago’s where it sold for $3,360. Courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center

Absolute proof that rarities bring the highest prices, this 13-inch platter decorated with a rainbow of five spatter colors sold for a record $39,780 in April 2009. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Ceramics Collector: Gold at the end of rainbow spatterware

Absolute proof that rarities bring the highest prices, this 13-inch platter decorated with a rainbow of five spatter colors sold for a record $39,780 in April 2009. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Absolute proof that rarities bring the highest prices, this 13-inch platter decorated with a rainbow of five spatter colors sold for a record $39,780 in April 2009. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Spatterware is an amusing descriptive term for a brightly decorated English pottery widely imported to North America in the 19th century. Its popularity dates to the earliest days of Americana collecting, and rarities of color and form still demand high prices at auction in the 21st century.

In the 1944 classic Pennsylvania Dutch Stuff, Earl F. Robacker wrote with considerable enthusiasm: “Spatter has been so widely collected of recent years, and so much has been added to collections that give every appearance of remaining as firm as Gibraltar, that the newcomer must be contented with picking up an occasional piece here and there.” As the market turns, many of these collections have re-emerged in recent years, giving new buyers at chance at very fine material.

Robacker continued, “Spatterware is a Staffordshire product made and decorated for the American trade. It is a rather heavy, soft-paste tableware, and its ornamentation is primitive and rather gaudy. We must suppose that it was shipped to this country in considerable quantity and in a marked variety of patterns, perhaps as early as the end of the 18th century, but more probably in the decades from 1800 to 1840.”

Although this description comes from a past collecting age, the statement holds true in most respects. Spatter pieces were brightly and quickly decorated, and the wares were sent by sea to the young United States in great quantity. The business heads at English potteries had a particular talent for recognizing demand in markets abroad and producing the perfect product supply.

Thus George Washington had imported salt-glaze stoneware in his cupboard, many middle-class tables gleamed with blue-printed transferware, and Pennsylvania consumers seemed to have a particular fondness for spatter. Recognizing its charm, Henry Francis du Pont collected spatterware in the 1930s and 1940s. Visitors to the Winterthur Museum in Delaware will be dazzled by the variety and brilliance of the resulting collection on view in Spatterware Hall.

The description “spatter” sounds rather messy, yet decorators had precise control in their application of fine dots of color with a brush or other tool. The technique was commonly used to provide a colored border or background for quickly painted freehand patterns. These central designs may be birds, flowers, or buildings. Value rises with the rarity of the pattern—a butterfly or windmill, for example—and the color of the spatter border. Blue and red are common colors, while yellow or green are rarer.

“Rainbow spatter” is a collector’s term for pieces decorated only with bands or swirls of spattered color. Examples can achieve the quality of an abstract painting. Rarity of color, design and the ceramic form can raise value. “Stick spatter” or “cut sponge” refers to stamped designs that were also combined with free hand motifs and printed transfers. Once again, these wares were principally imported from England, but similar pieces were produced on the Continent.

When its collecting began, spatterware was treated as a type of folk art and considered the perfect accompaniment to painted American furniture and hand-made quilts. Most pieces, however, were decorated in a rapid, assembly-line fashion within or specifically for English pottery manufacturers. Art nevertheless plays a strong role in its appeal and value. Some decorators simply had a flare in their application of the colored spatter fields and freehand motifs.

Trends in collecting today find buyers less interested in more common pieces, such as the traditional peafowl center with blue border, and more interested in rare designs and colors. The more abstract rainbow spatter, particular in unusual hues, has come on strong with its hypnotic designs that could hold their own in a room full of Warhols.

At Pook and Pook in Downingtown, Pa., a rainbow spatter rectangular platter decorated with rays of red, blue, black, yellow and green brought a record $39,780 in April 2009. In January of this year, a 6-inch plate decorated with swirls of black, yellow, red and green sold for $10,665 at the auction house.

Debra Pook, president and decorative arts specialist at the firm explained, “That was a very unusual form with very unusual colors. So that kind of thing is going to bring money. I think the market is still very good for the exceptional pieces, as is true in most areas of the antique field. The market is good for the best.”

