Arts and Crafts

‘Once upon a time interesting pots were made until somebody in the 19th century turned out the lights.’ This notion too often sours appreciation of late 19th century factory-made wares. And when the lights came back on it was suddenly today filled with wild, creative work.

Industrialization is generally blamed for this ‘lights out’ period. The factory system certainly suppressed individual potters’ markets. And what began as a ‘wild west’ explosion of techniques and styles certainly devolved into rote mass-production by century’s end.

So what happened? Did ‘industrialization’ just stop?

Toward the late 19th century the Arts and Crafts Movement tried to instill a more humane sensibility back into an ossified industrial design process (and into the industrial system as a whole) while reinvigorating studio arts.

Around this time manufacturers hired Taxile Doat, Thomas Allen, and others to experiment with glazes and forming techniques. These folks took full advantage of all the resources that a large, well-stocked industry could provide. A curious thing about their resume’s was how often they floated between firms. The Minton/Sèvres revolving door was particularly active, with Wedgwood head-hunters lurking in the wings. These individuals considered themselves as free agents first and foremost – potters in their own right.

And here we come to the crux of the matter. Factory-sponsored explorations energized artisan potters more than any other effort of the time. All that complex new glaze chemistry! All those new commercially available materials! All that new equipment! Add to this all those new studio art education programs, and the enduring legacy of the movement’s English Studio Pottery aesthetic. All this was now (more or less) available to artisan potters – just as an organized labor and Model T infused middle class became voraciously interested in regional artistic heritage.

Potters such as Mary Louise McLaughlin, Maria Longworth Nichols, and Adelaide Alsop Robineau took the baton and ran with it. What became known as Art Pottery culminated the Arts and Crafts era. The lights were on. Modern ceramic arts were born.

The moral of this highly condensed pottery history tale is this: don’t let aesthetic bias blind you to what’s going on under the surface. Fussy, frivolous late 19th century factory-made pottery heralded the infrastructure underpinning practically everything made by ceramic artists since then. Scanning the ceramic spectrum today, it is astonishing the extent to which the grandiose Arts and Crafts project, begun with such fevered idealism, actually succeeded.

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One Response to “Arts and Crafts”

  1. lucyfagellapottery Says:

    Nice!

    . . lucyfagella.com luciaurns.com

    >

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