Monday, December 23, 2013

Fantasy Christmas Present III

Edward Savage (1761–1817 ,US), Ebenezer Seaver, 1795–1800. Watercolor on ivory in gilt copper locket, 5.1 x 4 cm (2 x 1 1/2”). © Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-184) Ebeneze Seaver (1763-1844), born in Roxbury, Mass., was a US representative from Massachusetts (1803-1813). He was also a state representative 1822, 1823, and 1826.

I love miniatures from early American art! I dearly want a miniature of myself hanging from my loved one’s keychain as a Christmas present!  However, miniature artists are few and far between these days. I’ve already written about miniatures in this blog, so let’s concentrate on Edward Savage. He is a fascinating example of an artist who made a living in the early years of the republic, relying on good old American determination.

Savage was born in Princeton, MA and initially worked as a goldsmith and engraver. In 1790 he traveled to London, briefly studying under ex-patriate American artist Benjamin West (1738–1820). He also traveled to Italy to check out great masterpieces of art from the Renaissance and Baroque. When one compares his family portrait (pre-Europe trip) to his portrait of the Washington family, one can see his progress. However, like most self-trained artists of the early American period, he reveals a lack of solid understanding of anatomy. That notwithstanding, his ability to imitate the effects of materials in his paintings is remarkable. His portrait of the Washington family, initially in mezzotint form, was immensely popular, posted in buildings all over the new United States.  

Edward Savage, The Savage Family, ca. 1779. Oil on canvas, 66 x 88 cm (26 x 34 5/8”).
The Savage Family is, by far, my favorite work by Savage. I love the way he lined the family up in order of height! It’s an early work (he was 18), and the comparison with this family portrait and the miniature are indicative of his progress as a self-trained artist.

Edward Savage, The Washington Family, 1789–1796. Oil on canvas, 213.6 x 284.2 cm (7’ x 9’ 4 1/2").  © National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0752)

The Washington Family is a much more accomplished work of perhaps fifteen years later, after the Revolution. The family posed for Savage in New York in the winter of 1789–1790. At the time New York was the US capital. He initially produced prints of the portraits, and eventually finished a large version in oil in 1796 after he returned from Europe.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.7, 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 2.7; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.1, 1.2, 6.31; A Community Connection: 2.3; A Personal Journey: 6.4; Discovering Drawing: 7

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fantasy Christmas Present II

Steven Ford and David Forlano (both born 1964, US), PillowCollar Necklace X, 2009.

Although I don’t wear a lot of jewelry other than my wedding ring, I’ve always been fascinated with jewelry design. I’m pretty sure that jewelry was one of the few art forms that did not succumb to mass-production during the industrial revolution, unless one is talking about costume jewelry. I’ve known countless jewelry artists and each one has given me a greater and greater appreciation of the art form, especially those who make the elements of their pieces (be it ceramic, glass, metal, etc.) themselves. I have a friend who makes gorgeous jewelry that features glass beads she makes by hand. Each of her pieces is unique as the result of her working the glass. For unique elements of a piece of jewelry, Ford’s and Forlano’s works are certainly standouts!

While many artists in the past have risen to prominence as jewelry artists, such as René Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Henry van de Velde, these artists mainly designed jewelry that was then hand made in their studios / workshops. Tiffany had a particularly big enterprise for jewelry production. Steven Ford and David Forlano emphasize one-of-a-kind, hand made jewelry that is a total collaboration.

The two artists met while they were painting students in Italy. Forlano’s abstract paintings emphasized surface build up while Ford concentrated on making paintings that had three-dimensional impact. They began designing jewelry as a collaboration in 1988. One can certainly see their backgrounds as painters in their work.

Detail of PillowCollar Necklace X

They work in the relatively new medium of polymer clay, which is not actually real clay, but consists of polyvinyl chloride. It has many benefits, such as a low firing temperature that does not require a traditional kiln and a variety of colors that can be blended like paint, It can also be sliced and woven together, and it does not shrink when dry like real clay. Ford and Forlano have exploited the medium to brilliant effect. This necklace shows their recent work that emphasizes forms that could be found in nature such as shells, seeds, and flower buds (which are certainly evident in this necklace). In their work, even in the case of earrings, they try to make each element distinct from the rest, while keeping an overall sense of unity with size and color.

