Posts Tagged ‘Moravian pottery’

Shot Across the Bow

November 10, 2013

featuring Peter Roe, The Shipibo, Pottery History, and The Here and Now.

Peter Roe:
Peter Roe originally thought he’d be a potter.  He ended up an Anthropologist.  His research focused on the Shipibo Indians of the Upper Amazonian Ucayaki River.  Painted designs permeated Shipibo lives.  They were masters of geometric symmetry.  They could take any surface and, starting at one end, work across with a perfectly symmetrical design freehand with no pre-planning.

Hotel Tariri, in the Shipibo village where Peter worked, was attempting to cash in on the area’s nascent tourist trade.  The hotel was painted in Shipibo-inspired designs to attract guests.

The Shipibo:
Now we must delve into Shipibo cosmology (much abridged for everybody’s sake).  Life is a battle between chaos and order.  ‘Good vs. evil,’ if you wish.  There will always be both.  It’s up to us to keep chaos in check as best we can.  The vivid Shipibo geometric patterns expressed this struggle.  Bold, erratic, asymmetrical lines bounced all over the place.  Neat and tidy symmetrical lines surrounded and corralled the chaos.  A sort of design therapy.

The German guy who owned Hotel Tariri had no idea what Shipibo patterns meant.  He just laid on a bunch of wild lines.  Chaos incarnate.  The Shipibo felt his paint job caused needless psychic damage to the universe.

Pottery History:
Early 19th century Moravian pottery from Salem and Bethabara in North Carolina featured an amazing visual vocabulary.  Moravian slipware decoration included some of the most compelling floral compositions made in North America at the time.  These floral designs illustrated Moravian religious views.  Certain flowers represented specific saints, religious tenets, etc.

The Here and Now:
Modern redware potters adore the Moravian visual vocabulary.  We draw heavily from it in our work.  It’s a fair bet to assume we rarely, if ever, take into consideration specific saints’ days when frantically decorating before deadlines.

To be fair, the Moravians’ neighbors bought oodles of their pottery precisely because of the colorful designs – not the Moravian religious system.  So modern redware potters probably aren’t major players in today’s psychic damage arena.

But how deep does “inspiration” go – for redware potters or for anyone inspired by imagery beyond their own life experience?  Reflecting on the importance of understanding ones sources is always a healthy exercise.

A shot across the bow, in any case.

Symmetry Comes of Age, The Role of Pattern in Society.  Dorothy Washburn and Donald Crowe, eds.  University of Washington press/Singapore.  2004.

Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, ed.  University of New Hampshire Press/Hanover New Hampshire.  2009.


Communist Vagabond Troublemakers

November 12, 2012

Swashbuckling tales replete with sword play and intrigue are sure-fire crowd pleasers.  But most pottery histories avoid that sort of thing.  Well…

First, the sword play.  Turn-of-the-19th-century Moravian potters of Salem NC employed colorful slipware patterns and playful forms quite in contrast to their strict religious estheticism.  Accounts of Salem market days tell of unruly mobs lunging for anything they could grab from the Moravians’ stalls.  At times the local militia had to come out – swords drawn – to keep the peace.  Moravian pottery was that good.

It all began (more or less) back in 1530.  Catholic zealots chased Protestant artisans out of Faenza Italy.  These artisans ended up in Moravia, southern Germany.  By century’s end they had either split into several groups or their pottery skills spread to other radical communist anabaptist protestant sects also sheltering in Moravia.  These migrant artisan groups, collectively known as “Habaners,” believed in strict  religious communal living and shared property ownership.

But the birth of European Capitalism was a messy thing.  The powers that be reacted savagely to religious deviants and peasant protests.  Trouble hounded the Habaners causing them to fan out across Franconia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Austria, Hungary,  Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and elsewhere.  Some such groups abandoned Europe altogether in favor of North Carolina (the “Moravians”) and elsewhere in America.

Haban pottery was originally limited to a narrow range of shapes, shunning superfluous and “unseemly” decoration.  But income from pottery sales outside the community proved too lucrative.  The bare Haban aesthetic adapted to the temperament of local cultures as the Habaners were buffeted about.  This interplay resulted in colorful slipware for the masses and majolica for the wealthy.   Haban majolica eventually became synonymous with Central European folk pottery between the 17th – 19th centuries.

The austere American Moravians similarly adapted to local raw materials and markets.  Thus the creative slipware defended by militia swords.

Depth of experience and motivation can sometimes be hard to discern in pottery as well as in people.  That’s something to keep in mind when looking at flowery painted pottery from long ago.

Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, Ed.  University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH.  2009.

Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, Ed.  University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH.  2010.

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