As part of their annual Louisiana Purchase Auction on Nov. 19-20, Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans will offer a pair of 10-inch porcelain platinum ground vases, made for public display (est. $2,500-3,500). Red overglaze script on the base reads ‘Exposition Universelle Paris 1878 and Bender No. 959.’ Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Ceramics Collector: Old Paris Porcelain – ‘Gilty’ Pleasures

As part of their annual Louisiana Purchase Auction on Nov. 19-20, Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans will offer a pair of 10-inch porcelain platinum ground vases, made for public display (est. $2,500-3,500). Red overglaze script on the base reads ‘Exposition Universelle Paris 1878 and Bender No. 959.’  Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

As part of their annual Louisiana Purchase Auction on Nov. 19-20, Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans will offer a pair of 10-inch porcelain platinum ground vases, made for public display (est. $2,500-3,500). Red overglaze script on the base reads ‘Exposition Universelle Paris 1878 and Bender No. 959.’ Courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Secretly long to set your table with Sevres but shy away from the prices? Old Paris porcelain, or Vieux Paris, produced by numerous private factories clustered around the French capital, will satisfy a craving for gilded opulence but not break the bank. Offerings in the antique marketplace range from masterpiece vases to color-banded place settings perfect for holiday entertaining.

The term “Old Paris” is a loose one; the time frame for production extends from the late 18th century up to the 1870s. Larger factories signed their wares with a printed or hand-written name or a maker’s mark, among them Darte Freres, Edouard Honore, Dagoty, and John Nast. Many pieces, however, are not marked, leaving collectors to puzzle over their origin. Some factories sold porcelain blanks to small decorating workshops, so the identical form may turn up painted in a variety of styles.

Shiploads of Paris porcelain were imported into the United States, where it was particularly popular in the South. Dinner services from France graced tables from Texas to Virginia, and French porcelain was used for formal White House entertaining throughout the 19th century. For example, Pierre-Louis Dagoty and Edouard Honore created a dessert service for 30 with eagle and shield motif for President James Monroe’s table in 1817.

During the 1800s, New Orleans was a principal port of entry for goods from France and the French West Indies, and the city remains one of the best places to buy Old Paris porcelain, because the auction houses there receive consignments from historic Southern estates. The sale at the New Orleans Auction Galleries this fall contained the exquisite examples that illustrate this article.

Collectors cannot think of French porcelain in New Orleans without remembering John Webster Keefe (1941-2011), who died unexpectedly at the beginning of the year. Keefe was the RosaMary Foundation Curator of Decorative Arts at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the author of a catalog of Paris Porcelains from the collection. He was known as an entertaining lecturer at antiques symposia and shows, where he shared his knowledge of decorative arts with collectors.

The curator was also the expert on call at the New Orleans Auction Galleries, where he wrote many of the catalog entries on his specialty. Tom Halverson, director of Furniture and Decorative Arts at the auction house, says, “It really was a delight to work with John, and I do miss him every time I begin to catalog. We would always find a few moments to analyze the individual pieces and talk about what was special in the sale. We’d point out the great things to one another.”

“His knowledge of Old Paris porcelain was quite encyclopedic. He was one of the first people to try to educate collectors about the difference between the products of the Parisian factories and what we now know are Franco-Bohemian or early Limoges. He was always quite adamant about representing things correctly and our responsibility to use the cataloging process to educate the public.”

In a memorial tribute, E. John Bullard, NOMA Director Emeritus, said, “I called him the grand acquisitor. … He could go into a flea market or an antique store and find the one item that had real value and quality.” Every collector hopes to development this sixth sense, which helps to build a fine collection.

Keefe’s expertise encouraged gifts of Old Paris to the New Orleans Museum of Art’s permanent collection. In 2009, Keefe wrote about three choice acquisitions: a covered sugar basin, Christophe Potter Manufactory, 1789-1793; a portrait cup and saucer, Dihl and Guerhard Manufactory, circa 1815-1820; and a dinner plate, Denuelle Manufactory, 1825-1835. No visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to NOMA’S decorative arts galleries.

Superb gilding was a hallmark of French porcelain, but it was used to accent a fascinating array of decorative styles. Firms turned out elegant Classical forms with mythological motifs, exuberant Rococo Revival shapes covered with scrolls and flowers, and simple services bearing broad colored borders edged with gilt. The latter were everyday dishes on 19th-century tables and can still be used and hand-washed today.

Keefe explained why collectors have so much to choose from in his book on Paris porcelains: “The manufacture of porcelain has always been competitive, costly and notoriously risky. These factors forced the Paris manufacturers to broader their clientele continually through the introduction of new colors and forms and by devising new, attractive uses to which porcelain objects could be put. This quest for novel and appealing goods led to the production of a staggering array of dinner, dessert, tea and coffee services; toilette sets; clocks; desk accoutrements; garniture objects; lighting devices and even such architectural elements as mantelpieces.”

In an interview shortly after the volume’s publication, he pointed out that while the Sevres factory had government backing, the privately owned factories had to be serious commercial enterprises: “The range of production at the Paris factories was far richer than for other porcelains because they didn’t have a state subsidy; they couldn’t afford to be slow to respond to changes in taste. They had to get the most fashionable wares out there before the public or they would go under.”

Paris firms also had to deal with competition from factories located in the town of Limoges in central France. Porcelain was made there throughout the 19th century and can be difficult to distinguish from Old Paris wares. Limoges from factories such as Haviland was particular popular with Americans in the second half of the century. President Ulysses S. Grant ordered a service from Haviland in 1869.

Keefe used to say, “The basic rule is to buy what you like.” The quantity and variety of Paris porcelain produced ensures that collectors can always find something beautiful and affordable. Also note that is a field where knowledge pays off; serious collectors will want to assemble a reference library which includes the Keefe catalog and Porcelain of Paris, 1770-1850 by R. de Plinval de Guillebon. Good examples can turn up in unexpected places. Know what you are looking for and you may find a great buy.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


A highlight of the New Orleans Auctions Galleries’ fall sale, this exquisite Old Paris seven-piece tea service sold for $3,198. The gilded cobalt-ground set, decorated with classical themes, bore a rare paper label for the porcelain firm Darte Freres. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

A highlight of the New Orleans Auctions Galleries’ fall sale, this exquisite Old Paris seven-piece tea service sold for $3,198. The gilded cobalt-ground set, decorated with classical themes, bore a rare paper label for the porcelain firm Darte Freres. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

Handled vases, usually made in sets for mantel display, were produced by all the Parisian porcelain firms. This Charles X period pair, painted with lively hunt scenes, brought $2,214 at auction. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

Handled vases, usually made in sets for mantel display, were produced by all the Parisian porcelain firms. This Charles X period pair, painted with lively hunt scenes, brought $2,214 at auction. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

Old Paris factories also produced elaborate porcelain clock cases that went well with American Rococo Revival interiors. This example, attributed to Jacob Petit and signed by the decorator Margaine, sold for $2,952. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

Old Paris factories also produced elaborate porcelain clock cases that went well with American Rococo Revival interiors. This example, attributed to Jacob Petit and signed by the decorator Margaine, sold for $2,952. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

This pair of Limoges porcelain garniture vases is decorated with characters from the popular 1852 anti-slavery novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe and would have been especially appealing to the American market. The set brought $1,107 at a New Orleans sale. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

This pair of Limoges porcelain garniture vases is decorated with characters from the popular 1852 anti-slavery novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe and would have been especially appealing to the American market. The set brought $1,107 at a New Orleans sale. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

These vases are an ornate Parisian interpretation of the classical rhyton form, originally a type of drinking cup. The pair, dating to the second quarter of the 19th century, sold for $1,045 in early October. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

These vases are an ornate Parisian interpretation of the classical rhyton form, originally a type of drinking cup. The pair, dating to the second quarter of the 19th century, sold for $1,045 in early October. Courtesy New Orleans Auctions Galleries.

Stephen used a brilliant turquoise glaze, not unlike that found on Egyptian faience, for his most dramatic pieces. This massive triple-faced bust—dubbed the “Blue Man Group”—can be seen in the current exhibition, ‘Pisgah Forest & Nonconnah Pottery,’ at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Ceramics Collector: North Carolina’s Pisgah Forest Pottery

Stephen used a brilliant turquoise glaze, not unlike that found on Egyptian faience, for his most dramatic pieces. This massive triple-faced bust—dubbed the “Blue Man Group”—can be seen in the current exhibition, ‘Pisgah Forest & Nonconnah Pottery,’ at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Stephen used a brilliant turquoise glaze, not unlike that found on Egyptian faience, for his most dramatic pieces. This massive triple-faced bust—dubbed the “Blue Man Group”—can be seen in the current exhibition, ‘Pisgah Forest & Nonconnah Pottery,’ at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

The Arts and Crafts Movement that flourished at the beginning of the 20th century was not just an aesthetic fashion appreciated by a few but a broad-based cultural phenomenon. Well-known artists were in the vanguard, but even ordinary men and women began to make furniture, hammer silver and decorate ceramics at home.

While these crafts remained hobbies for some, more talented artisans met with enough success that they were able to market their creations to the public. The production of studio-made art pottery was an important part of this celebrated movement. To mold, glaze and fire pottery, however, required advanced technical skills and special equipment.

The story of Walter Benjamin Stephen (1876-1961) and his pottery is an excellent example of an avid amateur becoming a successful professional. The venture began on a small scale, yet continued to turn out a variety of wares well into the 20th century, after many better-known art potteries had closed. In spite of an absence of formal training, Stephen mastered difficult decorating techniques and perfected complex glazes through a process of trial and error.

Stephen’s diverse range is currently on display in Pisgah Forest & Nonconnah Pottery, an exhibition of over 70 examples at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art through Nov. 13. Collector and master ceramicist Rodney H. Leftwich, the principal lender to the exhibition, will lecture on the pottery Saturday, Sept. 24. Leftwich is the author of Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah: The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen.

