The Magazine Antiques: Handle With Care, June, 2017

The new and noteworthy in the worlds of ceramics and glass can come from any part of the globe, and indeed any century. This month’s crop of highlights range from vintage Americana to contemporary art, with the requisite dash of midcentury style in between.

The quirks and fascinating history of Anna Pottery will be on full view when a rare find from the Illinois studio goes up for sale on June 17 at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in Mt. Crawford, VA. Anna Pottery isn’t as well-known among collectors as other nineteenth century American ceramics like Rookwood or Grueby, and that may be because unlike the serene and floral ware produced by the famous Arts and Crafts potteries, Anna pottery had an agenda.

A salt-glazed stoneware presentation vase made at Anna Pottery, in 1886. Courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associate Auctions, photography by William H. McGuffin. 

A salt-glazed stoneware presentation vase made at Anna Pottery, in 1886. Courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associate Auctions, photography by William H. McGuffin. 

The studio was founded by brothers Wallace and Cornwall Kirkpatrick in Anna, Illinois in 1859. The Wallace brothers were advocates of the Temperance movement, and their pottery often bore inscriptions and writhing figures of sinister-looking snakes that warned, with biblical gravitas, of the perils of drinking alcohol. Because the Kirkpatrick brothers were active in the civic life of Anna, Illinois, they often created elaborate presentation and commemorative pieces, such as this striking vase by Cornwall in 1886, which has a mate currently in a private collection.

Though delicate in form, its narrative content is assertive. Eagles at either end hold fish in their beaks, and their powerful talons form the vase’s feet. On one side we find a sweet portrait of a young girl—perhaps Cornwall’s own daughter Amy. The combination is unusual and arresting, tough but tender. Pieces of Anna Pottery are represented in numerous important American collections including those of the Winterthur Museum and Colonial Williamsburg. The company ceased operations in 1894.

An eagle grasps a fish on the side of an 1886 Anna Pottery presentation vase.

An eagle grasps a fish on the side of an 1886 Anna Pottery presentation vase.

Unlike nineteenth century art potters, midcentury ceramists weren’t too keen on representational imagery, but they did love texture, especially the West German producers of the quirky wares known today as Fat Lava. Between 1949 and the reunification of Germany in 1990, Fat Lava vases emerged from a group of over 100 ceramics studios, particularly during the 1950s-70s, particularly the firms of Carstens, Scheurich, Bay Keramik, ES, and Dümler & Breiden.

A selection of Fat Lava ceramics. Photograph by Nicolas Trembley/Apartamento.

A selection of Fat Lava ceramics. Photograph by Nicolas Trembley/Apartamento.

The term “fat lava” is derived from the pottery’s unusual, volcanic surface. While studio potters and Austrian emigres Gertrud and Otto Natzler were working in Southern California creating unique objects with vibrant, bubbled glazes, West German factories were producing vases and tableware in vivid, psychedelic hues that appealed to the generation that embraced orange shag carpets and macrame.

Some have ultra-minimalist forms, while others appear carved; most are round, but some are boxy and square, with geometric textures to match their shapes. Gallerist Mark Hill’s catalog for the exhibition of the Graham Cooley collection at the King’s Lynn Arts Centre in Britain is a great primer on the subject, and by dint of their aesthetic charm and postwar chic, lovely examples can increasingly be found on the auction block.

Vessel Series II, no.1 by Odundo, 2005–2006. Burnished and carbonized terracotta. Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

Vessel Series II, no.1 by Odundo, 2005–2006. Burnished and carbonized terracotta. Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

An artist whose work feels both ancient and ultra-modern will take center stage soon in Atlanta: the Kenyan-born, British ceramist Magdalene Odundo has a major solo exhibition at the High Museum of Art, on view June 24-October 15. Universal and Sublime: The Vessels of Magdalene Odundo will include terra cotta vessels spanning three decades of her career, along with sketches and works on paper.

Odundo is justifiably a luminary in the clay world, and this exhibition should help garner her much-deserved wider acclaim. Odundo’s work can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the British Museum. In 2008, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List for Services to the Arts.

