Archive for the ‘Antiques’ Category

The Illustrious Client

June 10, 2018

Meditations on a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Sherlock Holmes spars with a nasty cad who is trying to cajole a lovely young heiress into marriage in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.” One of the plot vehicles in this case is the fact that Baron Adelbert Gruner, the nasty cad, is also a famous collector of antique Chinese porcelain. He had even published an influential monograph on the topic.

To successfully execute the case, Dr. Watson has to overnight assume the role of a porcelain connoisseur in order to, well, you’ll have to read the story. Suffice it to say that the hapless Watson is found out in short order. Hi-jinx ensue.

Of course, such a fate would befall anyone given the task of becoming a porcelain “expert” in one night – even with the help of Wikipedia and Siri. The rarified environment of the high end antiques market is replete with extremely knowledgeable people for whom not just the history, but the provenance, market value, and current availability of highly desirable objects is of utmost concern. Without these collectors’ efforts there would be precious few museum collections for today’s poor struggling potters to visit in their own endless search for inspiration and edification.

But let’s return to Baron Gruner. “A complex mind, all great criminals have that. Cool as ice, silky voiced, and poisonous as a cobra. He has breeding in him – a real aristocrat of crime, with a superficial suggestion of afternoon tea and all the cruelty of the grave behind it.” The wise old adage that ‘one should always except the present company’ is as relevant here as it is anywhere. And checks and balances have evolved over the years to keep transactions as clean as possible. Yet this spectacularly evocative description confronts us with a glimpse into a compromised and complicated issue.

Regardless of today’s honest brokers and good intentions, the trade in expensive and rare antiques from exotic places ever evokes an ignoble, shadowy tinge of past grave digging, historical site despoiling, smuggling, and outright pillaging. But don’t take Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s word for this. Just ask any of your archeology friends.


The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Garden City Books/New York. 1930.

The Plundered Past. Karl Ernest Meyer. MacMillan Publishing Company/New York. 1977.

All The Best Rubbish. Ivor Noel Hume. Harper/New York. 1974.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

June 24, 2012

“We make your children’s antiques.”
-Joe Jostes

When does something become antique?  What’s the difference between “antique” and “collectible?”   Does the status of a pot change when its maker retires?  When they die?  A hundred years later?  Where on the continuum would the item lay if it was in a “traditional” style, an extension of what went on before?

I ask because of the number of great craftspeople today who do historically based work.  Some  were brought up that way, some love the challenge of reproductions, and some are just into history and don’t know what else to do with their time.  What they make is an amazing collection of work solidly rooted in respect for the past.

A definitive  list of “traditional” potters is impossible.  But everyone has their favorites.  Here is a brief sampling, a sort of “greatest hits,” of potters I admire.  If I had more time the list would be longer.

Lester Breininger bridged the gap between old and new.  The grand master passed away a few years ago.
Ned Foltz is another who led the way for us youngsters.  I had the great pleasure of actually meeting him once.
Don Carpentier is the undisputed modern master of mocha.
Greg and Mary Shooner are a powerhouse team of lead glazed redware potters.
Michelle Erickson does exacting reproduction work – when she’s not veering off into the blurry world between “traditional” and  “idiosyncratic.”
Julia Smith, semi-retired, had an incredible command of a wide range of period types and styles.
Ken Henderson makes the best Rockingham, hands down.
Sue Skinner and Joe Jostes of S&J Pottery are my favorite, and perhaps the best all around potters.  Walking into their booth at a show is a trip across the spectrum of early pottery.
The “Devonshire Potter,” Doug Fitch must be included here.  He lives in Devonshire, England (duh).  I hardly know of many modern English potters.  But if you’ve seen his work you’ll understand why some of us here are glad he doesn’t live near us – job security!

John Worrell wrote an engaging essay about early 19th century New England potters titled “These Were the Potters that Dwelt among Plants and Hedges.”  Perhaps that was so.  Although I’m sure the people listed above all live in very nice houses, they are the potters who propel the tradition into the future.


“These Were the Potters that Dwelt among Plants and Hedges.”  John E. Worrel.  Old Sturbridge Village/Sturbridge, MA.  1980.