Archive for the ‘Johannes Neesz’ Category

The Potter Makes Everything

January 20, 2013

Nobody messed with Johannes Neesz and got away with it.  Or maybe he just had a peculiar sense of humor.  Once upon a time a minister invited Johannes to lunch to discuss an order of dishes the minister wanted, adorned with pious sayings.  Johannes arrived promptly but was kept waiting for 2 hours.  One of the plates finally delivered read, “I have never been in a place where people eat their dinner so late.  Anno in the year 1812.”

Enigmas, or inside jokes, defined  late 18th – early 19th century Bucks and Montgomery County PA Germanic “tulip wares.”  Flowers, people and animals that no sane person could ever tire of looking at were paired with commentary (maybe or maybe not arcanely reflecting religious sentiments) around the rim.   A plate with a beautiful peacock surrounded by vined flowers by Georg Hübener (active 1785 – 1798) read, “Surely no hawk will seize this bird because the tulips bend over it.  The kraut is well pickled but badly greased, Master Cook.” Other oddities included “I am very much afraid my naughty daughter will get no man” (Henry Roudebuth, 1813).  “Early in the morning I fry a sausage in sour gravy” (Michael Scholl, c.1811).  “To consume everything in gluttony and intemperance before my end makes a just testament” (Jacob Scholl).

German emigration beginning in the 1680’s brought a well developed sgraffito style with copper green highlights (unlike English counterparts) to the area.  But the late 18th century uniquely American development of the fruit pie caused an explosion in decorated dishes.  Dishes by Johannes Neesz (sometimes spelled Nase, or Nesz, as on his 1867 gravestone) stood out.  He experimented with black backgrounds for his sgraffito.  He combined sgraffito with colored slips.

More importantly, he carried sgraffito beyond just pie plates and onto all sorts of thrown works, from tea sets to pickle jars, shaving basins, and more.  Others previously had dallied with this.  Others since would go further.  But Johannes purposefully pushed the boundaries of what was possible in tulip ware.

That last point is a godsend for modern redware potters.  It’s how we justify our ‘interpretive drift’ of splashing sgraffito on just about anything.  Because of Johannes, we can substitute “historically accurate” for “this is what I prefer to do.”

Johannes Neesz might respond with another popular sgraffito adage, “Out of earth with understanding the potter makes everything.”

Readings:
Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters. Edward Atlee Barber.  Dover Publications/New York.  1926.

Lead Glazed Pottery.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  Museum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia.  1907.

Advertisements

Telephone

July 17, 2010

The mounted officer charged the enemy.  Or rallied the troops.  Or  maybe just smoked a pipe while out on a joy ride.  Whatever his intentions, they were important (or interesting) enough to meritDragoon 1 eternal commemoration.  His ride was depicted several times on earthenware plates made in southeastern Pennsylvania between the mid 1770’s and 1849.

So who was this rider?  A Philadelphia Light Horse Dragoon?  He often wielded saber in one hand, pistol in another.  A dragoon on the attack.  His attire suggests this, and the earliest plates date from the Revolutionary War. But  the rider probably morphed into George Washington soon after the General’s death in 1799.  Commemorative prints of Washington were widely popular then.  The rider sometimes blew a bugle, with pistol or saber accompanying, as if George were urging his forces forward.  Here was a known pattern ready to fulfill  demand for memorabilia.

Dragoon 2 WashingtonBut what about the pipe that sometimes appeared?

Possible references to intention and identity were inscribed around the rim of the plates – when one was present, the earliest plates have none.  From 1805: “I have ridden over hill and dale and have found disloyalty everywhere.”  This saying was associated with Washington’s doubts when the going was rough.

But things quickly degenerated: “I have ridden over hill and dale and everywhere have found pretty girls.”  The ride soured: “I have ridden many hours and days and yet no girl will have me.”  The rider became desperate: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his money with the girls.”  Then fed up: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his dollar in a butcher shop.”  Hope fades: “I have traveled up and down the street and yet my purse Dragoon 4 pipewas empty.”  By ride’s end, around 1849, he was delirious: “I am a  horseman like a bear, I would that I in heaven were.”

The ride reads like a decades long game of telephone.  If many potters took part, why not?  Attribution isn’t always clear, but most of these plates made after 1805 seem to be by Johannes Neesz.  If it was just old Johannes taking us for a ride, well, I’ll leave the final word to him (found on another of his plates):

In olden times it was so, that an old man’s words were taken as true.

Readings:
Lead Glazed Pottery.  Edward Atlee Barber.  Museum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia.  1907.

Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  Dover Publications/New York.  1926.