She continued, “The average spatter—the average blue pea fowl plate—is bringing a quarter of what it used to. You have some exceptional forms of known patterns that come out, and then some patterns are rare. You don’t see a lot of windmills, you don’t see a lot of parrots. So if you see a rare form of that, then that’s worthwhile. If you see a rare form of that combined with a nice rainbow around the edge, that’s something different.”

“I think the people who collect spatter have pretty full collections. What they’re looking for right now is the exceptional pieces—great rainbow pieces, unusual patterns, unusual forms of a normal pattern, variant colorations.” For beginning collectors, on the other hand, this could be an excellent time to fill a cupboard with spatter, since prices for the basic pieces have come down from the peaks of the 1990s.

Pook & Pook’s next auction on April 20-21 will include a group of spatterware, along with period furniture, fine art and other decorative arts. Debra Pook said, “We have a nice collection assembled by a gentleman in New York City, which he purchased many years ago from the late Bea Cohen, a well-known Pennsylvania ceramics dealer.”


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Absolute proof that rarities bring the highest prices, this 13-inch platter decorated with a rainbow of five spatter colors sold for a record $39,780 in April 2009. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Absolute proof that rarities bring the highest prices, this 13-inch platter decorated with a rainbow of five spatter colors sold for a record $39,780 in April 2009. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Spatterware Hall at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware is heaven for collectors. Shelves are filled with brilliant wares gathered by pioneer collector Henry Francis du Pont. Courtesy Winterthur Museum

Spatterware Hall at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware is heaven for collectors. Shelves are filled with brilliant wares gathered by pioneer collector Henry Francis du Pont. Courtesy Winterthur Museum

Spatter decoration was often used a border for bright freehand motifs. Perfect for display, two 8-inch plates – a purple-edged dahlia and a red-edged tulip – sold for $652 in January. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Spatter decoration was often used a border for bright freehand motifs. Perfect for display, two 8-inch plates – a purple-edged dahlia and a red-edged tulip – sold for $652 in January. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

This 6-inch plate grabbed collector attention with its hypnotic swirl pattern in an unusual color combination. Final price for the January lot was $10,665. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

This 6-inch plate grabbed collector attention with its hypnotic swirl pattern in an unusual color combination. Final price for the January lot was $10,665. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

This 12-inch pitcher with matching bowl circled by alternating blue and red spatter bands makes a bold statement on the shelf. The set brought $770 at Pook’s January sale. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

This 12-inch pitcher with matching bowl circled by alternating blue and red spatter bands makes a bold statement on the shelf. The set brought $770 at Pook’s January sale. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

From the same 19th-century time period as other spatter wares, “stick spatter” pottery may combine freehand painting with repetitive stamped motifs, such as the round flowers seen here. Some pieces add transfer prints; the sought-after rabbits-at-play on these plates took the trio to $1,007. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

From the same 19th-century time period as other spatter wares, “stick spatter” pottery may combine freehand painting with repetitive stamped motifs, such as the round flowers seen here. Some pieces add transfer prints; the sought-after rabbits-at-play on these plates took the trio to $1,007. Courtesy of Pook & Pook

Pate-sur-pate is a delicate, time-consuming technique that continues to command aesthetic admiration and competitive bids from collectors. This Grainger Worcester vase with gilded handles, circa 1892, sold for $2,607 (est. $300-$500) in Skinner’s January Fine Ceramics sale. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Ceramics Collector: ‘Downton Abbey’ style

Pate-sur-pate is a delicate, time-consuming technique that continues to command aesthetic admiration and competitive bids from collectors. This Grainger Worcester vase with gilded handles, circa 1892, sold for $2,607 (est. $300-$500) in Skinner’s January Fine Ceramics sale. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Pate-sur-pate is a delicate, time-consuming technique that continues to command aesthetic admiration and competitive bids from collectors. This Grainger Worcester vase with gilded handles, circa 1892, sold for $2,607 (est. $300-$500) in Skinner’s January Fine Ceramics sale. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Ingenious fans are looking for new ways to sustain their Downton Abbey high, as the series goes into hiatus. Season Two offered lingering looks at the glories of the formal table, which provided a glamorous backdrop for laughter, tears and romantic intrigue.

Books like The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes and Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon, are filled with fascinating information on period interiors and manners.

Collectors who would like to make the enjoyment last can entertain in Downton Abbey style, with appropriate china and silver from a century ago. British porcelain from the decades before and after 1900 comes up at auction every weekend.

