Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rookwood, A National Treasure

Rookwood Factory (1880–1967, Cincinnati), Clara Newton (decorator, 1848–1936), Pitcher, 1882. Glazed earthenware, 6 1/2" x 3 3/4" x 2 1/8" (16.5 x 9.5 x 5.4 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5273)
I’m a really big fan of American “art pottery, so you can just imagine me doing a little jig of joy in my office when we recently acquired this gorgeous pitcher from the Brooklyn Museum! If I could fit a kiln into my living room and a potters wheel I’d give up painting, because the decoration of this pitcher looks totally Impressionistic / Expressionistic.

I TOTALLY love Rookwood, because, not only did I once have lunch in the kiln (Rookwood factory is now a restaurant) with my godmother in Cincinnati, but because so many of their works have a painterly quality in their decoration (guess why I like that). Also, in the Fisher Mansion in Indianapolis, every room has a Rookwood fireplace mantle and surround! Gorgeous!

The art pottery movement in America began in the 1870s. It is suggested that the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 exposed American ceramic artists to Arts and Crafts movement ceramics from England. Many artists who later worked for art pottery kilns were inspired by the Philadelphia exhibition. Scholars define American art pottery as a type of ware made from the 1870s to the 1920s. 

Starting in the 1880s, pottery painting had become very popular among American women. It was considered a "refined" occupation for women to undertake. This was due to the fact that the art form could be executed in the home. The popularity of pottery painting among American women spread quickly and pottery societies were formed under women’s leadership all over the country. They soon changed from simply painting pottery to modeling, firing and glazing ceramics. Ironically, an art vocation meant to keep women in the home actually led to hundreds of women working in pottery factories throughout the US.

Maria Longworth Nichols founded the Rookwood Pottery manufactory after visiting the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. She was an enthusiast for decorating ceramics. In Philadelphia she was impressed by the Arts and Crafts style coming out of England, and also of the understated elegance of Japanese ceramics. The common perception at the time was that American ceramics were inferior to European and Asian works. Nichols sought to change that when she established Rookwood, believing that quality ceramics could emerge from an environment filled with talent, ideas and inspiration, regardless of gender. She became the first woman head of a manufacturing company in the US.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on Clara Newton, but apparently she was an artist at Rookwood in the early days. Her decoration of this pitcher soooooo anticipates designs in Art Nouveau art works! Additionally, I wonder if her painterly background was influenced by the recently-introduced-in-America painting style of Impressionism?

Here are some other beautiful works from Rookwood. Shirayamadani was an immigrant from Japan and I find his pieces absolutely stunning. 

Ewer, 1884. Glazed earthenware, height: 11 3/8" (28.9 cm). © Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-754A)
Kataro Shirayamadani (decorator, born Japan, 1865–1948)  Vase, 1900. Glazed, painted earthenware, height: 17 3/8" (44 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2274)
Edward Timothy Hurley (decorator, 1869–1950), Vase, ca. 1912. “Vellum” glazed stoneware, 9 1/4" x 4" (23.5 x 10.2 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6712)

Correlations to Davis Programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.35, 6.35-36 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 6.23-24 studio; A Community Connection: 2.6, 5.2; A Personal Journey: 3.1, 3.4; Experience Clay: 4, 5; Exploring Visual Design: 11; The Visual Experience: 10.6, 12.4, 16.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

National Monkey Day

I always admit I’m never too old to learn. This week I learned about National/International Monkey Day, which fell on the 14th of December. The commemorative day has only been around since 2000, dreamt up by two Michigan State University art students who subsequently promoted it in their artwork. Since then it has been internationally “celebrated,” the major emphasis being on preservation of primates and their natural habitats. There is monkeyday.com that promotes the holiday and all sorts of primate news, and interestingly, a group named Primates Incorporated that guarantees the welfare of monkeys who leave research labs, private ownership, and the entertainment industry!

