Archive for February, 2015

The Hit Parade #10: The Venus of Doln Věstonice

February 22, 2015

“Where to begin?  Ah yes, at the beginning.” – Bilbo Baggins.

Vénus-de-Dolní-VěstoniceBetween roughly 30-40,000  years ago (+/- a few millennia) somebody got the idea to create art.  Thus began human beings.

Who knows what sorts of wood carving, bark weaving, or natural dye paintings have decayed into nothingness over the centuries.  About all that remains are cave paintings, bone etchings and, of course, clay figurines.

Imagine being the very first person to pull a ceramic object from a fire pit.  You just transmuted one material into an entirely different one – on purpose.

People had used clay to line fire pits, make adobe bricks, and even to model animals (they still sit, unfired, in some of those ancient caves) for a few thousand years before this moment.  But in what is now eastern Europe, something new happened.  Thousands of clay pebbles were made specifically to toss into the hottest parts of an open hearth fire.  Some exploded, others didn’t.  Divination, perhaps?  Or just entertainment – the thrill of pre-historic fireworks?

These same forgotten people also made little clay figures and tossed them into the fire.  The figurine shown here is a survivor of that pit, and of the ensuing 25,000 years.  It was uncovered near the Czech village of Doln Věstonice in 1925.  It’s small, like the many other ceramic objects found at the site.  About 4.4. inches tall by about 1.7 inches at its widest.

This figurine has been dubbed the “Venus of Doln Věstonice.”  It is the most evocative Paleolithic sculpture yet unearthed.  To a modern eye it represents a sophisticated reduction of elements to the utmost essentials.  When looking at this object, the overwhelming impulse is to ask “why?”  And “why” is the most powerful word ever devised.

People will wonder into the unimaginable future why the Venus was made.  There will never be an answer.  I’m content just looking at this awe inspiring figurine as if I’m looking directly into the eyes of the first real humans.  Shivers.

Reading:

The Emergence of Pottery.  Barnett and Hoopes, eds.  Smithsonian Press/Washington DC.  1995.

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The Hit Parade

February 15, 2015

The next few rounds of this journal come with a very big tip of the hat to Robert Hunter and his 2014 edition of Ceramics in America.  Rob asked this edition’s contributors to each compile a ‘top ten’ list of ceramic items using whatever criteria was relevant to their perspective situations. 

The resulting lists offer an inspired and surprising overview of ceramic history and beyond – and they motivated me to come up with my own list.  So now I look across centuries and continents, following pottery’s intimate role in the long parade of human development.

Many of my selections are indicative of a certain time, place, or topic.  Other items could have been substituted.  And of course some selections are, inescapably, personal favorites or items that have particularly impacted my life. 

I highly encourage anyone interested in this topic to get a copy of Ceramics in America 2014, and to put some time into configuring your own list.  The results will be impressive. 

My ‘greatest hits’ aren’t necessarily chronological or geographical.  And ranking them for overall importance would be an impossibly arbitrary effort.  They are presented, mainly, in no particular order – except the first one…

Reading:

Ceramics in America, 2014.  Robert Hunter, ed.  Chipstone Press/UNH.  2014.