Some categories are avidly sought-after by specialists, while others offer real bargains for savvy collectors. Auction houses such as Skinners in Boston include these wares in regular sales of fine ceramics.

As the popular television series reveals in each episode, the pre- and post-World War I decades were a period of unsettling changes in mores and fashions. Traditional British porcelain manufactories, many with roots in the 18th century, continued to make formal tableware and garnitures as they had throughout the 1837-1901 reign of Queen Victoria.

At the same time, small firms were producing fresh art pottery lines that appealed to buyers eager to own the latest thing. William de Morgan, for example, had been friends with Arts and Crafts Movement guiding spirit William Morris, and his London workshop produces various experimental lines.

No educated person who went to exhibitions or expositions would have been unfamiliar with the Art Nouveau style, which made its mark around 1890-1910. By the time the Great War ended in 1918, Art Deco and the jazz age of the 1920s were just around the corner.

Yet in the great city and country houses, porcelain decorated with classic patterns by old firms such as Worcester, Minton, Wedgwood, Copeland and Coalport still set the formal table. Directors lavishly set out china to recreate that look for period drama, and collectors can put together services to achieve the same effect at home.

Families who regularly inherited money, land and houses filled with furniture and decorative arts would display cherished objects from many different periods.

A dining room or grand salon might contain 18th century heirlooms, porcelain purchased during Victoria’s reign, and a variety of fashionable decorative pieces. The latter might range from Minton’s latest product to Chinese vases to a whimsical art pottery jug by the Martin Brothers.

Stuart Slavid, the expert on fine ceramics at Skinner’s, has heard the Downton Abbey buzz around the sale room: “There was a little conversation going on here yesterday among several people who were all big fans of the show.”

The influence is subtle: The collector may not set out to recreate that fictional table, but when an elegant form comes on the block, paddles go up. Porcelain in the Jan. 14 Boston sale included a circa 1885 Wedgwood Auro Basalt covered potpourri vase sold for $2,489; a pair of ornate Royal Worcester vase with masks on the handles, circa 1900, for $1,067; and a Royal Crown Derby dark blue ground vase dated 1920 for $1,541.

Slavid emphasizes that porcelain in that period was not confined to the table: “It was a more formal lifestyle so the decorative appeal was much more formal. They all had china cabinets; that’s probably why so many pieces survived.” Porcelain would have been displayed in such cabinets in the main living rooms, on bedroom mantels and dressing tables, and, of course, on impressive sideboards in the dining room.

Collectors pay a premium for the work of well-known artists, and many of the tour-de-force vases and centerpieces are signed. The expert explains, “So you could have a Royal Worcester hand-painted vase and if it was done by a particular artist, it’s the artist that will command the price.”

One decorating technique in vogue at the turn of the century was pate-sur-pate, in which relief designs are carefully built up by applying layers of slip. M.L. Solon, who signed his work, brought the French technique to Minton, and many other firms imitated the wares.

Slavid points out, “It’s tremendously time-consuming because each layer is applied separately. As you get different heights and depths of the relief, some of the most impressive pieces could take nine months to finish.”

Only the wealthiest collectors could have purchase pate-sure-pate when it was made, and signed examples command the most formidable prices. An 1889 Louis Solon decorated vase brought $52,140 at Skinner’s in 2008. An 1892 Grainger Worcester vase by an unknown artist in this year’s sale sold for a more reasonable $2,607.

Collectors who want period impact on the table can choose from a variety of decorated service plates. These beautiful dishes were not meant for the rough and tumble of eating and washing up. They would have been removed or surmounted by another plate when the food service began.

At Skinner’s January 2011 sale, 12 Coalport fish plates from 1893, signed by artist John Hugh Plant, sold for $2,252; 10 Royal Crown Derby service plates from 1911 for $1,659; and 10 Royal Worcester hand-painted service plates from 1929 for $4,444.

