Archive for the ‘France’ Category

A Thousand Years of Linguistics

May 15, 2016

caveat: the following train of thought happened entirely after the fact.  The plate shown here resulted purely from a confluence of design ideas, time constraints, and physical limitations.  Thus it ever was for the potter…

Charger, fish
If an efficient way to destroy a culture is to destroy it’s language (or simply kill off it’s  population), then a good way to honor a culture is to learn it’s language (and leave the people  be) – likewise for a culture’s artistic heritage.  But a culture’s visual language can take on a curious life of its own while traveling through the ages.

So, let’s talk delft.  Delft is a creole ceramic expression.  What began in the Arabian peninsula as a blue decorated tin-glazed response to white Chinese porcelain traveled back to China and then sprayed out in various forms, blanketing the globe.  Each stop along the way sprouted whole new styles of expression (like delftware), even as local potters freely drew from what came before.

How cool it would be to trace this language by following a single image or decorative device along it’s entire historical arc!  By seeing that image express change and/or constancy in the hands of an Arabian, Chinese, Indian, Yemeni, Persian, East and North African, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, English, Irish, or Mexican potter.  Maybe curators, collectors, or scholars could identify such an image.  I can’t.  The big picture is too sprawling.

I’ll have to do like the old potters did and make my own ‘little picture.’  This one begins with a collision of two motives – to paint a fish (thus joining the ranks of fish-painting potters), and to wrap my head around an ‘Italianate’ delftware border pattern – combined with a diminishing inventory of blank plates as the clock ran out before a show.

Floating in the background were a 12th century Yuan Dynasty export porcelain bowl intended for the Indian Ocean trade, an early Dutch plate possibly made by an immigrant Italian faience potter, an obsession with Southwark floral imagery that creeps into every unguarded corner when I decorate, my brush and stick learning curve, a vague possibility that I may be related to early Delft potters, and a healthy dose of repetitive muscle strain.

Can one respectfully interpret the range, spirit, and boundaries of a historical style while still telling a unique story?  Who knows?  On the other hand nothing the potter makes exists within, or comes from, a vacuum.

The tale I offer goes something like this: “Here’s me wandering along in the language of pottery history.”

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Bastard China

June 29, 2014

OK, that title might get some attention.  Perhaps a little context is in order.

Its ironic how many American foods are named after other countries – French toast, English muffins, German chocolate, Spanish rice, Irish stew, Mexican food, Chinese food, etc – yet most nationals of those countries have no idea what these strange American foods are.

A similar phenomenon exists in pottery.  We call many things we make by either their form: plate, bowl, cup, or by their use: colander, teapot, luminary.  But some of our most common glazes carry names of far away people and places: rockingham, bristol, albany (in the 18th/19th centuries), and tenmuku, celadon, shino, oribe, etc (today).

Then there’s tin-glazed white earthenware.  Italians originally called it ‘majolica‘ after the Spanish island of Majorca through which 14th century Italy imported Hispano-Moresque pottery – and Iberian potters.  The French called it ‘faience‘ after Faenza, Italy from which 15th/16th century France imported much early majolica – and Italian potters.  Skipping Holland for the moment, where 15th/16th century faience traveled next – along with French (and Italian) potters – the English called it ‘delft‘ after the eponymous Dutch town – and still more 16th/17th century immigrant Dutch potters.

So what did Dutch potters call this ware?  Trade with China via the Dutch East India Company was hitting its stride just when Delft, Holland became a major pottery center.  Keeping in mind Holland’s fabled marketing sensibilities, the Dutch called tin-glazed earthenware majolica they learned from Italian faience potters ‘porcelain,’ of course.

Customers seeking the cultural trappings associated with high-fired, translucent Chinese porcelain (the real stuff) but who wouldn’t/couldn’t pay it’s high price, soon learned the difference.  Early Dutch ‘porcelain’ was certainly cheap.  It also had a tendency to crack from thermal shock when contacted with boiling hot water for tea.  And why own porcelain if not for drinking tea?  Another name for this peculiar Dutch ‘porcelain’ soon became common: ‘bastard China.’

Reading:

Dutch Pottery and Porcelain. W. Pitcairn Knowles. Scribner’s/New York.

