Posts Tagged ‘Guild of St. Luke’

The Name of the Game

August 20, 2017

Suppose your pottery shop has a pretty good reputation. Suppose your neighborhood is full of pretty good pottery shops, maybe 30 or so. Suppose you all make pretty much the same stuff. And suppose you all even formed a collective of sorts to help everyone manage business. Now suppose that “neighborhood” covers only 2 or 3 city blocks. And suppose that “reputation” means an entire continent eagerly standing in line to buy your neighborhood’s handiwork.

About 340 years ago those “neighborhood potteries” were in the town of Delft. That “collective” was the Guild of St. Luke. And that “reputation” ruled Europe for almost a hundred years.

A question arises. Why didn’t those Dutch potteries sign their work? With such high demand, and in such tight quarters – 2 or 3 city blocks! – why did they opt for anonymous group identity over individual recognition? Today we immediately imagine signing our work as basic marketing. Branding. A signature on a pot seems the most obvious way of saying: “Hey! I’m over here!” But that’s just our perspective.

Delft potteries did ultimately sign their work. Their dominance in Europe, begun during a vacuum left by a prolonged civil war in China with its curtailing of export porcelain production, was being challenged. The war had ended, and Chinese porcelain was back. Also, other European potteries were getting serious about their own faience, porcelain, and creamware. This competition threatened delftware’s very existence. It was sink or swim, so they signed – and most ultimately sank.

But another reason why they began signing pots tells us perhaps as much about ourselves as about them. A faint but fundamental shift had happened. The delftware craze required a consistent commercial ceramic materials supply network. Nobody could do that much production while digging their own clay. Standardized materials ultimately meant easy replication of anything, anywhere, anytime. “Style” as a defining aspect of “tradition” in pottery would no longer be understood as a local distinction, tied to a specific geographic (and geologic) place with unique, communally shared values. Style would now become a showcase for individual expression based, essentially, on looks.

What does all this mean? Maybe not much. These events weren’t the beginning of that change in perception, nor its end. Still, the beginnings of the factory system in ceramics was a “writing on the wall” moment that, ironically, propelled individual fame over collective expression.

Reading:
Delffse Porceleyne, Dutch delftware 1620 – 1850. Jan Daniel van Dam. Wanderers Publishers/Amsterdam, NL. 2004.

The Delft Widow

May 15, 2011

Once upon a time, a royal heiress named Jacqueline threw some small jugs she made out the window of a tower she was trapped in.  Thus began pottery making in Holland…

The story loses something in translation.  Actually, it’s just a story.  Holland’s rise to pottery fame (it began over a millennia before) was through the absence of beer.  The Dutch town of Delft’s brewing industry faded in the 1600’s.  Potters claimed the empty buildings.  They gave their new factories colorful names and made tin-glazed ware synonymous with their town’s name.

In 1658 Wouter van Eenhoom began a pottery in an old brewery, dubbing it “The Greek A.”  The factory went to his son in 1674.  The son’s widow took it over nine years later.  “The Metal Pot,” which until 1638 was the “De Ham” brewery, was also periodically owned by widows.  Egbert Huygeusz Sas started “The Golden Boat” in 1613.  His widow ultimately inherited it.

Many “widows” owned Delft pottery factories at one time or other: The Fortune, The Hart, The Young Moor’s Head, The Old Moor’s Head, The Ewer, The Porcelain Bottle…

These widows weren’t mere accidental owners.  Pottery ownership required membership in the Guild of St. Luke.  The Guild kept strict control over the quantity and quality of potteries within it’s domain.  Applicants had to prove their pottery making abilities.

Cornelius van der Hoeve began The Porcelain Claw in 1662.  His foreman, and later partner, was a woman named Oette van Schaen.  In 1668 van der Hoeve was succeeded by Cornelia van Schoonhove.  Just before her death, Cornelia ceded the pottery to her sister, Marie van Schoonhove.  Marie was succeeded by Bettje van Schoonhove.

The Two Poinards was begun and owned for 35 years by Barbara Rottewel.  Her husband, Simon Mes, was not a potter at all but a notary.  Her son succeeded her, then his widow.  Between 1771 – 1790 four Delemer sisters, previously faience dealers, renamed it The Three Bells and ran it as a soft paste porcelain factory.

It isn’t necessary to rely on tales of damsels in distress to recognize the role women played in Delft’s ceramic history.  Nor is it necessary to kill off your husband.  Just a pleasant afternoon of reading is all you need.

Readings:
Delftware, Dutch And English. N. Hudson Moore.  Frederick A. Strokes Company/New York. 1908.

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