Friendship at WMODA

Supermodel Miranda Kerr is the face of Royal Albert china. “Friendship is the basis of the collection,” she says, when asked about the inspiration behind her Royal Albert tea wares. It’s about “having tea with friends and taking time to sit down and connect, especially in the busy world of today”.

As a child growing up in rural Australia, Miranda enjoyed having tea with her grandmother using her precious china tea set and learned how to appreciate beautiful things. Her new Friendship china collection for Royal Albert has all the accessories for the perfect tea party, including teapots, cake stands and dainty cups and saucers. The evocative names of the Friendship patterns Joy, Gratitude, Devotion and Blessings, touch our emotions and make them the perfect gift for the Holidays.

Royal Albert was founded in 1896 and is renowned internationally for producing fine English bone china tea-wares with floral decoration. Old Country Roses is the best-selling china pattern in the world and has been made by Royal Albert for more than 50 years. Royal Albert has been part of the Royal Doulton group since 1972 and is a great favorite with Michael Doulton, our guest of honor at WMODA on November 9th. You can purchase the Miranda Kerr collection for Royal Albert at our new Teatime Boutique.

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Alchemy & Porcelain

Chinese translucent porcelain, which became known in Europe in medieval times, was referred to as white gold, valued as equal to the most noble metal. The composition and method of manufacture remained a mystery in Europe until 1708 when the German alchemist, Johann Bottger, discovered the secret of hard-paste porcelain.

Bottger’s original Magnum Opus was to discover the Philosopher’s Stone, the elixir of life, and turn base metals into gold. Alchemists used the four classical elements of earth, fire air, and water, plus the concept of anima mundi (the soul) and creation stories, as analogies for their process. Bottger’s successful harnessing of the elements to make porcelain ensured his immortality as the creator of “white gold”.

In the 8th century, the Persian alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan, acclaimed as the “father of chemistry”, discovered that aqua regia, a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids, could dissolve gold. His theory that rearranging the qualities of one metal would result in a different metal fueled the imagination of alchemists who aspired to transform base metals into gold for the next millennium. Originally, alchemy was considered a reputable science, and alchemists were revered as legitimate medical practitioners. However, by the 18th century, a rigid distinction was drawn between alchemy and chemistry and alchemists were often viewed as quacks and charlatans.

Royal Doulton’s Art Director, Charles Noke, likened his experiments with metallic oxides and reduction glazes to those of a medieval alchemist and used this image to promote his Sung and Chang wares during the 1920s. The fabulous effects of rouge flambé glazes are achieved by carefully controlling the elements of fire and air in the kiln to create a reducing atmosphere and the metallic oxides in the glaze are transformed into a lustrous red sheen.

Come and see the fascinating links between porcelain, alchemy, natural history and the classical elements in the upcoming exhibition Biophilia ǀ Christopher Marley.

Click here to reserve tickets for the opening night on December 5th.

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Biophilia ǀ A Cabinet of Curiosities

The Christopher Marley ǀ Biophilia exhibition which opens on December 5th at WMODA is presented like a Cabinet of Curiosities, a precursor of the modern museum. Also known as a Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Wonder, these were encyclopedic collections of natural and man-made objects reflecting our universal curiosity and fascination with the diversity of the world and our obsession with cataloging and sorting objects. Originally the term cabinet referred to a room rather than a piece of furniture but smaller collections were displayed in curio cabinets, just like today’s collectors.

Collecting for Cabinets of Curiosity became fashionable among European monarchs and wealthy aristocrats during the Renaissance era. Often the rare and obscure objects were acquired from sponsored voyages of trade and discovery and this competitive collecting became a form of propaganda. Cabinets were proudly presented to visiting magnates to symbolize the patron’s control of the world, as with the cabinet formed by Charles I of England.

Typically, in these microcosms of the world, stuffed animals jostled for attention with exotic shells, historical relics, antiquities and works of art. Roman terracotta lamps or Ming porcelain bowls might represent the world of ceramics. A giant crocodile hung from the ceiling of Ferrante Imperato’s cabinet in Naples among stuffed birds, fish, and shells. This apothecary’s natural history research collection was one of the earliest to be recorded in a 1599 engraving.