France

July 8, 2012

English pottery history is fascinating.  Diverse regional styles.  Colorful personalities.  International influence.  Few European pottery centers can compare.  Perhaps Delft, Rhenish stoneware, Italian Maiolica and Hispano-Moresque…

This leaves a pretty big hole right in the middle of Europe.  France.  If you’re really up on your history, you’d know that much of English slip decoration – marbling, feathering, sgraffito – originated in the wine regions of 13th – 14th century Plantagenet controlled Aquitaine and Normandy.  Most authors stick to just mentioning Sévres porcelain and Bernard Palissy.

French peasant pottery, like French wine, was ubiquitous.  This ‘redware’ rarely gets a nod.  Troyes pottery maybe.  Or the venerable pottery villages, chiefly La Bourne, of Poitiers.

Faience permeated France by the early 14th century.  It was made everywhere, from obscure places like Sadriac and Amboise to major centers like Havre and Rouen.  It’s expansion wasn’t always peaceful.  18th century Lille faience potters almost waged open warfare against Dunkirk upstarts cutting in on Lille’s turf.  Even minor faience villages like Roanne would erupt against treaties with England (and devastating imports).

The international porcelain market was cut throat at best.  Sévres originated with runaway workmen, its technical know-how stolen via alcoholic subterfuges.  But during the Napoleonic Wars enough porcelain from large (Limoges, Sceaux, etc.) and small (Strasbourg, Marseilles, etc.) centers was smuggled into England to seriously disrupt the market.

Women played a noticeable role as well.  Hélène de Hangest established an early, and long lived, faience pottery on her estate in Oiron.  Hélène’s ardent patronage was key to faience’s spread across France.  When Lille potter Jaques Febvrier died in 1729 his widow Marie Barbe Vandepopelière expanded the shop, marketing heavily to Holland.  Equally, the unnamed widow of Francois Dorez in Valenciennes continued the trade.  When a Lyons faience pottery faltered in 1733 it’s (male) owners ran.  Françoise Blateran kept it going until 1758.  Did Mme Blateran appear out of thin air?  Were “widows” not potters before their husbands’ death?

Anyway, these and many more French potters rarely get the mention they deserve.  In English, at least.  Much of this abbreviated ‘tour de France’ comes from Albert Jacquemart’s “History of the Ceramic Art” (translated into English, 1873).  Then again, Jacquemart’s 613 page “Descriptive and Philosophical Study of the Pottery of All Ages and All Nations” allows 160 pages for French contributions and exactly 5 pages to the whole of English efforts…

Readings:
History of the Ceramic Art.  Albert Jacquemart.  Sampson, Low, Martson and Searle/London (English translation).  1873.

Flow Blue: A Closer Look.  Jeffrey Snyder.  Shiffer Books/New York.  2000.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noel Hume. University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  ReginaldHaggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

 

How To Drink Switzel

February 5, 2012

It sounds disgusting but it really isn’t that bad.  Water, ginger, vinegar, and molasses.  Switzel.  Think of it as an early Gatorade.  Especially when chilled.  But we’ll get back to that…

The “switzel ring” was just one of a long line of usages for the ring shaped jug.  This jug was essentially a disc shaped canteen

Ring Jug by Stephen Earp

with usually two but sometimes four loop handles along its shoulders.  Certain types, like the marbled “Pilgrim Jugs” from Northern Italy and eastern France (circa 15-17th century), had an attached base.  Others, like the  English “Costrel Jug,” (circa 15 – 17th century) were simply two plates fused together.  But most were a thrown hollow ring.  The ring could be short and thick, like those of the North Carolina Moravians.  Or extremely wide and thin.  Some were glazed redware, some salt fired stoneware.  Some were highly ornate, others plain.

This unusual shape could be found as far away as Russia and Ukraine, where ice was packed in the middle to dispense chilled vodka or kvass (rye beer).  Far away from Europe and long after these times, some modern Cubans use unglazed pedestaled rings filled with water and put in front of fans as a sort of passive air conditioner.  But anything this unusual and somewhat difficult to throw was (and is) as much an excuse to show off one’s potting skills as to provide any particular function.

And of course, some early American farmers drank switzel from it.  But why use a hollow ring, and not just a regular jug?  You might imagine it was so they could be slung through the arm and stuffed in the hot,  grimy, sweaty armpit of the farmer on his way to mow his hay fields – unless you’ve actually tried to do that.  Awkward, yes.  But mostly just gross.

Very soon you’ll come to agree that it’s far better to find a shady spot along a creek, lay the ring jug in it, and put a stick through it’s circle into the mud to keep it from floating away.  The enormous amount of surface area of the switzel ring in the water will keep it cool until break time.

…Nice cool switzel.  Just the way it should be drank.