Many art potteries perfected a recognizable style—Grueby’s organic shapes, Dedham’s rabbits, Newcomb’s moss-shrouded trees. Looking around an exhibition of Stephen’s works, viewers can spot half dozen major decorative trends including delicate cameo reliefs, a stunning glossy turquoise glaze, and shimmering crystalline surface finishes.

Walter Stephen was born in Iowa, moved to Nebraska as a youngster, and then settled in Shelby County, near Memphis, Tenn., with his parents. Leftwich explains, “Walter Stephen and his mother were inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. In 1904, neighbors who had seen pottery at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis told him about it. They found local clay on their farm. Nellie Stephen had been an amateur artist and decided they should do something with the clay. Without any prior experience or knowledge, they decided they would become art potters.”

They named their studio the Nonconnah Pottery after the creek where the clay had been found. Early pieces are covered in a matte green glaze similar to that found at other potteries. Not discouraged by their inexperience, the mother-son duo began to decorate their green vases in a challenging European technique called pate-sur-pate.

Stanton Thomas, curator of European & Decorative Art at the Brooks Museum, picks up the story, “Stephen’s mother Nellie was an amateur illustrator and quite talented. In the exhibition, we have her sketchbook from around 1910. You can see her drawings of flowers and cotton from around the area.”

“If you look at those early works, the poppies on this vase look like they were pulled off an embossed postcard of around 1900. The decorations embody late Victorian and Arts and Crafts Movement motifs and styles and fashions, but there are some new, exciting developments even early in the pottery’s history.”

“Pate-sur-pate was a very laborious slip technique.” continues the curator. “Part of the problem is that you have to put on one thin layer and wait for it to completely dry, or when it is fired, it will crack. The pieces are very beautifully done as far as the technique.”

In 1910, Nellie died and in 1913, Walter Stephen moved to Skyland, N.C., where he re-established his Nonconnah Pottery. He later settled in Arden, south of Asheville, and after 1926 he used the name Pisgah Forest Pottery. Stephen worked there until his death in 1961 and production on a reduced scale has been continued by family and friends at the site.

Since he had lost his principal decorator, Stephen was forced to develop his own designs and glazes to cover the pottery that he produced. Throughout his life, he ornamented some pieces with figural reliefs in white. Collectors call these “cameo” wares. Rather than using molds as was the practice at Wedgwood, the potter once again relied on the pate-sure-pate technique. The subject matter was most often scenes from early American life, such as wagon trains or Indians on horseback.

Rodney Leftwich points out, “The traveling that influenced him the most was going from Iowa where he was born in 1876 to Nebraska by covered wagon and living in a sod house on the prairie close to the Sioux Indians. He moved in 1886 when he was 10 years old, and lived in Nebraska for 10 or 11 years until, I believe, about 1897. They saw the last buffalo hunt, met Annie Oakley and Bill Cody.”

The pieces most sought-after by collectors today, however, are neatly turned shapes covered with the brilliant glazes he developed during his career. One standout was a glossy turquoise blue with notable craquelure, which he applied to monumental vases and sculptures.

One such vase—H. 18 inches—will be offered in the September 24-25 sale at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., which has handled some of the potter’s best work. Another such vase is on view in the Memphis exhibition along with a massive three-faced turquoise bust, which has been dubbed the “Blue Man Group.”

His finest creation was a shimmering crystalline- accented glaze, which closely approximates that produced by art potter Adelaide Alsop Robineau. Jerry Israel of Brunk Auctions confirms that pieces with this glaze are “the rarest and most desirable. On the scale of 1 to 10, that glaze is a 35. That achievement gives his work a whole other dimension.”

He continues, “When they make crystalline glazes now, they have a lot of control over it – gas jets, things like that. He fired everything with wood.” For every successful piece, Stephen would have another where the glaze did not perform properly when fired. The September sale contains several prize vases in this technique, one with blue crystals on a creamy background, another in a subtle green on beige dated 1936.

Israel notes that Stephen’s works are readily available: “Down here each year, Bruce Johnson does the Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, always in February, and Pisgah Forest pottery is always there.”

He adds that the pottery may turn up far from Asheville: “You find the most spectacular pieces of Pisgah Forest pottery in Florida or New York State or Michigan—somewhere like that—because it was purchased by tourists. Local people couldn’t afford the big fancy pieces—the visitors bought those.”

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Nellie Randall Stephen, Walter B. Stephen’s mother, was the principal decorator at his first venture, the Nonconnah Pottery in western Tennessee. From the earliest years of production, this matte green vase bearing her signature sold for $8,968 at Brunk Auctions in November 2009. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C.

Nellie Randall Stephen, Walter B. Stephen’s mother, was the principal decorator at his first venture, the Nonconnah Pottery in western Tennessee. From the earliest years of production, this matte green vase bearing her signature sold for $8,968 at Brunk Auctions in November 2009. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C.

 

For the Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen developed a successful crystalline glaze, which he used on a variety of vases and tea wares fired in the 1930s and 1940s. This blue on cream vase will be offered in Brunk’s Sept. 24-25 sale – estimate $500-$1,000. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C.

For the Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen developed a successful crystalline glaze, which he used on a variety of vases and tea wares fired in the 1930s and 1940s. This blue on cream vase will be offered in Brunk’s Sept. 24-25 sale – estimate $500-$1,000. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C.

 

Also in Brunk’s September sale, this 18-inch Pisgah Forest vase exhibits the attractive craquelure found in his turquoise blue glaze. Estimate: $800-$1,500. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C.

Also in Brunk’s September sale, this 18-inch Pisgah Forest vase exhibits the attractive craquelure found in his turquoise blue glaze. Estimate: $800-$1,500. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C.

 

From his earliest days as a potter, Stephen used the difficult pate-sur-pate technique to create scenes of prairie life. He often used a covered wagon motif, which recalled his boyhood journey from Iowa to Nebraska in the late 1800s. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

From his earliest days as a potter, Stephen used the difficult pate-sur-pate technique to create scenes of prairie life. He often used a covered wagon motif, which recalled his boyhood journey from Iowa to Nebraska in the late 1800s. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

 

One of the most unusual exhibits in the current museum display of Stephen’s work is this majolica-like basin with relief decoration supported by 12 oxen. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

One of the most unusual exhibits in the current museum display of Stephen’s work is this majolica-like basin with relief decoration supported by 12 oxen. Image courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

 

 

This Acoma pottery olla decorated with parrots and deer, made around 1900, will be offered in Cowan’s September 9th sale of American Indian and Western Art - estimate $5000-7000. Particularly colorful, the intricate pattern features pale orange and a darker reddish-orange as well as black and white. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Ceramics Collector: Decorated pottery from N.M.’s Acoma Pueblo

This Acoma pottery olla decorated with parrots and deer, made around 1900, will be offered in Cowan’s September 9th sale of American Indian and Western Art - estimate $5000-7000. Particularly colorful, the intricate pattern features pale orange and a darker reddish-orange as well as black and white. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

This Acoma pottery olla decorated with parrots and deer, made around 1900, will be offered in Cowan’s September 9th sale of American Indian and Western Art – estimate $5000-7000. Particularly colorful, the intricate pattern features pale orange and a darker reddish-orange as well as black and white. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

ACOMA PUEBLO, N.M. (ACNI) – Acoma Pueblo may be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in North America with a history dating back to 1150 A.D. Built on a sheer sandstone bluff 65 miles west of Albuquerque, “Sky City” – as it is called – offers visitors breath-taking views of the surrounding landscape.

The Acoma and adjacent Laguna communities have a long tradition of producing beautifully-shaped and skillfully decorated pottery vessels. Both historic and modern examples are highly sought-after by collectors.

For anyone interested in pueblo pottery, Santa Fe is a place of pilgrimage in August. Mid-month, more than 100 well-known dealers come together at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center for the Annual Indian Art Show, which features historic Native American antiques and artifacts. The Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association presents a lecture series in conjunction with the show. For more information, go to whitehawkshows.com.

A week later, the legendary Santa Fe Indian Market presents the best artists on the contemporary scene. This year’s market will be held August 20-21. The event, presented by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (swaia.org), is now in its 90th year and includes everything from pottery and textiles to cinema and skateboarding.

Auction houses from around the country also participate in these gatherings of collectors, seeking out new consignments and advertising their upcoming auctions. Wes Cowan of Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio, is an exhibitor at the Indian Art Show. The firm’s next sale of American Indian and Western Art on September 9th will include a one-owner collection of Acoma Pottery from New Mexico.

Department head Danica M. Farnand says, “The September sale has a beautiful collection of pottery that just sort of walked in the door; there are about 14 pieces in the group. What’s cool about this collection is that almost all of the pieces have polychrome decoration. I think, in the recent past, this is the best collection of pottery we’ve had.”

She continues, “There is one piece that’s very interesting because it has two different animals – birds around the top and deer underneath. I think that’s going to do very well.” Although the expert says the estimates are conservative, many prices for these fine examples will soar into the four-figure range.

Farnand says, “We have American Indian Art sales twice a year. I believe the department started when we sold the collection from the Western Reserve Historical Society in September 2002.” The 2011 sale also includes pottery from other Native American production centers in the Southwest – Laguna, San Ildefonso, Zuni, Santo Domingo, Zia, Santa Clara – as well as more recent examples of Acoma work.

A mid-20th century Acoma jar signed by Lucy M. Lewis carries an estimate of $600-800.

The Acoma are a matriarchal society with property descending from mother to daughter. As more women potters began to sign their work in the last century, collectors have focused their attention on favorite artists such as Lewis, Marie Z. Chino, or Jessie Garcia.