The Cabinet of Curiosity created by Ole Worm, a 17th century Danish physician, and natural philosopher, was known as the Museum Wormianum and the posthumous catalog from 1655 included everything from specimens of the natural world to ethnographic objects from exotic locations. As well as being a spectacle, it was a source of study and understanding to show how natural and man-made objects interrelated. Sometimes there was a mix of fact and fiction with representations of mythical creatures. However, Ole Worm correctly identified that the narwhal’s tusk belongs to a whale rather than a unicorn as commonly believed at the time.

The Biophilia exhibition by Christopher Marley, virtuoso artist, designer, and taxidermist,  includes mounted reptiles, fish, and butterflies, together with collections of shells and minerals. He has a brilliant eye for the patterns, colors, and textures found in nature and arranges his discoveries in striking mosaic designs. His dialogue with art, nature, and science continues at WMODA with a study of the correlation between the natural world and the man-made world of ceramics and glass.  Porcelain butterfly dancers and snake charmers rival the natural specimens on display while earthenware dishes with reptiles and insects in the style of Bernard Palissy echo Marley’s reptilian presentations. There’s even a mounted caiman by Christopher displayed alongside the Ardmore crocs in the WMODA Cabinet of Curiosity.

Christopher Marley ǀ Biophilia opens at WMODA and the Gallery of Amazing Things on December 5th. Click here to reserve your complimentary invitation to the opening night.

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Papillons in Porcelain

The buzz surrounding the beautiful butterfly art in the Christopher Marley ǀ Biophilia exhibition, which opens on December 5th has inspired us to look at the vogue for butterfly dancing in the early 20th century. While Christopher has preserved the fragile and floating beauty of actual butterflies in his art, many ceramic artists have captured the spirit of the butterfly in exquisite porcelain dancers.

Butterflies have inspired the music and dance of cultures as diverse as Native Americans and early European free dancers. Fanciful butterfly ballets were staged in the late 19th century and became popular interludes in variety stage shows. The Danish ballerina Adeline Genée achieved stardom for her role in Les Papillons in 1900. She was described as “like Dresden china” and her dancing was as a “butterfly on the wing”.

Sixteen-year-old Phyllis Monkman began her career in the musical play Butterflies at the Apollo London in 1908 with the headline “Just out of the chrysalis stage”. Early photographs of butterfly dancers inspired beautiful cabinet cards and their costumes became more and more fantastic for vaudeville revues and burlesque shows, such as the Folies Bergere in Paris and Ziegfeld Follies in New York. The ultimate butterfly dancer was Loie Fuller, whose mesmerizing performances were recorded in the first silent films. Her sensational dances in fin-de-siècle Paris inspired painters, sculptors and porcelain artists, notably at Sèvres and Royal Doulton.

Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes caused a sensation in Europe with their rhythmic dancing, radical choreography, and fantastic costumes. Papillons, first performed in 1914, was set during Carnival with Pierrot dancing among butterflies. The fantastic costumes by Leon Bakst inspired flappers and vamps to metamorphose into butterflies for the masquerade balls of the jazz age. Illustrations of butterfly fashions proliferated in magazines and periodicals, including the cover of Life magazine which featured F. X. Leyendecker’s iconic flapper and W.T. Benda’s sensual butterfly woman. Designs such as these were immortalized exquisitely in porcelain by Art Deco sculptors, notably Leslie Harradine at Royal Doulton and Josef Lorenzl at Goldscheider.

Come and see our beautiful porcelain butterfly dancers and butterfly art from natural specimens in Christopher Marley ǀ Biophilia at WMODA and the Gallery of Amazing Things. Click here to reserve tickets.

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Zany Zebras

The Ardmore artists make zebra riding look easy but in fact, they are usually too aggressive to train. They kick and bite and their backs are not really strong enough to support the weight of a man. Nevertheless, there were numerous attempts to tame them in the late 19th century. Zebras were trained for performance at Ducrow’s early Victorian circus but apparently “entirely lost their spirit and vivacity, in consequence, assuming the humbled bearing of the common donkey.” By the way, a cross between a donkey and a zebra is known as a Zonkey!