This monkey business leads to yet another interesting art historical character, a guy known as the “Professor of Toys”: Shimizu Seifu (18511913) (you can see more of his work in my recent Noble Carp post). Shimizu’s work probably falls on the “Nihon-ga” side of the late 1800s battle in Japan between Western style (“yo-ga”) and Nihon-ga (Japanese style) art. Nihon-ga artists were trying to preserve traditional Japanese art forms and subject matter in the onslaught of Western influences that flooded Japan after it was forced open to Western trade by the US in the 1850s. 

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913, Japan), Monkey toys, from the series of volumes A Child’s Friends, 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 1/2" (20.3 x 14 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3638)
One of the interesting aspects of the Nihon-ga/yo-ga dichotomy in late 1800s Japanese art is that it provided a springboard for a lukewarm revival of the admiration for woodblock prints. The Ukiyo-e style really flagged in popularity during the 1880s and 1890s. Artists around the turn of the century did a semi-revival of the art form and it was the impetus for a revival of not only woodblock printing but also of traditional subjects such as theater prints, beautiful women prints, and prints chronicling traditional Japanese folk arts, such as toys.

Shimizu founded the “Hobbyhorse Club” in 1880 or 1887, which was dedicated to aficionados of traditional Japanese toys. He was a wealthy businessman, artist, calligrapher, and the leading collector of folk art toys during his lifetime. He studied painting and printmaking under Hiroshige III (Sadaime Hiroshige Utagawa, 1842/1843–1894), a pupil of the great landscape master Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). His large personal collection of folk toys was the inspiration for his publication of the series of ten volumes of woodblock prints, documenting his collection. The Child’s Friend (Unai no tomo) was one of the most comprehensive publications of an ethnographic nature in the history of Japanese art. I think that these prints of monkey toys represent the Japanese macaque, sometimes called the “snow monkey,” with its distinctive red face.

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913, Japan), Monkey riding a bull toy, from the series of volumes A Child’s Friends, 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 9/16" (20.3 x 14.3 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3646)

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913, Japan), Monkey and ox toys, from the series of volumes A Child’s Friends, 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 9/16" (20.3 x 14.3 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3725)
In 1906 Shimizu organized the first exhibition ever of traditional Japanese toys, many of them hand- made from common materials, and many from his personal collection. He published the first six volumes of Unai no tomo, and the remaining four were published by the painter Nishizawa Tekiho (1889–1965).

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.22, 4.Connections; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.12; A Community Connection: 8.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Experience Printmaking: 4; The Visual Experience: 3.5, 9.4, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 4.4

Monday, December 7, 2015

Endlessly Engaging (Ancient) Egypt

Naturally occurring pattern always fascinates me, especially when there’s a good art history story behind it. I present you with three ancient Egyptian vessels, all with different, random patterns, and all in different materials. I’m totally in love this week with the first dish of mosaic glass. 

Ancient Egypt, Dish, ca. 1390–1353 BCE. Mosaic glass, width: 4 1/8" (10.5 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5261)
In Egypt, the first known glass as a component of faience ware, dates from as far back as the Neolithic Badarian culture at the turn of the 4000s and 3000s BCE. The first true glass ware, dating to the 1400s BCE, were actually this type of mosaic glass. Mosaic glass ware is made by fusing pieces of different colored glass. Egyptian vessels were produced by placing pieces of glass of various colors softened by heat—often the remains of broken vessels in the workshop—around a core of sand and cow dung. After glass blowing later became a common way to make glass during the first 100 years BCE along the Syro-Palestinian coast, mosaic glass was made by decorating the surface of hot, blown glass with chips of colored glass and then reheating it and reblowing it.  

Ancient Egypt, Jar, ca. 3600-3100 BCE. Breccia, 5 1/2" x 7 5/16" (14 x 18.5 cm). © Brooklyn Museum (BMA-3470)
This vessel dates from the Badarian period. What is to thought-provoking about it is the perfection of form, and the aesthetic considerations for how the random fragments of rock complement the shape. I will admit that I did not know what breccia was before cataloging this vessel. I filed it under “Sculpture” as the art form because it does not really meet the criteria of “Ceramics.” Breccia is rock composed of sharp angled fragments embedded in a fine-grained matrix of sand or soil that has formed over time from erosion, impact, or volcanic activity. 