Perusing displays in museums, shows, and auctions, viewers will notice that the most common Acoma form is the water jar or olla, decorated with various motifs. The 2003 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition catalogue The Responsive Eye: Ralph T. Coe and the Collecting of American Indian Art is an important reference for collectors. Coe was a former museum director who made an important contribution to scholarship in the field.

In the catalogue, Coe outlined a decorative history for this characteristic pottery shape: “Pottery from Acoma Pueblo was initially geometric in design. It was also highly symbolic in its representation of cloud terraces, rainbirds, and life-giving waters. The jar, or olla, was made to hold water, and is thus in itself a prayer for sustenance.”

He continued, “By the middle of the nineteenth century, the designs on Acoma water jars had evolved into heavy bars joined together in a rainbow band and discernible parrot motifs appeared that are more representational than the earlier rainbird abstractions.”

“The next phases, which began about 1875…brings split-leaf designs with a suggestion of berries and other vegetation, while the bar designs take on the shape of an hourglass. These developments set the stage for the introduction of motifs that are more fine-lined and calligraphic and which impart a greater sense of repetition around the pot.”

New York dealer Marcy Burns is an exhibitor at the Indian Art Show and also presents her inventory of pottery, baskets, textiles, and jewelry at mainsteam Americana events like the Philadelphia Antiques Show. She notes, “Acoma pottery has always been considered among the finest of all pottery. The pottery can really be called Acoma/Laguna, because the Acoma and Laguna intermarried, and the clay is the same. Women from these communities were very talented potters.”

Burns emphasizes the importance of the local clay: “One of the reasons Acoma/Laguna pottery is so highly valued is that the clay near those two pueblos has a lot of kaolin in it, and it’s fired at a very high temperature. This makes it thin-walled and strong. Because of the nature of the clay itself, they could make it a thinner-walled vessel. And the clay is very white and that tends to set off the designs.”

“The water jar is a traditional form but it’s also very sculptural, and people always respond to that,” she continues. “When you’re examining the pottery, look at the form and how sculptural it is. The pieces were hand-formed, so you want them to be symmetrical. There are technical considerations – has the piece been well-fired, has the paint held its color, how well does the decoration suit the form?”

“Any decoration that has animal references or people is desirable. You see more animals. The pots we call ‘polychrome’ are usually three colors, but they did do four colors at Acoma early in the 20th century, and this has been revived in contemporary pottery.” The four colors commonly seen are black, white, a darker orange-red, and pale orange.

Fortunately, collectors interested in historic pottery from the Southwest have access to excellent books discussing the styles of various pueblos. The classic reference Acoma and Laguna Pottery by Rick Dillingham (School of American Research Press 1992) is still available through online booksellers and at sarweb.org. Dillingham (1952-1994) was a dealer in historic and contemporary native ceramics and organized important exhibitions of this material.

Inspired by his research at the pueblos, Dillingham – also a master ceramicist – developed his own distinctive pottery style. He received several National Endowment of the Arts fellowships. The Cowan+Clark+Delvecchio Ceramics auction in June 2011 offered several examples of his work including a globular raku “shard” vase from 1989 that sold for $9694.

Dwight Lanmon, formerly Director of the Winterthur Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass, relocated to Santa Fe, where he is now Research Associate at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the School for Advanced Research. The scholar has written an entire series of books on pueblo wares in partnership with Francis H. Harlow. So far the duo have published, The Pottery of Zia Pueblo (2003), The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo (2005)), and The Pottery of Zuni Pueblo through the Museum of New Mexico Press.

According to the School of Advanced Research website, next will be “The Pottery of Acoma Pueblo (MNM Press, probably 2012), which will illustrate and discuss examples of pottery made there between about 1200 and the present and identify over 800 potters working from the mid 1800s and 1900s. The collections of the Indian Arts Research Center and the Catherine McElvain Library of the School for Advanced Research are central to the research and publication.” Visitors to Santa Fe will enjoy viewing the Center’s extensive permanent collection of pottery.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Part of a New Mexico collection coming up for auction in September, a late 19th century Acoma Pueblo olla is decorated with an intricate geometric pattern – estimate $5000-7000. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Part of a New Mexico collection coming up for auction in September, a late 19th century Acoma Pueblo olla is decorated with an intricate geometric pattern – estimate $5000-7000. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

This Acoma olla, circa 1900, has a desirable polychrome decorative scheme featuring stylized birds; it sold in April 2009 for $7637. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.This Acoma olla, circa 1900, has a desirable polychrome decorative scheme featuring stylized birds; it sold in April 2009 for $7637. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

This Acoma olla, circa 1900, has a desirable polychrome decorative scheme featuring stylized birds; it sold in April 2009 for $7637. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

A late 19th century Acoma polychrome water jar, decorated with split leaves and geometric patterns, brought $8050 in a September 2004 auction. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

A late 19th century Acoma polychrome water jar, decorated with split leaves and geometric patterns, brought $8050 in a September 2004 auction. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Work by creative 20th century pueblo potters is also highly collectible. Carrying a $600-800 estimate in the September Cowan’s sale, this signed vase by Acoma matriarch Lucy M. Lewis is covered with a complex calligraphic pattern. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Work by creative 20th century pueblo potters is also highly collectible. Carrying a $600-800 estimate in the September Cowan’s sale, this signed vase by Acoma matriarch Lucy M. Lewis is covered with a complex calligraphic pattern. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Rick Dillingham (1952-1994) was the author of the 1992 reference Acoma and Laguna Pottery and an Indian Art dealer in Santa Fe. His clay works, inspired by research into pueblo pottery traditions, have become collectible in their own right; this Globe “shard” vase sold for $9694 at Cowan’s last June. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Rick Dillingham (1952-1994) was the author of the 1992 reference Acoma and Laguna Pottery and an Indian Art dealer in Santa Fe. His clay works, inspired by research into pueblo pottery traditions, have become collectible in their own right; this Globe “shard” vase sold for $9694 at Cowan’s last June. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

A single-owner collection of Clarice Cliff pottery, sold at Skinner’s on June 25, included many of the most desirable forms and patterns. This Bizarre Ware Lucerne single-handled jug in the Lotus shape sold for $7,110, far above the modest $500-600 estimate. A recent reference included this design in a list of Cliff’s “Top Twenty Patterns.” Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Ceramics Collector: Clarice Cliff blooms in summer sale at Skinner

A single-owner collection of Clarice Cliff pottery, sold at Skinner’s on June 25, included many of the most desirable forms and patterns. This Bizarre Ware Lucerne single-handled jug in the Lotus shape sold for $7,110, far above the modest $500-600 estimate. A recent reference included this design in a list of Cliff’s “Top Twenty Patterns.” Courtesy Skinner Inc.

A single-owner collection of Clarice Cliff pottery, sold at Skinner’s on June 25, included many of the most desirable forms and patterns. This Bizarre Ware Lucerne single-handled jug in the Lotus shape sold for $7,110, far above the modest $500-600 estimate. A recent reference included this design in a list of Cliff’s “Top Twenty Patterns.” Courtesy Skinner Inc.

BOSTON – Perfect for summer, colorful art pottery designed by Clarice Cliff (1899-1972) is covered with blooming flowers and ripening fruit. Although the English artist of the Art Deco period also created spare geometric motifs, the majority of her patterns feature glimpses of the natural world.

Produced in the late 1920s and 1930s, Cliff’s patterns sound like marvelous bouquet:; Tulip, Anemone, Crocus, Hydrangea, and Nasturtium are only a few of the many available in the antiques market. Likewise, the fanciful fruit basket is filled with designs like Melon, Oranges, Passionfruit, and Berries.

At other times, Cliff created charming landscapes filled with stylized trees and houses. Orange Roof Cottage recalls a scene from the English countryside, while patterns like Honolulu or Applique Lucerne draw inspiration from more exotic locales.

Gibraltar, introduced in 1931, is a seascape with sailboat, painted in soft colors. Clarice Cliff created so many varied designs in such a short time that there is always a rare pattern or form to delight the serious collector.

On June 25, 2011, Skinner Inc. in Boston offered an extraordinary one-owner collection of Clarice Cliff pottery in their sale of 20th Century Furniture and Decorative Arts.

The event attracted bids from around the world, and the total realized for the group tripled the modest estimates.

Jugs in the rounded “Lotus” shape proved especially popular; one in the Gardenia pattern sold for $1,422, another in the Autumn pattern filled with balloon-like trees for $3851, and a third in the rare Lucerne design for $7,110.

After the sale, Skinner department head Jane Prentiss explained why Cliff’s output remains in such strong demand among collectors: “It’s very cheerful. It’s the pure sense of decorative. People who contacted me were interested because this collection was fresh to the market, so it wasn’t the same pieces of Clarice Cliff going through various auctions.”

She continued, “I think it’s interesting that the countries that were most interested in it were Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England. Some collectors get jaded, but these people were truly enthusiastic about the material. They were explaining to me that some of the forms hadn’t come out in a while.”

Prentiss admits to having personal favorites. “I live in the woods, and I liked the Pine Groves tea service,” Prentiss said. “The lady who bought it was so excited. The bidders’ enthusiasm was just contagious.”

The 12 pieces in this lot were sold for $1,659 (est. $500-600). The offering included one of the sought-after conical sugar shakers found in many Cliff patterns, as well as teapot, sugar, creamer, and cups and saucers.

Prentiss also pointed out the soft browns and greens and rich reds of the Cabbage Flower pattern, adding “I tend to go for the more organic colors.” Five demitasse cups and saucers in the pattern brought $948; a bowl and octagonal plate were sold for $356.

A similar color scheme appears in Cliff’s Newlyn pattern, which depicts a dreamlike landscape with a red-roofed cottage at center. A group of thirteen pieces with this design sold for $7,110.

Serious collectors know that Clarice Cliff pottery is a complex subject. There were major design collections such as her Bizarre and Fantasque lines, a wealth of different patterns, and a variety of shapes with their own factory names to which the designs were applied.