In Victorian times, Mrs. Alice Hayes rode side-saddle on a zebra trained by her husband. The American documentary film-maker and adventurer, Osa Helen Johnson rode a zebra in Africa during the 1920s. Dr. Rosendo Ribeiro, the first private medical practitioner to diagnose the bubonic plaque in Kenya, rode a zebra to visit his patients.

Perhaps the most successful zebra trainer was the eccentric zoologist, Lord Walter Rothschild of the global banking family. He trained zebras to pull his carriage and took his team to Buckingham Palace in London in 1895, just to prove it could be done. In Calcutta, a scion of the wealthy Mullick family bought a pair of zebras from the local zoo to pull his carriage through the streets.

In a favorite Ardmore exhibit at WMODA, the African artists have substituted monkeys for the passengers in a zebra-drawn rickshaw. The streets of Durban were once full of rickshaws, drawn by Zulu boys. First introduced in 1892, there were more than 2,000 at work in the early 1900s. The puller’s outfits became more and more outrageous to attract the custom of the tourists with a combination of feathers, quills, and traditional beadwork. The horns symbolize that the pullers are as strong as an ox. Only around 20 Zulu rickshaws now ply their trade on the Durban ocean front.

The Ardmore artists have also produced some striking Zebra jugs inspired by French Majolica jugs from the 19th century that Fée discovered on her travels. She is pictured with a monumental Ardmore example on her last visit to WMODA.

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Out of Africa into WMODA · November 15th

There are many wise African sayings about unity and community. Ardmore Ceramic Art in South Africa works in the spirit of Ubuntu, meaning we are because of others. Another African proverb advises “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The Ardmore artists follow these principles of unity in their collaborative approach to ceramic art. Hear more about this extraordinary community of artists from our special guest Fiso Radebe at our next Ardmore event Out of Africa into WMODA on November 15th.

Fée Halsted, the founder and artistic director of Ardmore, inspires the artists with her fertile imagination and mentors her team through the production process. A skillful thrower forms the initial vessel on the potter’s wheel and then a sculptor adds animals, birds, fruit, and foliage with visions from his life experiences and photographs from reference books.  Recently a group of the most talented artists went on safari to more closely study their animal subjects in their natural habitat.

The modeled piece is then fired in the kiln to the biscuit stage and a painter is chosen to complete the work of art. Each Ardmore artist has a different style and over the years some brilliant working relationships, full of trust and mutual respect, have developed between the most accomplished sculptors and painters. Finally, the piece is glazed and fired in the glost kiln, sometimes with interesting contrasts between shiny and matt surfaces to highlight the unique textures of animal fur and feathers.

One of my favorite African expressions about unity and community  is “Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.” The Ardmore artists have obviously mastered the crocodile as evidenced by their entertaining float of crocodile riders. Incongruous pairings of intrepid African travelers and wild animals have become a popular feature of the Ardmore collection. Come see the Ardmore exhibit at our Out of Africa event.

Out of Africa Into WMODA event…

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A Royal Experience

Tea parties at WMODA are elegant affairs with dainty sandwiches, scones and desserts served on Royal Albert tableware. Royal Albert was founded in Stoke-on-Trent in 1896 and is renowned internationally for producing fine bone china tea-wares with floral decoration inspired by English country gardens.

The Albert china factory was named after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, and in 1897 the company received the royal warrant for creating commemorative china for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Over the years, Royal Albert’s beautiful floral tea patterns ranged from Victorian chintz to Art Deco designs for the jazz age. Their Old Country Roses pattern is the world’s best-selling china, with more than 130 million pieces sold, and has been made by Royal Albert for 55 years.

Inspired by the rich heritage of the archives, new floral designs have been created with vintage appeal for today’s market. Most recently, the new Friendship collection, in partnership with supermodel Miranda Kerr, has brought catwalk glamor to the collection. Since 1972, Royal Albert has been part of the Royal Doulton group, famous for their china figurine collection. Many collectors seek out the teatime figurines, such as Four o’ Clock and Afternoon Tea which can be seen in our Art of Tea exhibition. Afternoon tea is a favorite pastime for Michael Doulton, our guest of honor at WMODA on November 9th. Join us for a truly “royal” experience to rival Downton Abbey!

