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from helen bates - book review: "ceramics in america"

updated sat 14 feb 04


Helen Bates on fri 13 feb 04

From Helen Bates - Book Review: "Ceramics in America"

Dear Clayarters;

Some time ago, Clayarter Merry Abbott Outlaw sent me the three most recent
annuals of this journal on the history and the place of contemporary
ceramics in America.

A remark or two: I had intended getting at this review underway much
sooner, but as book reviewing is not my usual line of writing, I admit to
an unfortunate dilatoriness. I have to say that although I've very much
enjoyed the three books reviewed below, I'm not looking for work as a
reviewer, so I think that in future, I'll decline similar offers, with
regrets. :-)

Be that as it may, here is the review:

Ceramics in America
Robert Hunter, editor
Published by The Chipstone Foundation,
University Press of New England, Hanover and London

There is plenty in these volumes to satisfy students of a number of
academic disciplines, such as archaeology, history, architecture,
sociology, art restoration, art history, and religion. For collectors, the
books are a mine of information about porcelain, stoneware or earthenware
made by the artisans of the past in England, Europe, China, and the USA, or
used by emigrants and their descendents in North America. For the potter,
there are articles which illustrate the methods by which makers of
functional or decorative ware made their work.

Although much scholarship has gone into the writing of these books, the
language in them is quite accessible to the well-read layman, and the
subject matter and many excellent illustrations assure it of a wide
appeal. With drawings and photographs on virtually every page, possibly
one-half to one-third of the space is pictorial, and the images are of
consistently high quality.

The abundance of pictorial material does not mean that textual content has
been given short shrift, however. The many illustrations are in general
accompanied by well-written articles, short or long.

One such article is the one on English slipware technology by Michelle
Erickson and Robert Hunter, showing many methods of slip decorating on
traditional red earthenware. In another volume, the two collaborate on a
description, with many illustrative photographs, of English Agateware making.

Featured more than once is the excellent research and artisanal work by
technology historian, educator and potter Don Carpentier, who has made a
study of the slip decorating methods of the pre-industrial and the
industrial ages in England and America.

Not all the contemporary potters whose work is featured in Ceramics in
America look exclusively to the past. Richard Schalk, a long-time
production potter has made wonderful and very modernistic vessel based
sculptures as a sideline for many years. More recently though, he has made
small figural groupings which are inspired by pre-Columbian ceramic pottery.

Students of both British and American history will find much to mull over
in the articles on the representation of antislavery attitudes in various
ceramics made in both England and the USA in the 1800's, and sociology
students will surely be fascinated by the information on working conditions
for potters in Staffordshire in the 18th. And 19th. Centuries and the
impulse to emigration to the New World to seek a better life.

In conclusion, the three volumes I have been browsing are rich sources of
mainly historic pottery information. Also, the work of some highly
skilled contemporary potters is included, especially as it relates to past
methods of production. As a Canadian, I was intersted to learn that a very
fine modeller for an American manufacturer of Parian statuaryware was born
in Canada, and that portuguese fine red terracotta sherds were found in an
archaological site in Newfoundland.

These books would be an asset to the libraries of college and university
art departments, as well as of great interest to collectors of pottery made
in or brought to North America, mainly the USA in the early years of its
history. Potters making ware for the Re-enactment movement may also be
intersted in these books for their useful information on the making of some
traditional wares from a couple of centuries ago, and anyone interested in
the marriage of utility, form, and even beauty, will find much that is
interesting in the numerous full colour photographs and other
inllustrations of historic ceramic pieces and their antecedents.

Helen Bates
February 13th., 2004

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