September 21, 2009

American Art Pottery

Sugar Pot, Central Piedmont, North Carolina, 1820-1840, 12 3/4 x 10 inches

5 Red Vases by George Ohr, 1895-1900

Hugh Robertson for Chelsea Keramic Art Works, 1884-87, 8 inches high; and for Dedham Pottery, 1895-1908, 7 inches high

Grueby Pottery Company,1900-1908

Fulper Pottery, 1909-1920, 9 inches high, crystalline glaze.

Wandering through the new installation of American ceramics, glass and metalwork above the courtyard in the American wing at the Met, I felt such strong feelings of excitement and sheer aesthetic pleasure; there's an intensity of feeling in regards to objects, to things, that is very different from the visual pleasure in looking at paintings. Even though paintings provide a deep emotional response, there is more of the intellect as a component as we tease out the image, the narrative, the illusion, the surface elements. A ceramic pot is a concrete presence in real space, something we can imagine cradling, stroking, handling if it were not in a museum.

On my way into the American wing, I passed through the medieval galleries, which I always enjoy because of a similar heightened feeling about medieval objects and sculpture. This time I was struck by a small bronze of a hunting dog, whose slim form echoed a circle as its tail arced forward and head back. I took great delight in this piece. And I'm tempted to talk about a garden of "earthy" delights in describing American art pottery. The first piece above has more of folk art quality to it; I reproduced it because I love its shape and color and its anti-classical, bulbous nature which seems to me to be a precursor of the great George Ohr. (sorry for the poor Ohr reproduction; I'll have to do another post on him.)

Hugh Robertson was an amazing discovery for me. He was obsessively interested in ancient Chinese pots and made some beautiful small vases based on Chinese shapes, but with matte glazes. He also worked for years to perfect the oxblood glaze you see above, again inspired by the Chinese. When I see the thick, runny glaze on his other pot, I can't help but think of the abstract paintings of a half century later. Thanks to Robert Ellison, a major collector of American Art Pottery, we can now see this work any time we go to the Met. Ok, I've gone on too long....I hope you'll get to see these collections if you're in New York City.


  1. Wonderful and lively designs! Great to see how creative American potters are. Love the designs and the color combination being painted.