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arequipa pottery: a letter and a poem to share

updated fri 2 jan 04


Stephani Stephenson on wed 31 dec 03

I am reading a book on the Arequipa pottery called,' Fired by Ideals",
published by Pomegranate Press.
Arequipa Pottery was an integral part of Arequipa Sanitorium,
established north of San Fransisco in Marin county, California, in
Dust and ash from the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake had contributed to
a tuberculous 'epidemic' in the city.
Urban 'working girls', (office workers, clerks,teachers, etc), were the
hardest hit, as they worked in confined indoor spaces in the city.
Arequipa was established as a place to provide them with rest and
treatment. Pottery was chosen as the primary occcupational
activity for the residents during their stay. They notonly learned and
practised techniques, but were able earn money from the sale of the
Also, because pottery is fired, customers could be assured that none
of the TB would be transmitted to them.
The place has a very interesting history and produced pottery and tile
reflective of the Arts and Crafts influences of the time.

One of the directors was Albert Solon, who came from a family well
known in French and British ceramics.
I just wanted to share one of Solon's letters, and also an anonymously
written poem about the Pots of Arequipa.
The latter seems especially appropriate for the turning of the year.

In 1930, long after Solon left Arequipoa, and as Arequipa was in
process of closing the Pottery, Solon was asked if he wanted to
purchase some of the old tile molds: Known for his sense of humor,
this was his reply...

My Dear Doctor,
Nothing grieves a Frenchman more than having nuts given him but no
teeth to crack 'em.
Your generous offer causes me sharp pangs of anguish as I am unable to
profit by your distress!
There is no more market for old tiles than for diseased tonsils.
Cast your grog upon the waters for it avails no more than cracker
crumbs within a feather bed.
Old moulds, unlike old wine, find few purchasers. Better a cup of cold
water in comfort than
the funeral feast of a defunct pottery. I am enclosing letters I have
written to two possible consumers of broken meats
and shall never abate my efforts until the last dismal note of your
ten year old dirge is but a memory.
"All is ruin - wreck and rack
Persian Blue and Mirror Black
See the spectres of the dead,
Aubergine and Chinese Red
Vanished from this mortal screen,
Flanders Grey and Blanc-de-Chine
But wearing still the thorny crown
Is Philip-King-Burnt-Umber-Brown"

Many thanks for your kind invitation but if I brought my family to
Arequipa they would turn your
quiet sanitarium into an asylum....
Ceramically yours,

and also this anonymous poem written by an employee at Arequipa ,
called " The Pots of Arequipa"

Here, where 'tis ever balmy Summertime,
The Potters find that Action outweighs Speech,
And Work accomplished braces more than Wine;
That the Strong Spirit conquers Death and Fate,
And shapes the Funeral Urn to hold gay Flowers,
And out of Grief and Fear may Frame Delight.

Now there's some Artspeak!
Or maybe it is more appropriately Heartspeak
Happy New Year everyone!

Stephani Stephenson