Every inch of this 17" tall porcelain vase’s surface is covered with intensely detailed carvings. It’s proportions are pure perfection. Legend has it that the vase developed a huge crack after months of carving the scarab beetle-inspired patterns. Many a potter would have been crushed. Adelaide didn’t give up. She repaired the vase and successfully re-fired it. Thus it entered the halls of history…
They say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” As such, a list of items that are ‘beautiful to look at’ (ie: famous for being famous) would be never ending, and ever disputed. A truer (or at least fuller) appreciation of an item’s impact considers it’s context. This is where the Scarab Vase stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
The 19th century American Industrial Revolution destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of small-time individual potters. Hand made pottery was moribund. Late-century China Painting barely kept alive the notion of individualized pottery.
But something was missing. It’s interesting to witness how people throughout history react when they sense a fundamental loss due to mechanization. Like the Luddites, or the ‘back-to-the-lander’s.’ Looking back years from now, will some definitive, paradigm-shifting work stand out as a reaction to today’s wireless world? What would that look like?
At the dawn of the 20th century, the reaction against industrialization looked like “The Arts and Crafts movement.” This movement, defined by works like the Scarab Vase, reignited interest in hand made pottery in this country. Today’s potters ply their trade because tenacious people like Adelaide Alsop Robineau prepared the way for us.
The Scarab Vase is one of my all time favorite works of ceramic art. But when I look at this vase, the word that most often comes to mind is “thanks.”