For example, the Autumn pattern mentioned above belongs to the Fantasque collection and was applied to a two-handled jug or pitcher in the Lotus shape. While the rounded Lotus is a more traditional shape, Cliff also invented table services in angular new forms – circles, triangles, and cones. Buyers compete for the unusual rectangular plates and triangular tea cups.

Fortunately, collectors can consult a number of illustrated references to learn more about Cliff’s career and her wares. Serious academic interest grew when the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in England organized an exhibition of her work in 1972.

Recent works include Comprehensively Clarice Cliff by Greg Slater and Jonathan Brough (Thames and Hudson 2005) and Clarice Cliff by Andrew Casey (Antique Collectors’ Club 2010). Collector will also enjoy the large-format softcover Clarice Cliff: The Bizarre Affair by Leonard Griffin, Louis Meisel, and Susan Pear Meisel (Abrams 1988), which is considered a staple in any Clarice Cliff reference library.

Some details of the designer’s biography are worth noting. In spite of the sophistication of her designs, Cliff was not a well-educated artistic dilettante, but rather a talent who emerged from working-class origins. She was born in the Staffordshire pottery district at Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1899. The potteries commonly employed women decorators, whom they paid very low wages, to turn out hand-painted or transfer-printed sets of dishes.

Clarice knew the business at an early age because her sister Sarah was in charge of the decorating shop at Johnson Brothers. Clarice’s formal education ended at 13, when she secured a post at Lingard & Webster, which paid only two shillings a week. As she continued to work at various potteries, she received additional artistic training and eventually her skills as a painter and designer were recognized by management.

In 1927 when the Art Deco style began to receive public attention, Cliff came up with a new decorating range she called “Bizarre.” In his recent book, Andrew Casey writes, “At a time when most people were buying period and traditionally styled pottery decorated with rubber stamped motifs, Bizarre burst on to an unsuspecting market in a riot of colour that made a significant impact on the British pottery industry.” The complete history of the designer’s extraordinary career is well worth studying.

In his introduction to Casey’s reference Eric Knowles offers this explanation for the appeal of Clarice Cliff’s pottery: “Her creations are for the most part cheerful, with the ability to raise a smile, and any art form that can play on our emotions in such a positive manner has to be worthy of the international acclaim she continues to enjoy.”

View the fully illustrated catalog for Skinner’s June 25, 2011 auction, including prices realized at https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/25390.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


From left to right, a Fantasque Swirls jug sold for $3,081; a Bizarre Ware Blue Firs vase $1,778; a Fantasque Autumn or Balloon Trees two-handled jug $3,851; a vase with stemmed flower $356; and a Fantasque Gardenia Jug $1,422. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

From left to right, a Fantasque Swirls jug sold for $3,081; a Bizarre Ware Blue Firs vase $1,778; a Fantasque Autumn or Balloon Trees two-handled jug $3,851; a vase with stemmed flower $356; and a Fantasque Gardenia Jug $1,422. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Summer fruits and flowers brighten Cliff designs. The Oranges sugar and bowl brought $296, a Bizarre Ware Alton charger and plate $1,185, and a lot of five varied Fantasque pieces $1,778. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Summer fruits and flowers brighten Cliff designs. The Oranges sugar and bowl brought $296, a Bizarre Ware Alton charger and plate $1,185, and a lot of five varied Fantasque pieces $1,778. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

This group of tea wares in the Bizarre Ware Pine Groves pattern, sold for $1,659, would be perfect for a mountain retreat. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

This group of tea wares in the Bizarre Ware Pine Groves pattern, sold for $1,659, would be perfect for a mountain retreat. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Dreamlike landscapes cover this group of Clarice Cliff shapes in the Newlyn pattern, which brought $7,110. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Dreamlike landscapes cover this group of Clarice Cliff shapes in the Newlyn pattern, which brought $7,110. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Sold as a group for $3,851, the five pieces with bold geometric patterns included a round Honolulu vase at left. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

Sold as a group for $3,851, the five pieces with bold geometric patterns included a round Honolulu vase at left. Courtesy Skinner Inc.

This redware dish, attributed to George Hubener, has all the bells and whistles collectors want. The bold sgraffito tulip design on a yellow ground is accented with green splotches, and the German inscription includes the date 178. The example, similar to one in the Winterthur collection, sold at Pook & Pook in January 2008 for $351,000, a redware record. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Ceramics Collector: Redware a precursor to art pottery

This redware dish, attributed to George Hubener, has all the bells and whistles collectors want. The bold sgraffito tulip design on a yellow ground is accented with green splotches, and the German inscription includes the date 178. The example, similar to one in the Winterthur collection, sold at Pook & Pook in January 2008 for $351,000, a redware record. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

This redware dish, attributed to George Hubener, has all the bells and whistles collectors want. The bold sgraffito tulip design on a yellow ground is accented with green splotches, and the German inscription includes the date 178. The example, similar to one in the Winterthur collection, sold at Pook & Pook in January 2008 for $351,000, a redware record. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Passionate collectors draw inspiration from exhibitions focused on their special field. For anyone enthused about American redware, “Seeing Red: Southeastern Pennsylvania Earthenware from Winterthur” will be a delight.

The show at the Brandywine River Museum through July 24 displays 50 treasures from the famous collection formed by Henry Francis du Pont. A visit to the Chadds Ford, Pa., institution can be coordinated with a journey to Winterthur itself across the line in Delaware, where the landmark exhibition “Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725-1840,” will be until Jan. 8, 2012.

Redware collecting has fared well over the years, with examples increasing in value, because the pottery has vivid colors, intricate patterns and interesting forms, which enhance contemporary settings as well as period interiors.

Almost 30 years ago, pottery expert William C. Ketchum Jr. wrote in his classic book on Pottery & Porcelain (one of the Knopf Collectors’ Guides to American Antiques): “The earliest redware potteries were established in New England, Pennsylvania and along the Mid-Atlantic coast. the shops were small, typically run by one or two men who threw their wares by hand on a wheel.”

He continued, “Most redware vessels were utilitarian – crocks, jugs, jars, plates, platters and mugs – and were intended for everyday use. Yet some potters embellished their wares, and today these decorated pieces are among the most highly esteemed of American pottery.”

Flourishing in the 18th and 19th centuries, redware workshops were making what was needed for local communities from the materials at hand. Yet the potters excised so much creativity that the best redware has long been enshrined as folk art. The term “art pottery” would not be used until the end of the 19th century, but this pottery can certainly be appreciated as art.

Catharine Dann Roeber, who has been working a major ceramics cataloging project at Winterthur, was the guest curator for the Brandywine exhibition. She had the enjoyable task of selecting objects for display from Winterthur’s legendary collection.

She notes, “When this project arose it was wonderful to bring things out of those hidden corners.” The depth of the collection is a testimonial to du Pont’s passion for folk wares in general and ceramics in particular.

“The guiding principle for choosing the objects was to emphasize the diversity of makers and users in southeastern Pennsylvania and also to pick well-attributed examples,” Roeber notes. “We wanted to use pieces that we were fairly confident were made in the region.”

In an essay written for the exhibition, the curator explains the diversity of decoration: “Redware objects were often decorated by stamping, stenciling, scratching, incising, piercing, rouletting or slip-decorating … Glazes served a two-fold purpose. They added color to the object while simultaneously making the vessel impervious to liquid.”

An important masterwork on display, one circular dish has an incised decoration of a peacock and flowers. The sgraffito technique cuts through the yellow slip on the surface to reveal the red body of the clay beneath. Splotches of green glaze add color, and there is an early date – 1787 – and an inscription in German on the rim which reads: “Were there no men or roosters, the cradles and chicken houses would be empty.” The work is attributed to potter George Hubener of Montgomery County.

When selecting examples for the show, Roeber says, “We wanted to show the full range. Some of them were made to be completely useful day-to-day objects – for example, a roof tile or a plain inkwell. But then there were pieces that had a function but were intended as special objects when they were made.”

The addition of names, dates, and inscriptions to some redware pieces strongly suggests that they were made as gifts to mark special occasions. Another highlight in the exhibition is a teapot dated 1799 with a German inscription: “God bless you all in food and drink.”Any personalization of this type is highly prized by collectors.

Roeber has some favorite exhibits: “We’ve got a great flowerpot that had applied molded dogs and birds all over the outside surface, and that one is actually signed by the maker. And I like the slip-decorated dish with three fish.”

Auctioneers Pook & Pook in Downingtown, Pa., have handled some of the best Pennsylvania redware sold in recent years. Ron Pook acknowledges, “It’s one of my favorite things actually. It’s so dramatic, so unique to this area – I love the material.”

Although there are certainly entry-level pieces in the $500-$1,000 range, the best pieces can bring five and six-figure bids at auction. Pook says, “Redware with sgraffito decoration is what brings the ultimate price, particularly with incised German inscriptions around the edges.” In January 2008, the firm sold a decorated dish attributed to potter George Hubener, that was very similar to the Winterthur one cited above, for $351,000 – a redware record.

Pook & Pook Vice President Jamie Shearer adds some further advice for collectors: “The main thing I recommend is, you should buy what you like. What appeals to one person may not appeal to somebody else. The bigger money pieces are obviously the sgraffito examples. But there is some really neat slip-decorated stuff that has been doing very, very well.

“Once you decide what you like, the three most important factors are condition, condition, condition. We routinely see things fall in value or go up, and the things that are going up are the pieces with absolutely no apologies.”

He continues, “Redware was used to make utilitarian objects, and these weren’t things that were being put on a shelf. They made them to use. Every year more stuff gets damaged, so the percentage of things that are perfect goes down. That’s why the prices for things that are perfect continue to go up – it’s supply and demand.”