Join us for our next afternoon tea at WMODA…

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Halloween Howl

During the roaring twenties, party-goers loved to dress up in devilish costumes. A favorite was Mephistopheles, a demon who corrupts men and collects the souls of the damned for Lucifer. The demon appears in the German legend of Faust, who wagers his soul to the devil and seduces the innocent Marguerite.

There are many literary works exploring this age-old conflict between good and evil. Goethe’s play of Dr. Faust was staged in London in 1885 with the celebrated Victorian acting duo, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, in the leading roles. Charles Noke, who had just started his career as a ceramic sculptor, was so impressed by their virtuoso performances that he modeled them into an unusual double-sided figure for Doulton’s of Burslem in 1890. Noke’s Vellum porcelain figure closely resembles a monumental wooden sculpture now in the Salar Jung museum in India – but which came first?

Mephistopheles joined Royal Doulton’s HN figure collection in the 1920s and later became a double-faced character jug, smiling on one side and scowling on the other. The demon also inspired several striking porcelain figures by Karl Tutter for Hutschenreuther and Karl Ens of Germany.

Masquerade costumes with scarlet cloaks and devil’s horns became all the rage with mischievous flappers and vamps and were reproduced as Art Deco porcelain figurines by German and British porcelain artists. For instance, Leslie Harradine’s striking figure of Mephisto for Royal Doulton holds a devil’s mask in her hand.

The Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus “Revenge of the Bat”, first performed in the late 19th century, inspired bat style outfits for vaudeville reviews and costume parties.  Royal Doulton’s Marietta bears a close resemblance to the Edwardian music hall star Alice Delysia, who caused a sensation in her figure-hugging bat costume. Maybe one of the bewitching porcelain sculptures at WMODA will inspire your Halloween costume.

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Ghosts & Ghouls

As Halloween approaches, we are highlighting some of the spookier pieces in the WMODA collections. One of the most sinister is Ghostly Wood designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones for Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre collection. Daisy derived images from the Legend of Croquemitaine illustrated by Gustave Doré in 1866, as well as fairy tale illustrations by H.J. Ford.

This French fairy tale is based on the legendary exploits of the Emperor Charlemagne and his courageous god-daughter Mitaine. In France, a croque-mitaine is also a bogy used to frighten children to make them wiser about evil and danger. In the story, Mitaine sets out to find the identity of Croquemitaine, her arch enemy who lives in the Fortress of Fear.

In Daisy’s adaption, Mitaine visits the Land of Illusion where trees drip blood and shriek and howl as she approaches. They have demon’s heads instead of leaves, bats hanging on their branches and nests made of dead men’s bones. Drifting everywhere are wailing spirits, holding the flaming candles of their souls, as they have failed to conquer the Fortress of Fear and are doomed to live forever in the Land of Illusion.

Daisy describes her scary scenes in the booklet Some Glimpses of Fairyland, which was published by Wedgwood in 1923. In addition to the shrouded candle corpses, some of the Ghostly Wood vases show the White Rabbit who, according to Daisy, is “more than a trifle scared by these apparitions, hurrying across to earth to guide the immortal Alice to Wonderland. All fairy animals are white with pink eyes and act as messengers between the realms of Earth and Faerie.”

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Teatime Scandal

Sensational scandals have long inspired lively conversation around the tea table. Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria, is credited with starting the traditional English afternoon tea party in the 1840s. Apparently she was no stranger to gossip.

The Duchess experienced a sinking feeling in the late afternoon between meals and began to offer sandwiches and a refreshing cup of tea to her lady friends. No doubt she kept the ladies enthralled for an hour or so before dinner with tales of her life as “Lady of the Bedchamber” to the Queen. She was personally involved in a scandal when she blemished the reputation of an innocent lady by spreading false rumors about her pregnancy.  In the 1880s, George Tinworth, the first Doulton artist, modeled a figure group at a tea party entitled Scandal, reputedly hosted by Sir Henry Doulton’s wife. He also portrayed his famous mice taking tea as a parody of the original salt-glazed stoneware sculpture.

Join us for some good old fashioned gossip at the Art of Tea Event…

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