Ancient Egypt, Funerary vessel of the Priest Amon Neferher, from Thebes, ca. 1479–1279 BCE. Painted ceramic, height: 8 1/4" (21 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5234)
“Keeping up with the Joneses” is obviously not an American invention from the 1950s. Appearances of status obviously mattered even in ancient Egypt. From the earliest period, Egyptians created funerary vessels from both ceramic and hard stones such as limestone, granite, alabaster, and marble. Stone vessels were obviously more durable and preferred by the Egyptians who were filling their tombs with offerings to last an eternity in the afterlife. Carved rather than thrown vessels were more expensive. Even though priests were held in high regard in Egyptian culture, they were obviously not wealthy like the members of the pharaoh’s court. Although this priest Neferher could not afford stone vessels for his burial, he wanted to give the illusion that he was well-off by having the vessels painted to resemble stone.

Correlations to Davis Programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.35, 3.Studio35-36; A Community Connection: 2.6, 5.2; A Personal Journey: 3.1, 3.4; A Global Pursuit: 1.4; Beginning Sculpture: 5; Experience Clay: 4, 5; Exploring Visual Design: 11; The Visual Experience: 10.2, 10.9, 10.6, 15.3; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 5.3

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Noble Carp?

It probably doesn’t occur to most people to view a fish as a symbol of heroic qualities, unless maybe it’s a whale or a shark. In Japan, the carp (“koi” in Japanese) is a symbol of courage, persistence, success, and strength of character. These traits have been accrued over the centuries, based partly on the fish’s ability to swim upriver (like salmon in the Western hemisphere) and up waterfalls in order to mate. This bravery has been likened to that of the samurai. I find it fascinating that such a simple life form could inspire such noble symbolism. 

Keisai Eisen (1790–1848), Carp, 1830. Color woodcut on paper, 28 3/8" x 9 13/16" (72 x 25 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-368)
Late Edo period Ukiyo-e artist Keisai Eisen is primarily known for his landscapes and nature scenes in woodcut print format. His prints of beautiful women (bijin-ga) are among the most baroque of the late stage of the “first Ukiyo-e” period. He also did numerous depictions of carp. The carp jumping the waterfall to get to its mating place is part of a Chinese legend (“liyutiaolongmen”) in which few carp are brave enough to make the final leap up a certain waterfall after swimming upriver. Those who are able to leap over the mythical “dragon gate” at the top of the falls are transformed into dragons. I guess this covers the traits of persistence and success in achieving goals. 

Kanō Tanshin Morimasa (1653–1718), Carp Ascending a Waterfall, 1668. Ink and color on silk hanging scroll, 39 7/16" x 16 1/8" (100.2 x 41 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-788)
Morimasa was the son of Kanō Tanyu. The conservative Kanō School was a group of painters who preferred the Chinese style of painting and traditional subject matter of nature and landscapes, compared to the genre scenes and entertainment figures of the Ukiyo-e artists. They were the preferred artists of the nobility and the shoguns’ court. Here Morimasa depicts the timeless subject of the brave carp leaping up the waterfall. Sometimes these depictions are almost anthropomorphic as the fish are depicted with fins flailing, eyes bulging and mouth open as if gasping for air. 

Ohara Koson (1878–1945), Carp and Wisteria. Ink and color on silk, 15 15/16" x 6 9/16" (40.5 x 16.7 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1041)
After being forcibly opened to the West in the 1850s, Japanese art took two avenues, artists who were influenced by and sometimes adapted Western painting (“yoga” or Western pictures) and artists who insisted on maintaining Japanese traditions in art, “Nihonga” or Japanese pictures. Koson is one of those artists who combined both strains. He has painted a traditional theme with a Western-style realism and a logical suggestion of depth. Here two carp are linked with wisteria, a flower that blooms in the late spring. As such the wisteria is a symbol of fertility. Carp are also symbols of abundance because they produce so many eggs. Two carp together symbolize a happy marriage. 