View a gallery of their recent work:

Studio activity (A Community Connection): Make a piece of jewelry that suggests natural forms. Use inexpensive materials such as clay, wood pieces, leather scraps, heavy paper, or wire. Experiment with ways to connect the materials, e.g. to make coils with wire wrap around a pencil or stick and then gently slip it off; to make loops, wrap wire in figure eights between nails on a board. Try to think how to express your own personality with shapes that echo nature.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.11; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.29; The Visual Experience: 10.7; A Personal Journey: Chapter 7 Connections; A Community Connection: 5.2

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fantasy Christmas Present I

Paul Revere Pottery Company (and “A.M.” maker, firm 1909–1942, Boston), Vase, ca. 1910. Incised, painted, and glazed earthenware; height: 14 cm (5 1/2”). Private Collection. Photo © Davis Publications. (8S-7980)

Since I am not expecting to see a new car with a red bow on top of it for a Christmas present, I thought I would use the month of December to present gifts that I would absolutely LOVE to get (but never will). Of course they come along with full information about the artists’ interesting backgrounds. You all know my love of the genre called “American art pottery.” The Paul Revere Pottery Company is a particularly interesting example of how Americans have supported the arts. I present my first Fantasy Christmas Present.

Yes, I would love a vase like this!

I am particularly fond of Paul Revere Pottery, because the history of the company is a tribute to working women. I have maintained that women have always played a major role in American society, especially the arts. Paul Revere Pottery was founded by two women—Edith Guerrire and Edith Brown—who were concerned about the lives of immigrant women in he north end of Boston, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants around the turn of the 20th century. These forward-thinking women had gone to Europe and seen art ceramics (in the Art Nouveau style), and conceived a plan to help make young immigrant women productive members of American society. Their goal was to educate young women in how to get jobs and be independent.

Guerriere founded the Saturday Evening Girls Club to reinforce the view that women could be a valuable part of the American work force. Paul Revere Pottery evolved from this institution. The Storrow family, who had also established settlement houses for immigrant women, supported it. The pottery project was an effort to keep the young immigrant women off of the streets. It was established in the north end of Boston in 1909, after Brown and Guerriere had been experimenting with ceramics.

What makes the story of Paul Revere Pottery interesting is the dignity with which the young women were treated who produced the pottery. Unlike the sweatshops of the time, the workshops of Paul Revere Pottery were well lit and well ventilated. The rooms always had fresh flowers and the workers were read to from Dickens, Shakespeare, and other great authors. The young women’s working day never exceeded eight hours, as opposed to the norm of the time of 10 to 12 hours. The workers got a half-day off on Saturdays and a two-week paid vacation! How’s that for fairness compared to a contemporary Congress that won’t even raise the minimum wage!

Paul Revere Pottery closed for good in 1942. But it stands as a lasting example that no matter what the time period, there are people who think about bettering the lives of others. I think one thing that gets lost in current political debate is the on-going discrimination against people who are considered “others.” Paul Revere Pottery made an effort to change that mentality at the beginning of the 1900s!

Paul Revere Pottery Company (firm 1906–1942 Boston), Cup (“It is the Habit of Young Rabbit to Go to School”), 1917. Glazed earthenware, height: 9.2 cm (3 5/8”). © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-2557)
Paul Revere Pottery Company (firm 1906–1942 Boston), Plate, 1910. Painted and crackled glazed earthenware, width: 20 cm (7 7/8”). © Newark Museum. (8S-7979)
Studio activity: Create a clay container that can be used in daily life. Determine what uses the container will have. Use neat, even coils to build the container. Either smooth the coils of the vessel together or embellish it with incised, applied, or found object additions.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 2: studio 17-18, Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.35, Explorations in Art Grade 4: studio 23-24, Explorations in Art Grade 5: studio 29-30, 6 4.22, Explorations in Art Grade 6: studio 21-22, A Community Connection: 2.6