Monday, July 21, 2014

Head Vessels

John Spiegel Pottery (founded 1880, Philadelphia), Pitcher, late 1800s. Earthenware, height: 6 7/8” (17.5 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-4256)

Effigy (portrait, human head, or whole figure) ceramic art (usually male) has been featured in all sorts of wares since ancient times from throughout the world. In many instances it is associated primarily with funeral rites, but often it is pure decoration on functional wares like this interesting piece.

Mugs and pitchers of this sort became fashionable in England in the 1700s, and the interest transferred to the US during the mid- to late 1800s. The Royal Doulton company in England has been the most recognizable source of these “character” or “Toby” vessels. The English examples are usually pseudo-comical characters, sometimes from the English music halls. They inevitably are dressed in 1700s garb. The tri-corn hat affords an easy spout on this pitcher. Interestingly, the fad caught in Japan, which exports these unusual objects to this day.

Chinese and Japanese ceramics were very popular export items to Europeans and Americans starting in the late 1700s. This pitcher imitates the three-color glazes used by Chinese ceramic artists during the Tang period (618–907 ce). The glaze was applied at the top of the vessel and allowed to run down naturally while in the kiln.  An example of the Chinese glaze is below.


China, Tomb figure of a Bactrian Camel. Earthenware, height: 31 7/8” (81 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2742)


“Character” vessels originated in ancient times. The Ancient Egyptians included many effigies of the deceased in their tombs. Particularly important were the canopic jars, in which they stored the internal organs of the deceased, as they believed that the deceased would need their physical body in the afterlife (hence the complicated mummification process of bodies). This jar bears the head of Imsety, Guardian of the Liver.


One also finds head vessels in ancient Greece. Since this is a drinking cup for wine (which the Greeks always mixed with water), I think the satyr’s face is meant to be humorous. For some reason, I find it creepy. Satyrs were half-man, half-goat beings who were thought to be promiscuous, usually because of the effects of alcohol and their affiliation with Bacchus, the god of the grape vine’s results.


Ancient Peru, Portrait Head Vessel, 400–600 ce. Earthenware, 13 x 8 ¼ x 7 1/16” (33 x 21 x 18 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-628)

Ancient Meso- and Central American cultures are renowned for their ceramics, particularly effigy-type vessels, which included incense burners. Stirrup-spouted vessels like this were usually tomb objects containing various food needs for the deceased. The realistic rendering of the face leads art historians to believe they may have been specific portraits of the deceased, and were undoubtedly not used for everyday household tasks. Meso- and Central American cultures are also renowned for vessels decorated with animal heads.

North American Indian, Mississippian, Seated Prisoner effigy vessel, ca. 900–1400 ce. Earthenware, 5 x 3 x 2 7/8” (12.7 x 7.62 x 7.3 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-476)

The people of the Mississippian culture that populated the regions adjacent to the Mississippi River were avid traders. They are thought to have traded with Mesoamerican cultures from Mexico. Such effigy vessels have not been found in other native cultures. They are thought to have served ritualistic purposes by being placed near deceased persons. A seated prisoner perhaps commemorated a great warrior’s accomplishments during life.

Thomas Davies Pottery Company (ca 1862–1870, Edgefield District, South Carolina), Face vessel. Stoneware, 7 ½” x 7 ¾” (19 x 19.7 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2730)

During the 1850s, several African American potters rose to prominence in this important ceramic producing region of South Carolina, renowned for it grainy type of stoneware. Face pottery such as this was influenced by African traditions, particularly the West African art in which the head of a work is exaggerated in size. The head was considered to house a person’s soul. Works featuring large heads, including pots along with other objects personally associated with the deceased, were often left at burials in Africa.

Zeljko Kujundzic (1920–2003, Canada, born Serbia), Cookie jar, 1974. Ceramic, height: 22” (56 cm). Photo courtesy of the late artist. (8S-18937)

Zeljko Kujundzic combines influences of the native North American Indian arts of the northwest coast, with the stylization and solemnity of Byzantine art from his native Yugoslavia. Unlike the other works in this post, his vessel is not a funerary object. However, it presents the same gravity as vessels left in tombs in previous periods. His works have titles typically such as “Ancestor Figure,” and “Earth Man,” as well as terms referring to Christianity.

Studio activity: Make a slab built effigy pot or mug as a self-portrait. Take a lump of clay and form it into a ball or cube. Using the thumb, create an opening (hole) in what will be the top of the pot, and work the hole bigger, thinning and smoothing the interior and outside of the walls of the pot until it is the desired size and shape. Apply what you think your features resemble, not paying attention to extreme realism. Exaggeration of your features allows the pot to have more impact. Experiment with dripping glazes rather than evenly covering the vessel.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.35, Explorations in Art Grade 4: studio 23-24, Explorations in Art Grade 5: studio 29-30, Explorations in Art Grade 6: 4 studio exploration

Monday, July 14, 2014

Artists and Refugees


Lewis Hine (1874–1940, US), Italian Immigrants Seeking Lost Luggage, 1905. Gelatin silver print on paper, 5 1/2" x 4 3/8” (14 x 11 cm). Photo © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1853)

 It often astounds me how little we learn from history (and by “we” I mean we human beings: any culture on this planet!). If you need reminding, I mention the massive immigrant / refugee crisis of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when hundreds of thousands of (mostly European) immigrants sought a better life in this country. Sound familiar? In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Italian and Irish immigrants were particularly “not wanted,” and many who came, with no money or job skills, were detained and deported. Artists have always documented these periods. Lewis Hine was a photographer at the turn of the century. He wanted to bring to Americans’ attention the hardships these immigrants faced, as well the deplorable conditions in the places they worked.