Bargain of the day was a Minton porcelain partial breakfast set, circa 1875, with a covered bowl and compote for only $237. Decorated in an intricate transfer design with gold accents, these pieces could be used to enhance simpler porcelain for an elegant effect on a budget.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Pate-sur-pate is a delicate, time-consuming technique that continues to command aesthetic admiration and competitive bids from collectors. This Grainger Worcester vase with gilded handles, circa 1892, sold for $2,607 (est. $300-$500) in Skinner’s January Fine Ceramics sale. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Pate-sur-pate is a delicate, time-consuming technique that continues to command aesthetic admiration and competitive bids from collectors. This Grainger Worcester vase with gilded handles, circa 1892, sold for $2,607 (est. $300-$500) in Skinner’s January Fine Ceramics sale. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Designed to hold complex floral arrangements on a formal table, a pair of Royal Worcester vase with applied lion masks brought $711 earlier this year. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Designed to hold complex floral arrangements on a formal table, a pair of Royal Worcester vase with applied lion masks brought $711 earlier this year. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Noble nurseries featured elaborate toy tableware for children’s play. This extensive Wedgwood Queen’s ware set made just before World War I sold for $4,147; the ‘Noah’s Ark’ pattern was designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones, the artist behind the firm’s Fairyland Lustre line. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Noble nurseries featured elaborate toy tableware for children’s play. This extensive Wedgwood Queen’s ware set made just before World War I sold for $4,147; the ‘Noah’s Ark’ pattern was designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones, the artist behind the firm’s Fairyland Lustre line. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Fine individual examples of turn-of-the-20th century porcelain can often be acquired for reasonable sums. This beautifully-decorated Copeland porcelain covered bowl and stand, circa 1896, was purchased in the January 2011 sale for $296. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Fine individual examples of turn-of-the-20th century porcelain can often be acquired for reasonable sums. This beautifully-decorated Copeland porcelain covered bowl and stand, circa 1896, was purchased in the January 2011 sale for $296. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Collectors pay a premium for individual pieces decorated by well-known artists. This bottle-formed Worcester porcelain vase, circa 1888, enameled with birds in flight by Charles Baldwyn, soared to $5,925 (est. $800-$1,200) in a 2011 auction. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Collectors pay a premium for individual pieces decorated by well-known artists. This bottle-formed Worcester porcelain vase, circa 1888, enameled with birds in flight by Charles Baldwyn, soared to $5,925 (est. $800-$1,200) in a 2011 auction. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Decorative service plates, such as this ethereal Minton pair decorated by Alboin Birks circa 1924 set the style at formal meals. The lot brought $2489 last year. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Decorative service plates, such as this ethereal Minton pair decorated by Alboin Birks circa 1924 set the style at formal meals. The lot brought $2489 last year. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Flush with industrial profits, wealthy Americans wanted to buy the best. These Royal Crown Derby service plates, circa 1911, were retailed in the United States by Tiffany & Co., New York; the gilded and enameled set of 10 sold in 2011 for $1,659. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Flush with industrial profits, wealthy Americans wanted to buy the best. These Royal Crown Derby service plates, circa 1911, were retailed in the United States by Tiffany & Co., New York; the gilded and enameled set of 10 sold in 2011 for $1,659. Image Courtesy Skinner Auctions.

Snow babies are all about winter sports. The sled with two riders is marked ‘Germany’ on the base. The entire group sold for $316 in a 2009 Bertoia sale. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Ceramics Collector: Snow babies – It’s cold outside

Snow babies are all about winter sports. The sled with two riders is marked ‘Germany’ on the base. The entire group sold for $316 in a 2009 Bertoia sale. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Snow babies are all about winter sports. The sled with two riders is marked ‘Germany’ on the base. The entire group sold for $316 in a 2009 Bertoia sale. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Perhaps those ski resorts praying for snow need a mascot. Enter the Snow Babies—classic porcelain figurines first made in the late 19th century. The tiny figures ride sleds, play with polar bears, and cavort in the snow. They were so charming that no one could buy just one—they were born to be collectibles.

If they look good enough to eat, that results from their edible sugar candy prototypes. Called zucker puppen in Germany, they were used as holiday decorations, children’s treats and cake toppers. A German confectioner saw the advantage in re-creating the popular sugar ornaments as bisque porcelain figurines, which could be played with long after the cake had been consumed.

Porzellanfabrik Hertwig & Co. in the Thuringia area of Germany was among the first to begin making snow baby figures in the 1890s. The snowy icing or fur effect on the surface was created by rolling the damp models in crushed bisque before firing. Collectors particularly prize the examples made before World War I, which share the high quality and attention to detail embodied in good German dolls of the period.