Shearer says in conclusion, “Redware has not gone out of fashion. When it comes to smalls and redware, there’s always a spot on the shelf or a plate rack where you can stand up a nice slip-decorated loaf dish. It doesn’t necessarily lend itself only to period furniture, it’s something that can fit in a modern setting.”

 

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


On view at the Brandywine River Museum through July 24, ‘Seeing Red: Southeastern Pennsylvania Earthenware from Winterthur’ displays 50 treasures from the famous collection formed by Henry Francis du Pont. Shown are a fancy covered bowl, 1780-1830; a decorated dish with inscription and the date 1787, attributed to George Hubener of Montgomery County; and a green-glazed jar reading ‘Sarah Worthman 1806.’ Photo Credit: Jim Schneck.

On view at the Brandywine River Museum through July 24, ‘Seeing Red: Southeastern Pennsylvania Earthenware from Winterthur’ displays 50 treasures from the famous collection formed by Henry Francis du Pont. Shown are a fancy covered bowl, 1780-1830; a decorated dish with inscription and the date 1787, attributed to George Hubener of Montgomery County; and a green-glazed jar reading ‘Sarah Worthman 1806.’ Photo Credit: Jim Schneck.

 Collectors cherish unusual redware figures, birds and animals. The dog bank at center, one of the exhibits in ‘Seeing Red,’ is attributed to George Wagner of Carbon County, 1875-1900. Photo Credit: Jim Schneck.

Collectors cherish unusual redware figures, birds and animals. The dog bank at center, one of the exhibits in ‘Seeing Red,’ is attributed to George Wagner of Carbon County, 1875-1900. Photo Credit: Jim Schneck.

The bright colors, intricate patterns, and date add value to this round plate, but the clincher is the inclusion of a heart. The lot brought $105,300 in an April 2007 sale. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

The bright colors, intricate patterns, and date add value to this round plate, but the clincher is the inclusion of a heart. The lot brought $105,300 in an April 2007 sale. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Rare forms, such as this sugar bowl complete with lid, are high on collectors’ wish lists. This example, attributed to Henry Grady of Somerset County, circa 1840, sold for $59,250 at auction last October. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Rare forms, such as this sugar bowl complete with lid, are high on collectors’ wish lists. This example, attributed to Henry Grady of Somerset County, circa 1840, sold for $59,250 at auction last October. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

 This redware candlestick in the form of a classically garbed woman is marked by the potter, Solomon Bell of Strasburg, Pa. The formal piece, influenced by fine ceramic figures from Europe, brought $23,700 last fall. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

This redware candlestick in the form of a classically garbed woman is marked by the potter, Solomon Bell of Strasburg, Pa. The formal piece, influenced by fine ceramic figures from Europe, brought $23,700 last fall. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Collectors look for inventive designs on redware plates. This example, sold for $37,920 in 2010, offers a lively bird under the date 1850. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Collectors look for inventive designs on redware plates. This example, sold for $37,920 in 2010, offers a lively bird under the date 1850. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook.

Competition can be keen for rarely seen forms, such as this large bowl (dia. 11½ inches) which sold for $1,422 at a June 2008 20th Century auction. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Ceramics Collector: Dedham Pottery – Ring Around the Rabbits

Competition can be keen for rarely seen forms, such as this large bowl (dia. 11½ inches) which sold for $1,422 at a June 2008 20th Century auction. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Competition can be keen for rarely seen forms, such as this large bowl (dia. 11½ inches) which sold for $1,422 at a June 2008 20th Century auction. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Spring has arrived, Easter decorations fill the shops, and art pottery collectors might find their noses twitching for seasonal dinnerware. The perfect accent on a holiday table could be Dedham Pottery’s rabbit-bordered dishes.  The pieces are colorful, attractive, and easy-to-find at auction.

Working in the potteries was a strong tradition in the Robertson family. After managing a firm in northern England, James Robertson brought his family to America in 1853 and settled in the Boston area. Led by son Alexander, the family first founded a pottery in Chelsea, which became known as the Chelsea Keramic Works and continued in various forms until 1896.

Under the management of another son, Hugh C. Robertson, the pottery then moved to Dedham, a small township southwest of Boston. Robertson had been strongly influenced by Asian ceramics glimpsed at the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876. His experiments with glazes took him in several artistic directions.

At his Dedham Pottery, Robertson rediscovered the formula for an intense red Chinese glaze sometimes called “Dragon’s Blood” through a process of trial and error. He used this hue alone and in combination with other vivid colors. His 1896-1899 line called “Volcanic Ware” used multiple firings to produce special glaze effects, and the best of these pieces are very collectible. These interesting experiments were not a financial success, however, and the lead in the glazes led to the potter’s death in 1908.

Fortunately, Hugh Robertson had also perfected a cream-colored crackle glaze, based on Asian prototypes. He used this for a line of dinnerware, which proved to be the pottery’s financial salvation and ensured its continuance – under a son and grandson – until 1943. The dishes were decorated with hand-painted blue borders featuring repeated motifs from the natural world, mostly commonly rabbits.

In a Miller’s Guide to American Art Pottery, ceramics expert David Rago wrote: “The crackle-glazed dinner plates and serving pieces, adorned mostly with cobalt blue bunnies on a cream ground, have preserved Robertson’s legacy. However, he probably would not find such a prospect appealing, considering his predilection for extreme glazing. But the financial success of the bunny ware enabled him to continue his kiln experiments for several decades, into the 20th century.”

While examples of Dedham Pottery turn up everywhere, Skinner Inc. in the Boston area is an important source for both the basic items and rare serving pieces needed to form an extended service. Jane Prentiss, head of 20th Century sales at the auction house, says, “We do get a lot of it. I love all of that pottery because it’s so whimsical and cheerful. I have a big collection of rabbits coming up in the June 25th sale.”

The rabbit border pattern was Dedham’s most popular, and the famous bunny profile was even incorporated in the pottery’s trademark. Prentiss emphasizes its heirloom status: “It was the most made and the most kept. When we go into homes, we often find it. When they had whole services, they tended to use the bunny border for the dinner set and the other borders for plates to display on the hutch.”

Although rabbits were most common, many other designs decorated Dedham’s crackle ware dishes. Collectors can find borders of elephants, ducks, and polar bears as well as irises, magnolias, and mushrooms. There are also hand-painted floral compositions that cover an entire plate. Values rise with rarity, and the search for unique examples can be fascinating.

Jane Prentiss often consults a reprint of an old Dedham Pottery catalogue – copies appear for sale online – which lists the wide range of forms offered for sale. She says, “You can assemble whole rabbit dinnerware sets with serving bowls, pitchers, and coffee pots. The original buyers tended to get the cups and saucers and dinner plates first. If they had a little bit of extra money, they would buy the serving pieces and those pieces tend to be more valuable and difficult to find.”

Skinner’s June 25th sale will offer many forms to help round out a dinner service including cups and saucers, a coffee pot, creamer and sugar bowl, and a handsome rectangular platter. Collectors should note that the cobalt blue border can vary in color from piece to piece. Buyers are also selective about the appearance of the crackled background glaze, which was produced by rapidly cooling pottery hot from the kiln.

Of course, Dedham was not the only art pottery to use rabbits as a decorating motif. Prentiss notes, “One of the things I’ve been doing is a map of Boston at different periods of time, and around 1905 there were a ton of potteries in Boston.” Last December, Skinner’s sold two plates painted by the Saturday Evening Girls group of female decorators – one with rabbit border, one with goose border – for $1,659. At the same sale, a child’s bowl with a rabbit from the Paul Revere Pottery in Boston brought $326.

LiveAuctioneers.com will provide the Internet live bidding for Skinner’s June 25, 2011 auction. Watch for the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Competition can be keen for rarely seen forms, such as this large bowl (dia. 11½ inches) which sold for $1,422 at a June 2008 20th Century auction. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Competition can be keen for rarely seen forms, such as this large bowl (dia. 11½ inches) which sold for $1,422 at a June 2008 20th Century auction. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The Paul Revere Pottery in Boston would personalize children’s dishes with the owner’s name. This 1937 rabbit-decorated bowl with the inscription “Jon Heller - His Bowl” sold for $326 last December. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The Paul Revere Pottery in Boston would personalize children’s dishes with the owner’s name. This 1937 rabbit-decorated bowl with the inscription “Jon Heller – His Bowl” sold for $326 last December. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

An unusual and very useful serving piece, this Dedham round tray with rabbit border (dia. 13½ inches) sold for $999 in 2006. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

An unusual and very useful serving piece, this Dedham round tray with rabbit border (dia. 13½ inches) sold for $999 in 2006. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

With an eye on auction offerings, collectors can gradually assemble a large service of Dedham rabbit-bordered pottery. This lot of 6 bread and butter plates went for $382 at a December 2007 sale. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

With an eye on auction offerings, collectors can gradually assemble a large service of Dedham rabbit-bordered pottery. This lot of 6 bread and butter plates went for $382 at a December 2007 sale. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The female decorators of the Saturday Evening Girls Pottery in Boston also edged services with animal borders. These plates – one surrounded by stylized rabbits, one by geese – date to 1913 and 1911 respectively; the pair brought $1,659 at Skinner’s in December 2010. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The female decorators of the Saturday Evening Girls Pottery in Boston also edged services with animal borders. These plates – one surrounded by stylized rabbits, one by geese – date to 1913 and 1911 respectively; the pair brought $1,659 at Skinner’s in December 2010. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

This coffee pot, creamer, and sugar bowl are among the many pieces of Dedham pottery to be offered in the June 25 Skinner sale. The three items also show the variations in hue of the cobalt blue border found among rabbit-bordered dishes. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

This coffee pot, creamer, and sugar bowl are among the many pieces of Dedham pottery to be offered in the June 25 Skinner sale. The three items also show the variations in hue of the cobalt blue border found among rabbit-bordered dishes. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Highly desirable to collectors of the ware, this attractive rectangular platter comes up for sale in June. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

Highly desirable to collectors of the ware, this attractive rectangular platter comes up for sale in June. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The distinctive Dedham rabbit from the popular dinnerware border was also part of the stamped mark that identified the pottery’s products. Note also the characteristic crackle glaze found on all pieces in the line. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The distinctive Dedham rabbit from the popular dinnerware border was also part of the stamped mark that identified the pottery’s products. Note also the characteristic crackle glaze found on all pieces in the line. Image courtesy Skinner Inc.

