American Art Pottery: Selections from the Charles Hosmer Morse Collection

By Valerie Ann Leeds



Another distinctive aspect of the museum's collection is the strong representation of late Rookwood. As collectors, the McKeans aspired to represent the full range of Art Pottery production. They were intrigued by the idea they saw embodied in Rookwood's late production pieces: that potteries strived to make beautiful, well-designed objects affordable and readily accessible to the public. The McKeans viewed the trend toward more mass-produced objects as reflecting a shift in popular taste from handmade objects to those made by machine, and sought to build in this area of Rookwood's production they felt had often been overlooked. [4]

The museum's collection also reflects the vital and creative contribution women made to the Art Pottery movement. Noting the progressiveness of many key figures and the numerous female designers and decorators working within the system, the McKeans viewed the Art Pottery movement as a forerunner to the modern feminist movement. The exhibition includes works from some of the movement's pre-eminent women, many of whom were significant innovators: Maria Longworth Nichols (the founder of Rookwood Pottery), M. Louise McLaughlin, Adelaide Alsop Robineau, and Mary Chase Perry (Stratton). Works from potteries principally operated by women, such as Newcomb Pottery and the Saturday Evening Girls, are also represented.

As the scope of the museum's Art Pottery collection expanded, examples by many of the leading Art Pottery manufacturers were added to present a more balanced and comprehensive view. Thus Tiffany's work in this medium was placed within a broader context. Some of the lesser known potteries, such as Hampshire Pottery, Wannopee Pottery, and Pisgah Forest, are also included. From unique examples to production pieces, the collection displays the breadth of the ceramic artform in its variety of design and stylistic interpretation.

While Louis Comfort Tiffany's work in glass, enamels, metalwork, jewelry, and even painting are widely recognized, his ceramic work has gone largely unnoticed. His efforts in the medium are believed to have commenced around 1900, and continued for over a decade, probably ceasing sometime after 1914.[5] He produced his ceramic creations under the name "Favrile Pottery." An ongoing discourse between Tiffany's work in clay and his endeavors in other media is dearly evident. The distinctive, stylistic vision that he had already developed was successfully transposed into his ceramic work.

Many of the same organic forms for which he had shown a preference in other media, especially enamels and glass, dominate the designs he used in his Art Pottery, sometimes sharing even the same shapes. Though he did not overtly react to any single influence in his ceramics, Tiffany drew from a wide variety of stylistic sources. His aesthetic sensibility was linked to, not only contemporary European ceramics, but to the art of the Ancient WorId, and the Near and Far East, inclining particularly towards Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, and Persian influences.

As with Rookwood, the interpretation of nature was primary to Tiffany's pottery. While Rookwood favored painted surface decoration, Tiffany incorporated motifs from nature into the molded shape of his vessel forms, often executed in low relief. He favored themes typically seen in Japanese art. For example, he created numerous designs using fish, snakes, lizards, flowering branches, stalks, and ferns, frequently in a stylized or asymmetrical arrangement. Additionally, he ingeniously integrated a broad range of natural subjects into the vessel designs using flowers, plants, branches, leaves, animals, and vegetables.

As with much of the American Art Pottery of this period, Tiffany's shapes were principally made from molds. It was in the individualized application of glaze and its resulting effects, that his inventiveness, originality and exceptional ability as a colorist prevailed. His "Favrile Pottery" was experimental and forged new frontiers, remarkable for its textural effects, patinas, and finishes.

He first introduced his pottery with an all-over, yellowed antique ivory color, punctuated by an olive green overlying glaze to accentuate the relief decoration. Later he introduced a range of green glazes that include an acid green, chartreuse, and a subdued, moss-green tone. At times they were combined, producing a variegated green that mimicked the appearance of oxidized copper or bronze.

Another enterprising approach Tiffany undertook is illustrated by a series of simple forms he derived from ancient sources, with freely applied drips, splatters and splashes of multi-colored glazes. One particularly unique innovation, introduced around 1910, was Tiffany's technique of fashioning an electroplated metal overlay in copper, gold or bronze finishes on the pottery. He produced these under the name "Favrile Bronze Pottery."

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art was founded on a doctrine devoted to beauty, embodied by many of the ideas espoused by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who declared, "it is all a matter of education, and we shall never have good art in our homes until people learn to distinguish the beautiful from the ugly."[6] The museum's collection reflects the mission to illustrate the important developments in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American art, and show objects that "...reflect different ways of thinking, but relate to and illuminate each other."[7] The desire to share, educate, and inspire through the beauty of the works, spurred the broad expansion of the collection into many areas.

The McKeans' interest in the craftsmanship of Art Pottery, and the aesthetic beauty of the objects themselves, reinforce many of the same ideas upheld by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Art Pottery may have began as a marginal component in the pursuit to more fully represent the evolution of American art, but as the exhibition attests, the Art Pottery collection now stands fully on its own.


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