Untitled by Magdalene Odundo (British, born Kenya, 1950), 1990. Burnished and carbonized terracotta. Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

Untitled by Magdalene Odundo (British, born Kenya, 1950), 1990. Burnished and carbonized terracotta. Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

This exhibition will bring full circle a project that Odundo began several years ago at the High. The show includes drawings from one her sketchbooks from 2011 documenting her studies of the High’s collection of terracotta sculpture from the region of Djenne, dating from the height of medieval empire of Mali. These forms, dating from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, have inspired some of Odundo’s own vessels, which share the sculptures’ dynamic sense of movement. Some of her vessels appear traditional and rooted in history, while others seemalmost futuristic, as though they were documenting a mysterious scientific phenomenon.

Magdalene Odundo. Photo credit: Ben Boswell.

Magdalene Odundo. Photo credit: Ben Boswell.

The High will present a conversation between Odundo and Carol Thompson, the museum’s Fred and Rita Richman curator of African Art, on June 23 from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Hill Auditorium.

Why the Closing of the Museum of Contemporary Craft Is a Major Loss

Why the Closing of the Museum of Contemporary Craft Is a Major Loss

The next time you find yourself hate-reading a fawning profile of a photogenic young Brooklyn potter whose hot-pink-rimmed wares are transforming the “stuffy world of ceramics into a cool new craft” (or something to that effect), navigate yourself away from there, and instead visit the website of the Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC) in Portland, Oregon. Here you will find a digital record of nimble cultural production that will knock your socks off. If you’re not already familiar with this small but mighty 79-year-old institution, its website will introduce you to an array of exhibitions, events, and programs that have helped shaped high-level thinking about craft practice in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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How Dutch Wax Fabrics Became a Mainstay of African Fashion

How Dutch Wax Fabrics Became a Mainstay of African Fashion

Riotously colorful, densely patterned, and unassailably fabulous, Vlisco fabrics have, for decades, been tailored into shift dresses, power suits, and formal gowns for Central and West Africa’s cosmopolitan elite. Their patterns and palettes evince an instantly recognizable aesthetic. And there are scores of Vlisco imitators: Chinese knockoffs are sold on city streets all over the world. But are any of these fabrics in fact African? The exhibition Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) as part of a suite of shows and programs called “Creative Africa,” poses this question in an indirect but intriguing way, by explaining the company’s origins in the Dutch colonial empire and demonstrating its products’ lasting popularity, in African fashion and beyond.

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The Democratic Cup

The Democratic Cup

Since the advent of online journalism, social media, and the increasingly partisan landscape of cable news, Americans have started to do something that researchers call “self-segregating” when it comes to learning about politics and current events. Many of us are watching, just not together: according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen Media Research data, the 2016 presidential election has led to an 8 percent jump in prime time viewership of cable news. The revenues for the three major channels, CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC, are projected to increase by 10 percent to about $4 billion this year. That’s certainly good for TV, but it’s probably not good for us.

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This Hilarious Star Trek Podcast Perfectly Captures the Spirit of The Next Generation

This Hilarious Star Trek Podcast Perfectly Captures the Spirit of The Next Generation

Star Trek reruns are a little like Carpenters greatest hits albums: You’ll rarely find someone proclaiming unironic devotion to either one, but clearly someone is watching and listening, because ratings and sales figures don’t lie. Nerdy self-consciousness aside, 2016 has been a big year for Star Trek. Following on the heels of 2009’s acclaimed feature film reboot directed by J.J. Abrams, and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, the franchise’s latest offering, Star Trek Beyond, has been met with praise by critics and fans alike. The recent newfangled Trek films have lots of panache, and at their best, they pay sincere and beautifully realized homage to the original series. But for people who came of age in the late 1980s and early ’90s, it will always be the commanding BBC gravitas of Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard—along with that series’ generally impressive acting, sharp writing, and spurts of earnest goofiness—that sets the standard for Trek fare. Fortunately, there’s now a place for fans of the original show to revel in nostalgia while discovering that series anew: the smart and hilarious Star Trek podcast The Greatest Generation.