The flood of immigrants from Europe at the turn of the century gave rise to overcrowding and poverty in large American cities. Lack of jobs and housing created terribly overcrowded tenements and homelessness. Lewis Hine was perhaps the greatest of the photographers concerned with social reform.
           
After graduating from Columbia University in 1903, Hine began teaching at the Ethical Culture School in New York. The school trained people to help serve the less fortunate and improve their lot in life through public service. In 1905 Hine’s boss gave him a camera as a teaching aid and to record school activities. His interest in social reform led almost immediately to his first documentary series in the same year. He set out to document the uncaring treatment of immigrants on Ellis Island. This photograph comes from that series.
           
In 1908 Hine quit teaching to become a photographer and investigator for the National Child Labor Committee. Between 1908 and 1916 he traveled widely, documenting child labor abuses. Hine called his photographs  “photointerpretations,” because he felt that they were interpretive. Later scholars, however, consider them documentary.
           
Hine used photographs such as this one as lantern slides for his lectures, as well as to illustrate pamphlets and magazine articles. His photographs were instrumental in passing child labor laws. As a creator of social documentary, Hine refined the genre by producing photographs that capture the dignity of his subjects by the way he framed and lit them. He continued to photograph workers and laborers until his death. Interest in his work revived during the 1960s when the issue of social reform again came to the fore.

This photograph documents those who were relegated to the Baggage and Dormitory Building of Ellis Island. It was basically a detention, and most likely deportation, center. After the Immigration Act of 1924, regulations were much stricter on who was allowed into the US. Hopefully, this family was lucky enough to qualify to enter.

Correlations to Davis Programs:  A Community Connection: 7.2; Discovering Art History: 14.5; Focus on Photography: 3, 5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

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Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828), George Washington (Vaughan Portrait), 1795. Oil on canvas, 28 ¾” x 23 13/16” (73 x 60.5 cm). © National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0675)

I’m celebrating the 4th of July by showing you one of the many portraits Gilbert Stuart did of our first president, George Washington. I hate to be an overly sappy art historian, but one of my secret dreams is to be around at the time our first president was alive. It must have been such an exhilarating period, everything about our democracy brand new (compared to now with a do-nothing Congress). I know there were plenty of problems to iron out, but I’ve always admired George Washington (he stopped at a tavern at the end of my street in 1776!). The right man for the right job I say. To be totally honest, I’m not a big fan of American artists who emigrated to Britain before the Revolution in order to perfect their style and make more money, but I find Stuart a lot less objectionable than Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and John Singleton Copley who ended their days in Britain. Go US artists!



Gilbert Stuart was exclusively a portrait painter. He returned to the US in 1793, settling in New York, having been in Britain since 1775, under the tutelage of Benjamin West. Apparently, Stuart accrued so many debts in both Britain and, subsequently, Ireland that he decided to return to the US. What is called a “provincial style” by the National Gallery in Washington was honed by Stuart’s contacts with British portraitists, such as Joshua Reynolds and particularly George Romney, whose combination of softened Classicism and the burgeoning Romantic style affected Stuart’s style permanently.



Immediately after returning home he began producing portraits, displaying what he had learned in Europe, with the American prescient for extreme realism. Compared, however to his portraits before the Revolution that emphasized worldly gain and extravagance, his portraits after the Revolution revealed a simplicity of form, costume, and background that combined Romanticism and Neoclassicism. The portraits that Stuart produced after his return attracted a great amount of attention.



Gilbert Stuart, Francis Malbone and His Brother Saunders, c. 1773. Oil on canvas, 36” x 44” (91.44 x 111.76 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-459)

Eager to establish himself with the major players of the Revolution and officials of the new government, he moved to Philadelphia in 1795. Philadelphia was the capitol of the US from 1790 to 1800, when Washington DC was finished. Stuart’s stoic, dignified, monumental realistic style appealed to the members of the new democracy’s government, and it soon attracted the attention of the our first president. His first sitting with the president was in 1795, but the result dissatisfied him and he did another sitting in 1796. The Vaughan style was oriented to the left. Out of the over 1100 portraits produced by Stuart, 104 of them are of our first president.



I may be a Northern Renaissance specialist when it comes to art history, but I love Stuart’s portraits of our first president because he actually got the president to sit for him. Apparently it wasn’t a comfortable session, because Stuart talked a lot. President Washington was a very reserved person and found Stuart’s prattling annoying. Maybe that’s why the president’s cheeks are so flushed? (Like, “Shut up, won’t you!?”)



Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.1, 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2, 2.7; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.1, 1.2; A Community Connection: 3.4, 6.2; Discovering Art History 11.5; Experience Painting: Chapter 6; Exploring Painting: Chapters 7, 10; The Visual Experience: 9.3