The Imperial Porcelain Factory created a deep red oxblood or sang de boeuf glaze, in imitation of the Chinese. This presentation Easter egg, circa 1915, bearing the gilded cipher of Nicholas II, sold for $7,200 last May. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Russian Porcelain: Artistry and technology in the Imperial Age

The Imperial Porcelain Factory created a deep red oxblood or sang de boeuf glaze, in imitation of the Chinese. This presentation Easter egg, circa 1915, bearing the gilded cipher of Nicholas II, sold for $7,200 last May. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

The Imperial Porcelain Factory created a deep red oxblood or sang de boeuf glaze, in imitation of the Chinese. This presentation Easter egg, circa 1915, bearing the gilded cipher of Nicholas II, sold for $7,200 last May. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Every era has cutting edge technology, and nations have always bought, borrowed or stolen the best for their regimes. Today we might list computers, communications and armaments as areas of high tech achievement.

Czar Peter the Great, who began his rule in 1682, certainly wanted the latest weapons to defend the Russian Empire, but next on his want list may have been the industrial secret for making fine tableware. Duplicating the beauty and durability of Chinese porcelain had become a national quest for European states.

“Russian rulers pursued the secret of manufacturing true porcelain as avidly as kings and princes in the rest of Europe,” states curator Anne Odom in Russian Imperial Porcelain at Hillwood. “For Russians, the production of porcelain became a touchstone of the country’s campaign to Westernize.”

Factories already making porcelain in Europe, many under state patronage, tried to protect their great industrial secret. Peter first lured away someone who had worked at the Meissen works in Germany, who failed to produce as promised.

Around 1746, Dmitrii Vinogradov, a young Russian who had studied abroad, produced a successful formula. His experiments were aided by the fact that there were good sources of kaolin – a principal ingredient for hard paste porcelain – located in Russia.

Following this discovery, Russian porcelain production continued under the czars for over 150 years. Extensive table services, decorative urns, figurines and symbolic Easter eggs were commissioned by the nobility. The finest decorators were recruited from Europe to paint the porcelain.

As would be expected, early decorative styles resembled work at important European factories such as Meissen and Sevres. Decorative schemes included landscapes and mythological themes as well as flora and fauna.

For example, a tea and coffee service in the Hillwood Museum collection, made 1801-1815 in the reign of Alexander I, has well-painted panels with Italian views accented by highly detailed gilding. Other services are decorated with Russian subjects – views of St. Petersburg or portraits of people in native costume from various parts of the Empire.

An interesting development under Nicholas I, who ruled 1825-1855, was the rise of a distinctive style of ornamentation based on historic Russian styles. Artists were sent out to copy decorative patterns on material in the state treasury and important early churches. This pan-Russian style remained popular throughout the 19th century.

Odom explains, “When he commissioned the Kremlin Service in 1837, Nicholas introduced a new source of ornament into the rich vocabulary of Russian decorative arts, making use for the first time of Old Russian motifs from the 17th century, dating to a period before Peter came to the throne.”

The Kremlin Service mentioned above was designed for elaborate state dinners which might seat 500 guests at one time. Thousands of individually painted plates were made for the set, which took over 10 years to complete. Any piece is a collector’s treasure.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, the famous cereal heiress, was an enthusiastic early collector of Russian porcelain and decorative arts. Her treasures, including examples from important table services, are on view at her former residence in Washington, D.C., now called the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens.

The museum’s website, www.hillwood.org, presents an overview of exhibitions and resources and includes an informative introductory film. The Hillwood book shop offers important catalogs and essays on the Post collections. In addition to Russian Imperial Porcelain at Hillwood¸ collectors will enjoy A Taste for Splendor: Russian Imperial and European Treasures from the Hillwood Museum, and What Became of Peter’s Dream?: Court Culture in the Reign of Nicholas II.

Like many collectors of her day, Post’s attention first had been focused on French furniture and decorative arts. When her husband Joseph Davies became ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1937, she was able to acquire Russian porcelain, paintings, icons, and even imperial Easter eggs at a time when they were seriously undervalued in the marketplace.

Contrast those days with the present antiques market, in which Russian entrepreneurs delight in buying back the fine and decorative arts of their homeland. Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York and London have had great success with sales of Russian porcelain and metalwork, but the Internet makes it possible for collectors to unearth important lots wherever they appear.

Jackson’s, a major regional auction house in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has achieved this international reach. Cataloged auctions in May and October 2010, each more than a thousand lots, featured the Russian collections of Dr. James F. Cooper and Dr. Brad LeMay. Both collections had been formed from excellent sources, and bidders battled over important examples of porcelain, holy icons, enameled metalwork, silver and militaria.

During his travels in a previous career as an advertising executive, company president James L. Jackson had developed a strong interest in Russian art. In a recent interview, he said, “I knew a lot about the auction business, how it worked as a buyer and a seller, and I had expertise in certain areas. I traveled extensively in Russia.

“In 1993 I quit my job and decided to buy a building. I was forward thinking enough to know you didn’t have to be in New York. You could be somewhere where the cost of doing business was much less. What if everything that went to auction in the Midwest – that I would want – came to me?”

When the Russian collecting boom began around 2000, Jackson was ideally placed to capture his share of the market.

“There were really only a few places that could handle Russian material, know what it was and properly describe it.

“Russia, in the late 19th and early 20th century, did see the growth of a middle class. They were so close to getting their act together. Nicholas II was a soft-spoken, compassionate czar, but a weak leader. Between 1875 and 1915, the amount of art produced in every field was fantastic – ceramics, wood, paintings, sculpture. These things are truly unique to Russia and very beautiful.”

Jackson said, “Last year, we were fortunate enough to have two lifetime collections of two American physicians – one from St. Louis and one from Arkansas. They were typical of those quiet unseen buyers who form great collections.”

These old collections coming fresh to the market drew competitive bids from dealers and collectors in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Highlights are illustrated below, while the complete catalogs with results can be viewed at www.jacksonsauction.com.

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Visitors to Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., can view Marjorie Merriweather Post’s superb collection of Russian porcelain, paintings and decorative arts. Among the treasures is a pair of magnificent gilded vases decorated with pigeons that were made during the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855). Courtesy Hillwood Museum & Gardens.

Visitors to Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., can view Marjorie Merriweather Post’s superb collection of Russian porcelain, paintings and decorative arts. Among the treasures is a pair of magnificent gilded vases decorated with pigeons that were made during the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855). Courtesy Hillwood Museum & Gardens.

The Kremlin service of Nicholas I (1825-1855) is densely decorated with historic Russian artistic motifs and features the Imperial double-headed eagle in a central cartouche. This plate sold in October at Jackson’s for $3,120. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

The Kremlin service of Nicholas I (1825-1855) is densely decorated with historic Russian artistic motifs and features the Imperial double-headed eagle in a central cartouche. This plate sold in October at Jackson’s for $3,120. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Made during the reign of Alexander II (1855-1881), this tete-a-tete tea service with original fitted traveling case was sold at Jackson’s in May for $25,200 with buyer’s premium. The set with quatrefoil tray is decorated with delicate sprays of violets and gilt tracery. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Made during the reign of Alexander II (1855-1881), this tete-a-tete tea service with original fitted traveling case was sold at Jackson’s in May for $25,200 with buyer’s premium. The set with quatrefoil tray is decorated with delicate sprays of violets and gilt tracery. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This porcelain plate with winter scenes and pan-Slavic strapwork on the border was made circa 1890 by Kornilov Brothers factory for export to Tiffany New York. Although a commercial product, the attractive subject matter took the plate to $4,800 at Jackson’s auction in October.

This porcelain plate with winter scenes and pan-Slavic strapwork on the border was made circa 1890 by Kornilov Brothers factory for export to Tiffany New York. Although a commercial product, the attractive subject matter took the plate to $4,800 at Jackson’s auction in October.

In addition to tableware, Russian porcelain manufacturers created colorful character figurines. This coachman from the Gardner factory, circa 1820-1850, brought $6,504. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

In addition to tableware, Russian porcelain manufacturers created colorful character figurines. This coachman from the Gardner factory, circa 1820-1850, brought $6,504. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This tureen banded in blue, dated 1897, was part of a special service made for the Imperial yacht Tsarevna. The elegant serving dish brought $3,120 last fall. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This tureen banded in blue, dated 1897, was part of a special service made for the Imperial yacht Tsarevna. The elegant serving dish brought $3,120 last fall. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Partial services of Spode’s Christmas Tree pattern often appear at auction and can be augmented with additional pieces. The set shown with eight plates and cups and saucers sold for a reasonable $218.75 at Susanin’s; a larger set with 16 plates brought $500 there. Image courtesy Susanin’s Auctions, Chicago.

Ceramics Collector: Spode’s Christmas Tree Pattern

Partial services of Spode’s Christmas Tree pattern often appear at auction and can be augmented with additional pieces. The set shown with eight plates and cups and saucers sold for a reasonable $218.75 at Susanin’s; a larger set with 16 plates brought $500 there. Image courtesy Susanin’s Auctions, Chicago.

Partial services of Spode’s Christmas Tree pattern often appear at auction and can be augmented with additional pieces. The set shown with eight plates and cups and saucers sold for a reasonable $218.75 at Susanin’s; a larger set with 16 plates brought $500 there. Image courtesy Susanin’s Auctions, Chicago.