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Ceramic Vases that Contain All the Beauty and Ugliness of US History

Ceramic Vases that Contain All the Beauty and Ugliness of US History

Of all the astonishing things Roberto Lugo has done in his career — from creating a DIY potter’s wheel and mixing his own clay from dirt in an urban scrapyard, to creating a new genre of hip-hop-inflected political porcelain — the most radical might be that he is head over heels in love with something rather uncool in the contemporary art world: skill. In his exhibition Defacing Adversity: The Life and Times of Roberto Lugo at Wexler Gallery, Lugo’s creations are bursting with wit and formal mastery, even as they sport the drips and brush marks of graffiti and liberally-applied glaze. The vessels exude a forceful sense of patriotic bling; for his first solo exhibition in his native city, in a gallery within walking distance of Independence Hall, Lugo celebrates the US founding fathers, public intellectuals of color, musicians, poets, and presidential candidates.

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The Bauhaus Connection in Google’s New Logo

The Bauhaus Connection in Google’s New Logo

When the news broke yesterday that Google had a brand new logo — the biggest change to its visual identity since its inception in 1998 — the design twitterverse exploded with commentary about the thickness of the new letterforms and their conspicuous lack of serifs. On Tuesday morning, typographers chimed in with praise and scorn, often about the perception that the rounded characters paired with the company’s signature color-block hues seem too childlike for a technology behemoth. But what Google introduced is actually much more complex than a new logo: it’s a new identity system, comprehensive in its design and intended to visually unify the disparate ways in which we all interact with Google products (whether we like it or not) every day.

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The Labyrinth of Litchfield

The Labyrinth of Litchfield

In the third season of Orange Is the New Black, which premiered on Friday, Piper Chapman is no longer be the central focus of the story. Over the course of the season, characters we haven’t heard much from before, including the soft-spoken Chang, get their backstories revealed, and new characters arrive to offer Litchfield Penitentiary more intrigue.  This has long been one of the best things about OITNB: the way it pivots from prison scenes to places on the outside—the homes, apartments, playgrounds, and schools where characters had lives before jail—then back again to the beige halls of Litchfield.

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50 Shades of Beige

50 Shades of Beige

FX’s Cold War spy thriller The Americanswhich returns Wednesday for its third season, benefits from the sort of reverse novelty that made early Mad Men so enchanting: It lets us remember (or imagine) what it was like to live in the days of phone booths, cabinet-sized computers, and TVs with rabbit-ear antennae. The Jennings’ studied suburban ordinariness makes all the intrigue of their day jobs seem even more ludicrous. Elizabeth does laundry in their harvest-gold washer and dryer; Philip serves the kids waffles. Then they strap on Colt handguns and dart off to assassinate a scheming Russian oligarch or covertly test the loyalty of an unwitting fellow KGB spy. At night, they come home from “the office” to chat about movies or baseball with the kids as if nothing unusual had happened at all.

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Shopping for a Modernist Holiday Tablescape at the Cooper Hewitt

Shopping for a Modernist Holiday Tablescape at the Cooper Hewitt

One of my favorite holiday memories from my school days on East 91st Street (where I sported a very fashion-forward plaid jumper until age 11) is of browsing the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum‘s gift shop in search of exquisite, handmade Christmas ornaments and educational stocking stuffers. To the delight of design lovers everywhere, the 1902 Carnegie Mansion that the Museum calls it home is now the site of a brand new shop full of inventive and wonderful things just in time for the holidays.

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Photographs from a 1950s Cross-Dressing Retreat

Photographs from a 1950s Cross-Dressing Retreat

An elegant black envelope arrived in my mailbox last week. Inside is a square, burgundy-colored folder containing a catalogue of 1950 and ’60s snapshots. On the cover, an off-white, hand-lettered logo reads “Casa Susanna.” The photographs reproduced inside appear at first glance to portray a group of women at leisure: posing in the kitchen, dressed smartly for dinner, sporting fashionable bathing suits, sitting in a field of wildflowers. They are to be sold as a single lot by Wright auction house on October 30.