Some of the early German examples stand 5 or more inches and are jointed like dolls. Later snow babies, made between the World Wars, were smaller in scale—1 to 3 inches high. Japan manufactured its own versions of the small figures, which proved equally popular with the public.

Although collectors look for good detail and skillful painting, the most delightful aspect of snow babies is the variety of activities they pursue. Since they seem to live near the North Pole, remarkably tame polar bears became playmates. At other times, seals balance balls and huskies pull the babies’ sleighs.

Forget the Meissen monkeys—snow baby bands with horns, drums and accordions are easy to assemble. Above all, the babies love sledding, and there are hundreds of variations on the theme. Turn-of-the-century families bought thousands of the small figures to display on mantels and surround the dollhouse.

Snow babies occasionally were tied to current events of the period. In the early years of the 20th century, the race to reach the North Pole garnered the same headlines as the mid-century race to the moon. Explorers Robert Peary and Frederick Cook both claimed first prize in the polar competition, and it was difficult to verify their journeys. Not surprisingly, one German factory brought out a porcelain figure of the two big mustachioed snow “babies” scrambling toward the pole.

Collectors will find more information in Snow Babies & Friends by Lisa Mullins Bishop, a December 1999 article in Early American Homes, which was used as a source for this column. That story was illustrated with figures from the collection of Linda Vining, examples from which were sold in “A Toy Feast” auction of November 2005 at Bertoias in Vineland, N.J.

In that auction, the unusual Peary-Cook group brought $2,475 over a $1,000-$1,300 estimate, a high price which reflects its news-of-the-day importance. Another lot with two traditional snow babies planting the American flag on the North Pole sold for $330.

Normally, snow babies engaged in the most interesting activities sell in the $100-$200 range. The figurines are frequently offered in group lots, and a large collection can be formed quickly for a modest investment. Many of the post-World War I figures have details added in colored paint after firing, so check carefully for wear and chipping.

While snow babies commonly show up in winter auctions, the best buys may turn up at sales and shows out of season. The tumbling, laughing figures are still perfect for their original purpose. Use them to decorate cakes and table settings when the weather is icy cold outside.

For more images of these figures at play, see Snow Babies, Santas and Elves: Collecting Christmas Bisque Figures by Mary Morrison, published by Schiffer Books.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Snow babies are all about winter sports. The sled with two riders is marked ‘Germany’ on the base. The entire group sold for $316 in a 2009 Bertoia sale. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Snow babies are all about winter sports. The sled with two riders is marked ‘Germany’ on the base. The entire group sold for $316 in a 2009 Bertoia sale. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

These rare jointed snow babies – the tallest 5 inches – were made in Germany 1900-1910. With a selection of related figures, they brought $230 at auction in 2009. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

These rare jointed snow babies – the tallest 5 inches – were made in Germany 1900-1910. With a selection of related figures, they brought $230 at auction in 2009. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Whimsy meets history in this snow “babies” pairing of explorers Robert Peary and Frederick Cook arguing over who was first to reach the North Pole. The German porcelain group, circa 1910, sold for an impressive $2,475 in 2005, when Bertoias auctioned off the Linda Vining collection. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Whimsy meets history in this snow “babies” pairing of explorers Robert Peary and Frederick Cook arguing over who was first to reach the North Pole. The German porcelain group, circa 1910, sold for an impressive $2,475 in 2005, when Bertoias auctioned off the Linda Vining collection. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Collectors search out unusual presentations, such as this Snow Mom pushing her twins in a sleigh pram, which brought $357.50. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Collectors search out unusual presentations, such as this Snow Mom pushing her twins in a sleigh pram, which brought $357.50. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Snow babies often play with friendly polar bears. Note the similar treatment of the fur coats on this porcelain group from Germany sold in a 2005 auction for $330. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

Snow babies often play with friendly polar bears. Note the similar treatment of the fur coats on this porcelain group from Germany sold in a 2005 auction for $330. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

The race to the North Pole was big news in the first decade of the 20th century. Snow babies plant the flag in this collectible made in Germany for the American market – auction price $330. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.

The race to the North Pole was big news in the first decade of the 20th century. Snow babies plant the flag in this collectible made in Germany for the American market – auction price $330. Courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bertoia Auctions.