PHILADELPHIA – Buying pottery and porcelain at auction can be a serious, adrenaline-fueled competition.

For relaxation, choose a china pattern – not too hard to find – that the entire family will enjoy collecting. Seek it out in auctions, shows, and shops – then set the table for special occasions.

In the season to be jolly, Spode’s Christmas Tree is a perfect choice. The pattern dates back to the 1930s when Sydney Thompson, the firm’s agent in the United States, went to the parent pottery in England. He hoped to find a suitable holiday design in the pattern books that would appeal to his American customers.

Spode is one of the most distinguished names in British ceramics history. The firm was originally established at Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire by Josiah Spode I (1733-1797). His son Josiah II (1755-1827) continued to make artistic and technical innovations. The company was known for high quality bone china wares and transfer-printed pottery services, including ones in the famous “Italian” pattern that has been in continuous production since the early 19th century.

When he failed to find what he was looking for in the old pattern books, Thompson discussed a new design with Spode’s Art Director Thomas Hassall. He turned to designer Harold Holdway, later the firm’s Design Director, to come up with a pattern perfect for Christmas. After several attempts, Holdway created a distinctive decorated tree image with presents below and a Santa figure on top rather than the usual angel or star.

The original 10-inch plate has the wording “Wishing You a Merry Christmas 1938” on the reverse. Sydney Thompson went back home with his new pattern, which generated a flood of orders from customers who wanted to have a special service on the table for the holidays. Over the past 70 years, the design has appeared on a wide variety of plates, cups, serving pieces, and decorative items.

Collectors often begin by inheriting or purchasing a few pieces. Spode’s Christmas Tree is such an attractive pattern, many people continue to add dishes over the years until they have formed a service. Vintage pieces turn up at antique malls, while new items can still be found in gift shops or Spode’s online store.

Partial sets often come up at auction and can be augmented with appropriate items to serve personal entertainment requirements. Start with a group of six, eight, or ten plates and a platter. Serving tea, punch, or eggnog to a crowd? Add another dozen mugs.

A Christmas Tree service that was sold for $960 this November at Morton Kuehnert Auctioneers in Houston is a perfect example of an assembled family set. Not only were there twenty plates and over thirty cups, the group also included candleholders, salt and pepper shakers, tea and coffee pots, napkins rings, and ornaments. Any family can build a similar collection with online and shop purchases, and have an enormous amount of fun on the hunt.

If your decorating taste is more Mid-Century Modern, start a search for the hip Christmas tree- decorated pottery produced by the Glidden Pottery in Alfred, New York. The firm was in operation from 1940 to 1957, but the holiday design first appeared in ads in July 1953. A stylized tree on the cream-colored ware has a bright star on top and branches laden with colored balls and lights. Among the pieces offered were luncheon, salad, and canapé plates as well as a serving tray on metal stand.

Whatever the season, pattern hunting for 19th and 20th century dishes can become a consuming hobby. Anyone can buy a new set of dishes. Picking a great design from the past and gradually assembling a service is far more rewarding.

Rounding out inherited services to useful dimensions is a wonderful way to preserve family heirlooms. If you admire an ancestor’s taste in tableware and regret that some or all of the pieces have been lost, recreate a family service in the cherished pattern.

When collecting pottery or porcelain, follow the “buy what you like” rule. Find a pattern you will continue to enjoy through the years and never hesitate to use it. Do not hold it hostage in the china cabinet. Part of happy holidays is bringing out a favorite service and sharing its beauty with your guests.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


Just in time for the holidays, this extensive Spode Christmas service was sold in November for $960 at Morton Kuehnert Auctioneers. The assembled set included 20 dinner plates, serving dishes, coffee and tea pots, and a variety of cups and mugs. Image courtesy Morton Kuehnert Auctioneers, Houston.

Just in time for the holidays, this extensive Spode Christmas service was sold in November for $960 at Morton Kuehnert Auctioneers. The assembled set included 20 dinner plates, serving dishes, coffee and tea pots, and a variety of cups and mugs. Image courtesy Morton Kuehnert Auctioneers, Houston.

The New Orleans Museum of Art greatly expanded their holdings of Fairyland Lustre, when they received 15 superb examples from the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection in 2007. At left, imps climb to their tree house; at center, a view of the Ghostly Wood; and at right, two smiling goblins stand on the forest floor. Image courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art

Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre creates a magical world

The New Orleans Museum of Art greatly expanded their holdings of Fairyland Lustre, when they received 15 superb examples from the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection in 2007. At left, imps climb to their tree house; at center, a view of the Ghostly Wood; and at right, two smiling goblins stand on the forest floor. Image courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art

The New Orleans Museum of Art greatly expanded their holdings of Fairyland Lustre, when they received 15 superb examples from the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection in 2007. At left, imps climb to their tree house; at center, a view of the Ghostly Wood; and at right, two smiling goblins stand on the forest floor. Image courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art

For those familiar only with Wedgwood’s more sedate products, viewing the firm’s Fairyland Lustre line may come as a shock to the senses. Beginning production around 1914, this highly desirable group of vases, bowls, pots and trays features inventive design schemes executed in bold colors and enhanced by a new type of iridescent lustre glaze.

Fairyland Lustre has a broad appeal. While often included in comprehensive Wedgwood collections, the fantastic designs also attract an entirely different group of collectors than traditional wares. In the current strong market, serious enthusiasts compete for the most desirable patterns and unusual color combinations.

Stuart Slavid, head of the Ceramics department at Skinner Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, said, “In the past 23 years while I’ve been at Skinner, I’ve sold practically every major Wedgwood Collection to come on the market. Part and parcel with that, it would mean that I also would have sold a greater majority of the Fairyland Lustre to come on the market.”

“I don’t think Fairyland necessarily has ever peaked. It’s still a tremendously good investment. It’s gone up very, very consistently, unlike some other areas – even within the world of Wedgwood – which may be a little more fickle.”

Skinner’s ceramics sales regularly included examples of Fairyland Lustre, and exceptional offerings in the mid-2000s produced spectacular results. In the 2006 auction of the Zeitlin Collection, a lidded Malfrey Pot in the Ghostly Wood pattern brought $55,225 with buyer’s premium. At the same sale, a Dragon King vase sold for $45,825 and a Pillar vase for $18,880.

Slavid explained, “Certainly there’s still a lot that can be bought for $4,000-$6,000, but it’s the rarer patterns that attract the most interest. The next five Wedgwood collections could have Fairyland Lustre in them, but they may be the more common patterns. It just so happens that there was a run of several collections that included some of the rarer patterns. And the rarer patterns will definitely go up into five figures.”

The Fairyland world at Wedgwood sprang from the imagination of one designer, Daisy Makeig-Jones (1881-1945), who joined the firm in 1910, quickly rose through the ranks, and continued on the staff until 1931. In a period that offered very few career options for women, female workers were prized in the field of ceramics production. Not only were they often more adept at transfer application and painting, they had a good sense of what would sell to women consumers, who were in charge of decorating the home.

Biographies describe Makeig-Jones as a true eccentric, but she had a successful vision for a line of pottery with great appeal to buyers in the boom years following World War I. Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre, a 1975 reference by Una des Fontaines, presents in detail the designer’s career, inspiration and output.

The study of Fairyland Lustre forms and decoration is fraught with peril. Patterns are complex and difficult to recognize, variations in coloration abound, and a broad range of shapes were produced, each of which required its own design transfer. The reference cited above contains a wealth of information, and persistent collectors will be able to master the dense format to identify individual pieces.

As des Fontaines makes clear, Makeig-Jones was not the best artist, but she definitely knew what she wanted to accomplish. Her biographer writes: “From her original idea for the design, and after many preliminary sketches, Daisy would prepare a carefully finished drawing. The transition from this final drawing to the lustrous, brilliantly-hued ‘delightful dreams in china’ involved a succession of skilled craftsmen including engravers, printers, transferrers, stipplers, paintresses, lustre appliers, gilders and burnishers; it also required several kiln firings.”

Above all, Daisy Makeig-Jones was a brilliant synthesizer, who drew on many design sources current in the period. The Blue Fairy Book, the first of a series of color-themed children’s volumes by Andrew Lang (1844-1912), had been published in 1889 when she was a child, and the influence of its illustrations is clear in her patterns.

The public imagination was focused on the possibility of alternative realities. Interest in supernatural beings and spiritualism had begun in the late Victorian period and grew after the Great War. Many young lives had been lost, and survivors longed to believe in a life beyond death for their loved ones.

A cause célèbre at the time, two young cousins made the news when they purportedly photographed the Cottingley Fairies in 1917. Not surprisingly, these fraudulent spirits looked not unlike Makeig-Jones drawings. On his return from the World War I trenches, J.R.R. Tolkien began his great sagas of elvish history, and some of Fairyland’s more stately beings are not unlike his descriptions of the High Elves.

Looking at the diverse wares called Fairyland Lustre, Stuart Slavid points out, “The sources are really what made it all happen in the beginning, and then just the creativity of the different color schemes and the use of gilding. Some have a very satiny glaze; some have a bright glaze, which gives variety to the pieces. Then you have day color schemes, and night color schemes, and a fire red sky as well, to make it even more complicated.”

The best Fairyland pieces are now in museum collections. The New Orleans Museum of Art, which has a rich decorative arts tradition, was fortunate enough to receive a gift of 15 superb examples from the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection. The beautiful pieces testify to the couple’s connoisseurship and ability to select the best on the market.

John Keefe, the RosaMary Foundation curator of Decorative Arts at NOMA, said, “Fairyland Lustre is an exotic offshoot of the standard Wedgwood tree, but at the time, they used an incredibly clever marketing technique. Wedgwood realized that their old patrician clientele was dying out after World War I. They had to appeal to a slightly flashier, new-moneyed crowd whose taste was not for blue and white jasperware. So it was a great marketing success, and obviously Daisy Makeig-Jones was pretty talented.”