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They Ferment for Each Other

They Ferment for Each Other

You’ve probably heard the one about the guy who raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to fund a nebulous potato salad project with no business plan, no recipe, and no particular sense of what kind of potato salad he was interested in making. I wish him well, but it’s high time the Internet supported a group of savory snack food entrepreneurs with a viable plan for scaling up, and some surprising health and environmental benefits to offer their neighborhood and customers. A new pickle company has emerged in Philadelphia, going by the evocative name Gary Ducket, founded by five guys who love brine and sustainable farming practices.

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How Design Tells the Story on Masters of Sex

How Design Tells the Story on Masters of Sex

Mad Men has trained a generation of TV watchers to become eagle-eyed connoisseurs of Saarinen furniture, IBM Selectric Typewriters, and Western Electric Model 500 telephones, raising the bar for set designers who are acutely aware that accuracy counts. But designers also know that television sets are not museum installations: The verisimilitude of physical details must work in tandem with aesthetic choices that help us understand who characters are.

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The (Tortured) Soul of Wit

The (Tortured) Soul of Wit

Try to imagine Grumpy Cat as a professor of German literature at an Ivy League university, haunted by deep misgivings about his role in academia. Now imagine that he has opposable thumbs, an iPhone and a love of wry German aphorisms, and you might end up with something pretty close in spirit to Eric Jarosinski’s Twitter feed, @NeinQuarterly. Nein’s avatar is a stylized rendering of lovable Frankfurt School misanthrope Theodor W. Adorno, who is depicted sporting a monocle that he didn’t wear in real life, but plausibly could have. 

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Global Cottage Industry

Global Cottage Industry

The Middle East has long been synonymous with masterful craftsmanship: architecture, ceramics, textiles, carved wood, manuscripts and metalwork dazzle museum-goers and tourists alike, and inspire designers and artists all over the world. In the traditional cultures of this storied region, women still play a secondary role as artisans, says designer, entrepreneur and global traveler Tucker Robbins. Currently working with the Abu Dhabi Authority of Culture and Heritage, Robbins had the insight that collaboration among cultures within the Islamic world is critical to developing a network of craftswomen powerful enough to open the doors to economic and artistic possibilities.

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The Material Is The Message

The Material Is The Message

Most works of contemporary art that you find in galleries and museums are finished by the time they’re on view; in the case of performance art that unfolds in real time, a “work of art” isn’t really an object but an experience or an interaction. This summer, the Philadelphia Art Alliance has invited a group of artists called the Miss Rockaway Armada to create something that is part performance, part salvage operation and part sleight of hand. It demonstrates that the processes of designing and building something can tell a story. And what’s their story?

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Contemporary Clay

Contemporary Clay

American studio ceramics have come a long way since the late nineteenth century when the “Saturday Evening Girls” decorated children’s tableware by hand in their Boston workroom at the Paul Revere Pottery. Just as the vogue for arts and crafts style was on the decline, European modernism gave American design a jolt of creative energy, introducing the clean bold forms of Bauhaus tableware to a population that was beginning to tire of lily-pad and sunset motifs and the like.

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Handmade for Japan: Aid Through Art

Handmade for Japan: Aid Through Art

Anxiously reading the headlines about Japan’s unfolding nuclear crisis in the wake of last week’s earthquake and tsunami, I’ve been looking around for effective ways to help the relief effort.

A benefit auction starting March 24th offers a great way to send much-needed funds to Global Giving’s Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, a grassroots organization that is well-equipped to deploy supplies and aid across the country. Handmade for Japan, which was organized just one day after the earthquake on March 12th by Ayumi Horie, Kathryn Pombriant Manzella and Ai Kanazawa, will raise money for Global Giving with an eBay auction featuring the work of artists from the US and Japan.

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Handmade Holiday

Handmade Holiday

An outlet mall sweater that will never fit. Fancy toiletries so heavily perfumed you can’t bear to keep them in the house. A DVD of an Adam Sandler movie that you wouldn’t have gone to see when it was in the theaters. “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”.

This December, millions of gifts will be bought, wrapped, shipped, opened — and either returned, or consigned to obscurity in the basement.

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