The Great Dragon

The Great Dragon by Lladró is one of the showstoppers at WMODA. The museum piece is a unique colorway of the High Porcelain sculpture modeled by Francisco Polope in 2008. In Chinese culture, dragons are powerful and benevolent symbols unlike the aggressive fire-breathing dragons of Western mythology. They control water, rainfall, typhoons and floods and represent prosperity and good luck. Maybe it is an auspicious sign that WMODA came through Hurricane Irma without damage!

Francisco Polope has modeled many of the prestige Lladró sculptures that are so much admired at WMODA, including Winged Beauty, Arion on a Seahorse and Bacchante on a Panther.   The High Porcelain collection represents the zenith of Lladró’s technical achievements with complex modeling and intricate hand-painted enameling. The photograph of the Great Dragon is by Mike Brodie our much appreciated volunteer photographer.

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Rainbow Glass

Toots Zynsky pioneered a technique for weaving thousands of fine glass threads into undulating shapes which she calls filet de verre. Her preference for vibrant, opaque glass creates a painterly use of color. “It’s really like painting”, says Toots. “It is an identical thought process – the way you build up a painting or drawing.”

Toots arranges the colored strands of glass into disks which are molded and slumped into vessels during multiple kiln firings. Toots then tugs, twists and squeezes her rhythmic  shapes into sinuous and sensuous forms which resemble shells, flowers or unfurling fabrics.

In her experimental use of color, Toots has been influenced by her love of music and dance. In her words, “When I hear music, it translates into color”. She strives to create a synthesis of sound and color in her work with subtle movements and variations. In 1984, she was deeply influenced by her 6 month research project to record the living music of Ghana, West Africa. There she fell in love with the patterns and saturated colors of the region’s Kente textiles.  Kente, meaning “basket cloth”, is hand-woven silk fabric which was originally worn by Akan kings and the names, colors and patterns are all highly symbolic. Some of her striated opalescent designs reflect all the colors of the rainbow, while others use a more concentrated and potent monochrome palette.

Toots Zynksky was a seminal figure in the Studio Glass movement during the 1970s. Her verve and passion for the medium was ignited at the pioneering Rhode Island School of Design where she was taught by Chihuly. She was active in the early development of the Pilchuck Glass school and Urban Glass in New York.  In her words, “Glassmaking was wide open, hot glass slipped through the air, pulled and stretched. There was music and the furnaces were roaring… and everyone was working in concert. Everything was possible, and there was so much to be discovered. There were no rules, you could do anything you wanted to.”

Toots took a break from glass-making to explore other materials that didn’t require a hot-shop and she lived in Europe for nearly two decades. Since returning to the USA in 1999, she has become one of the country’s leading glass artists. In 2015, she received the Visionary Award from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and she officiated at the 2016 Smithsonian Craft show where Chihuly was honored. Arthur Wiener and Louise Irvine enjoyed meeting Toots on this occasion when WMODA presented the Macchia forest as the centerpiece of the National Building Museum. Recently Toots was able to diversify her repertoire of techniques and expand her understanding of materials material at a specialty residency at the Corning Museum of Glass

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The Lion’s Share

Visitors to WMODA often ask about the majestic lion which greets them at reception. The terracotta lion was modeled by John Broad for Royal Doulton and some were originally sited beside statues of Queen Victoria which were erected in Britain after her death in 1901.

At Newbury in Berkshire, a memorial to Queen Victoria guarded by four lions was presented to the town by “Lord’ George Sanger of circus fame and unveiled in the market square in 1903 in the presence of a live lion held on a chain. The Queen and four Royal Doulton lions now reside in a nearby park.

Terracotta, which literally means “cooked earth” was a popular building material at the turn of the last century. The Doulton factory at Lambeth in London was a major supplier in Victorian Britain. As well as monuments of all types, they produced terracotta blocks with sculptured decoration for buildings. One of their most famous commissions was Harrod’s department store in London with imposing sculptures by John Broad on the pediment.

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The Dancer

The Dancer was gifted to WMODA by Caroline D’Antonio and is one of the rarest Royal Doulton figures in the collection. It was modeled by Charles J. Noke after the dancer Loïe Fuller, who was the toast of the Folies Bergères in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. La Loie, the Electric Fairy, became a blazing symbol of the Belle Epoque and the personification of the new aesthetic styles of Art Nouveau and Symbolism.

Miss Fuller was born Marie-Louise in 1862 on a farm in the American Midwest and began her stage career in the boom town of Chicago as a child performer in melodrama, farce and burlesque. Supposedly, she created her famous Serpentine dance in 1887 after she became tangled in her long dress and avoided falling by spinning the fabric in graceful gestures. Her ground-breaking choreography progressed into a frenzied manipulation of dramatically lit fabric supported by bamboo poles to elongate her arms. Her swirling, voluminous silk costumes and magical lighting effects seemed to transform her into a butterfly or a lily. When imitators copied her radical new dance style, Loïe moved to Paris where she dazzled new audiences at the Folies Bergères. The Dancer movie, released in Europe last year, tells the story of her career including her relationship with her star protégée, Isadora Duncan.