He continued, “The designs fit a sort of proto-Art Deco sensibility. That’s where the genius comes in. There’s that whole interest in the world of the fairies and all that stuff, but she managed to make it look new and opulent and not like the traditional Wedgwood. At times, she was a thorn in Wedgwood’s side, but she managed to pull it off.”


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Important lots of Fairyland Lustre were part of Skinner’s sale of the Zeitlin Collection of English Ceramics in September 2006. This covered Malfrey Pot, featuring eerie Ghostly Wood decoration with a pale blue sky, sold for an impressive $55,225. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Important lots of Fairyland Lustre were part of Skinner’s sale of the Zeitlin Collection of English Ceramics in September 2006. This covered Malfrey Pot, featuring eerie Ghostly Wood decoration with a pale blue sky, sold for an impressive $55,225. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Frightening creatures and twisted trees inhabit the Ghostly Wood, created by Daisy Makeig-Jones. This desirable covered vase (15 1/2 inches high), marked with the pattern number Z4968, brought $37,600 in a January 2007 decorative arts sale. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Frightening creatures and twisted trees inhabit the Ghostly Wood, created by Daisy Makeig-Jones. This desirable covered vase (15 1/2 inches high), marked with the pattern number Z4968, brought $37,600 in a January 2007 decorative arts sale. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

A 17-inch vase is decorated with Imps on a Bridge and Treehouse accented by a flaming wheel border at the foot. An example of Fairyland Lustre at its most creative, the piece brought $42,300 at auction in 2007. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

A 17-inch vase is decorated with Imps on a Bridge and Treehouse accented by a flaming wheel border at the foot. An example of Fairyland Lustre at its most creative, the piece brought $42,300 at auction in 2007. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Designer Daisy Makeig-Jones wrote a complete history for the amusing Firbolgs, who caper around this red-ground Imperial bowl (10 7/8 inches diameter), circa 1920. With interior views from the story of Thumbelina, the bowl sold last July for $5,036. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Designer Daisy Makeig-Jones wrote a complete history for the amusing Firbolgs, who caper around this red-ground Imperial bowl (10 7/8 inches diameter), circa 1920. With interior views from the story of Thumbelina, the bowl sold last July for $5,036. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

An elegant figure flanked by tall tapers forms the center of the black ground Candlemas pattern. This 8-inch vase sold at a July Skinner auction for $4148. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

An elegant figure flanked by tall tapers forms the center of the black ground Candlemas pattern. This 8-inch vase sold at a July Skinner auction for $4148. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

A Fairyland Lustre bowl in the Woodland Bridge pattern brought $4,148 in the October 4 Leslie Hindman Auction in Chicago. Image courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

A Fairyland Lustre bowl in the Woodland Bridge pattern brought $4,148 in the October 4 Leslie Hindman Auction in Chicago. Image courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

The first design produced in Wedgwood’s Fairyland line, Poplar Trees, wraps this bowl sold at Leslie Hindman in early October for $4,880. Image courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

The first design produced in Wedgwood’s Fairyland line, Poplar Trees, wraps this bowl sold at Leslie Hindman in early October for $4,880. Image courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

Claude Conover’s stoneware with a 20th-century twist

Coming up for sale in October, this dramatic two-tone vessel titled ‘Baat’ is estimated to sell for $8,500-$12,500. It is 27 1/2 inches high. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center. Stoneware was principally prized for its durability in early American households. Fired at high temperatures until rock hard, the material was a natural choice for utilitarian jugs and storage jars.

In the 20th century, however, stoneware developed into an important artistic medium for studio potters. When shaped by the right hands, the strong material can have a dramatic impact on viewers. Collectors cherish the bold stoneware creations of artists as diverse as Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) and Toshiko Takaezu (b. 1922).

Less well-known but equally inventive, Claude Conover (1907-1994) turned to pottery in midlife, after a 30-year career as a commercial designer. Born in Pittsburgh, he received his training at the Cleveland Institute of Art and began working in that city. By the 1960s, he was devoting himself to stoneware production in his studio.

The majority of Conover’s works are variations on a single form – a vase or vessel with curved body and narrow neck. He did not throw these pieces on a wheel but constructed them from rolled clay slabs, patted and smoothed into place by hand.

The artist used subtly distressed finishes and glazes in a palette of earth tones – deep brown, desert beige and rock gray. The ceramics look almost like archaeological artifacts, uncovered in a mysterious excavation somewhere in South America or the Middle East.

Geometric designs are incised or impressed on the surface with blades and rollers. Some faint patterns resemble the remains of an unknown alphabet. Occasionally ornamentation cut in high relief projects from the side of a vessel.

Equally exotic are the fanciful individual titles he invented for each work, which are painted on the base near his signature. Sold in recent Rago auctions, the ovoid Naylac – divided into four panels – brought $10,370; Hayal – broadly flaring in the middle – $9,760; Toltec – covered with an incised grid – also $10,370.

David Rago of Lambertville, N.J., has sold more examples of Conover pottery in his sales that any other auction house. “What makes his work interesting to me is, although you’re dealing with similar components in almost all the pieces, there is such variety. They all have a different feel about them,” he said.

Because of Conover’s creative process, each vessel is unique in form, and the sensitive earth-tone decoration gives them an individual character. His stoneware examples currently sell in the $5,000-$15,000 range.

“The differences are subtle,” continued Rago. “People want a grouping of them, not just a single example.” Collectors are in luck for he added. “We have six or seven pieces coming up in October, including three from one consigner.”

“They’re pretty wonderful. One tall example looks like a big water tower – a cylindrical shaft and a bulbous top with that typical pinched small opening. All three of them have a two-tone glaze treatment – they’re pretty marvelous.”

Conover displayed his work in the annual juried May Shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art and at other exhibitions around the country. In 1983, he was the recipient of the prestigious Cleveland Arts Prize in Visual Arts. The same year Fred Griffith made a television documentary on the potter titled The Bottle Maker, rather a simple title for the complex constructions that emerged from Conover’s studio.

These facts and further personal and professional information are included in a brief biography prepared by Diane De Grazie in 2008 for the arts organization Web site www.clevelandartsprize.com.

Unlike many artists, Conover appears to have adhered to a disciplined schedule, so that he produced a consistent number of vases each week. Yet, as David Rago indicated above, the appeal of the artist’s work lies in the singularity of each piece. Regularity of method did not result in repetitive designs.

Cleveland dealer Rachel Davis offers Conover’s work in the Fine Arts auctions she holds in March and October. “He was very successful in his day. A number of the florist shops in town would carry his vases, back when he was actively working. I personally love them – I think they’re fabulous,” she said.

“The upcoming Fine Arts sale is on Oct. 23rd. We try to feature our Cleveland School artists. This fall, we have two Conover pieces in the sale. One is a vase, and the other piece is a garden seat.”

Conover also produced boulder-like garden seats with rounded edges, which measure around 16 inches by 16 inches. Davis has also offered a rare jardinière, sold in 2005 for $900.

Even more of a departure from his usual production was a limited group of animal figures. Rachel Davis said, “He would make the animals as gifts for friends and friends’ children. I see the cat most often, I have a bird in my personal collection, and I have seen a giraffe in someone’s home.”

Karla Klein AlbertsonKarla Klein Albertson began her journalism career with an eye on antiquities, after receiving her master of arts degree in Classical Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College. For the past 10 years, she has written the Antiques column for the Home and Design section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. She contributes regularly to Maine Antique Digest, Early American Life and other trade and collector publications. Decades of pop culture have made an impact as well, sparking an interest in rock music history, Silver Age comics, martial arts, movie memorabilia and surf/skate/snowboard culture.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


Conover made a series of boulder-like stoneware garden stools. Two examples sold in January. ‘Nic Nac,’ pictured here, brought $8,540 each. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center.

Conover made a series of boulder-like stoneware garden stools. Two examples sold in January. ‘Nic Nac,’ pictured here, brought $8,540 each. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center.


A vertical line pattern emphasizes the height – over 25 inches – of Conover’s ‘Qibal’ vase, which sold in 2009 for $15,860. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center.

A vertical line pattern emphasizes the height – over 25 inches – of Conover’s ‘Qibal’ vase, which sold in 2009 for $15,860. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center.


An early work titled ‘Colima’ sold last year at Rago Arts for $18,300. Leaf-like designs accent the curve of the body. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center.

An early work titled ‘Colima’ sold last year at Rago Arts for $18,300. Leaf-like designs accent the curve of the body. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center.


In addition to his shapely vessels, Conover made a few small animals. Several cats have been offered sale at Rachel Davis Fine Arts in Cleveland. This example had an estimate of $1,000-$1,500. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.

In addition to his shapely vessels, Conover made a few small animals. Several cats have been offered sale at Rachel Davis Fine Arts in Cleveland. This example had an estimate of $1,000-$1,500. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.


Conover manipulated his creations into complex shapes. This wide-bellied ‘Qasal’ vase, which sold for $4,250, balances on a small base and appears square from above. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.

Conover manipulated his creations into complex shapes. This wide-bellied ‘Qasal’ vase, which sold for $4,250, balances on a small base and appears square from above. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.


Claude Conover regularly signed and titled his pieces in slip on the base. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.

Claude Conover regularly signed and titled his pieces in slip on the base. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.


Conover’s ‘Hoopeb’ vase is decorated at the shoulder with circles and crenellations in relief; the vessel sold in October 2009 for $6,500. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.

Conover’s ‘Hoopeb’ vase is decorated at the shoulder with circles and crenellations in relief; the vessel sold in October 2009 for $6,500. Image courtesy of Rachel Davis Auctions.