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913), Carp Toy on Wheels, from a ten volume series A Child’s Friends,” published 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 5/8" (20.3 x 14.3 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3681)
Even Japanese toys celebrate the noble carp. 

Ohara Shoson (1875–1949), Carp Beneath Wisteria, ca. 1935. Color woodcut on paper, 14 ¾" x 10 5/8" (37.5 x 27 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2641)
I included a second Ohara school artist because this is just such a beeeeautiful print. It never fails to impress me the nuances that the woodblock printers achieve with color, and the fidelity of registration within the lines! The carp is not only thought to be brave like a samurai in its persistence in swimming against the current, but also when caught, it is said that the carp lies still under the knife, much like the samurai facing a sword. 

China, Wine jar with carp and aquatic plant motif, 1300s. Porcelain with underglaze blue cobalt decoration, 11 15/16" x 13 3/4" (30.3 x 34.9 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-4947)
In China, the carp is called “li” pronounced the same as the character for “profit,” and the character for “strength” or “power.” The “Dragon’s Gate” myth about the carp originated in relation to a large waterfall on the Yellow River.

Correlations to Davis Programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.connections; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 3.14; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 5.25, 5.25-26 studio, 6.35-36 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 4.20, 4.21-22 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.22, 4.21-22 studio, 4.connections; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.12; A Community Connection: 6.2, 8.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Experience Clay: 4, 5; Experience Printmaking: 3, 4; Experience Painting: 4; The Visual Experience: 3.5, 9.3, 9.4, 13.4, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.3, 4.4

Afterthoughts About Being Thankful

Lewis Wickes Hine (1874–1940, US), Tipple Boys and Drivers, Maryland Coal Company mine near Sand Lick, Grafton, West Virginia, 1908. Gelatin silver print, 4 3/8" x 6 1/4" (11 x 16 cm). © Davis Art Images. (8S-20644)

Now that we’re done saying how grateful we are for all the food with which we stuffed ourselves on Thanksgiving, and for our iPhones, and the gift of being able to drive one person per car to work every day…etc., I’d like to reflect on something we should really be thankful for: that we didn’t have a childhood that was more like a hard-working adulthood. And these boys didn’t get to drive to work listening to the car radio or an MP3 player. Lewis Hine was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century in my mind, because his art opened up people’s eyes to the massive abuse in child labor.

Aside from the mid-1800s documentation of the Civil War (1860–1865), and some early documentation of squalor in American cities in the late 1800s, Lewis Hine was one of the first photographers to explore the idea of “documentary photography.” Perhaps because Hine, born in Oskosh, WI, lost his father at an early age, he developed an early empathy for people who experienced loss or hardship. At any rate, he studied sociology in college.

After graduating from Columbia University in 1903, Hine began teaching botany and nature studies 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. Those photographs were first published in 1908 in Charities and the Commons.

In 1908 Hine quit teaching to become a photographer and investigator for the National Child Labor Committee. He felt that photography as social documentation was light that was required to illuminate the dark places of social existence. 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.

Between 1910 and 1912 Hine’s photographs featured the young boys (called “breaker boys”), usually between 8 and 12 years old, who worked in the coal mines of Pittston, PA. They worked—typically 13 days on and 1 off for $5 a week—breaking mined coal into relatively uniform sized pieces by hand and separating out impurities such as rock, slate, sulphur, clay and soil. Breaker Boys often worked 14 to 16 hours a day.

I wonder what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving? Or did they work on Thanksgiving? And, darn it, they couldn’t even listen to their MP3 player to break up the drudgery of their work day like so many of us do in offices.

Correlations to Davis Programs: A Community Connection: 6.4, 7.2, 7.3; Focus on Photography: 3, 5, 7; The Visual Experience: 9.5, 16.6