La Loïe was written about, painted and sculpted by most of the important artists in Paris, including Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha and Auguste Rodin.  Ceramicists were also inspired by her sensational performances, notably Agathon Leonard who designed a set of 15 dancing figures for Sèvres. The figures were shown at the Paris exhibition of 1900 where they sold out and were re-issued several times during the 9 months of the fair.  They were also produced in bronze editions of different quantities and sizes. The Sèvres dancers in turn inspired Charles Noke to produce his Royal Doulton dancer which joined the HN collection in 1920. The figure does not appear to have gone into full production as only two are known to exist.

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The Fairyland Lustre collection at WMODA is one of the most comprehensive in the world. Virtually every shape and pattern made by the Wedgwood factory during the 1920s is on display. Now, one of the sought after designs has joined the collection  – a Malfrey pot with the Bubbles design.

Daisy Makeig-Jones developed the Fairyland Lustre designs in 1915 and  they were hugely successful for Wedgwood’s  luxury market until the Great Depression in the 1930s affected American sales and Daisy was fired. The production method was highly complex and expensive involving up to six firings of metallic compounds combined with oils and resins  to achieve the glimmering iridescent lustre effects.

Daisy’s fairy folk covert in a Celtic twilight of fantasy forests with trees and cobwebs intricately outlined in gold. She derived many of her fabulous designs from fairy tale books illustrated by Henry Justice Ford, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen which were very popular in the early 1900s when there was a fascination for fairyland and all its denizens. To elaborate on her work, Daisy wrote Some Glimpses of Fairyland, in which she presented her own versions of popular fairy tales from around the world, and invented new ones.

At first glance, the Bubbles design looks charming with fairies blowing bubbles by a lake. However, the story from Daisy’s 1921 booklet is quite sinister and tells of the Nix or water elf who owns everything that falls into the lake including the souls of people who have drowned. When they are freed, they rise up to the surface in bubbles and escape into the tree tops where they encounter Arachne, the spider, who eats elves and fairies when she catches them.

Daisy produced two versions of her Bubbles design, the first of which was derived from the story of Kwannon or Kuan Yin, the Divine Mother in the Myths and Legends of Japan by Hadland Davis published in 1912. The Japanese Goddess poured the water of creation from a crystal phial and the holy water fell in a series of bubbles containing little babies. The scene is depicted on a silk panel by the 19th century Japanese artist, Kano Hagai, which is described in the book.

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Chihuly Hamptons Event Featured in The Southampton Press

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Lovesick Pierrot

Pierrot is a stock character of the Commedia dell’Arte who became well known for his improvised performances as the Italian comedy spread across Europe in the 17th century. He is generally portrayed as a sad clown, pining for the love of Columbine who usually breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin. Pierrot is a buffoon and is often the butt of jokes and pranks but he is also endearing, trusting and naïve.

Unlike the other characters from the Commedia dell’Arte, Pierrot generally performs unmasked with a whitened face. His distinctive costume includes a loose white blouse with a frilled collar and wide pantaloons. On his head, he wears a wide round-brimmed hat, a conical dunce’s cap, or a black skull cap favored by the great French mime artist Jean-Gaspard Deburau, who epitomized Pierrot in the early 1800s.

During the romantic era of the 19th century, Pierrot inspired French artists such as Antoine Watteau, and embodied the alter-ego of alienated artists, such as Pablo Picasso. Troupes of musicians in Pierrot costumes performed at British beach resorts in the early 20th century and the white-faced clown became a familiar figure in advertising for products as diverse as cigarettes and washing powder. Many European ceramic companies portrayed Pierrot in pottery and porcelain, including Rosenthal of Germany and Royal Doulton of England. They depicted famous performers in the role, such as Enrico Caruso, or party going revelers of the Art Deco era masquerading as Pierrot and Pierrette. Our newly acquired collection of European porcelain Pierrot clowns will be featured in our next exhibition opening in the Fall. I will also include lots of entertaining characters from the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte and the Venetian Carnival.

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Richard Garbe (1876-1957)

The solar eclipse on August 21st had us casting around the WMODA collection for astronomical connections. This striking Royal Doulton flask in the Art Deco Gallery depicts Endymion, who was the first person to observe the movements of the moon, according to Pliny the Elder. In Greek mythology, this handsome astronomer was the lover of Selene the moon, who is portrayed arousing him from his slumbers. The other side of this unique design by Richard Garbe features Aurora, goddess of the dawn, who announces the arrival of the sun each day.

Royal Doulton’s first limited edition figures in the 1930s were based on ivory and bronze sculptures exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and other venues by Richard Garbe, a distinguished Professor at the Royal College of Art. Garbe learned the art of ivory carving from his father, a Prussian ivory carver, and helped to revive this style of sculpture in Britain.

One of Garbe’s most complex works in ivory is Primavera now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and this carving inspired the Royal Doulton figure of Spring for which Doulton developed a special ivory porcelain body. An edition of 100 of this exquisite figure was introduced in 1934 but like most of Garbe’s work for Royal Doulton, few have survived.

Richard Garbe favored subjects from classical mythology, such as Endymion the lover of Selene the moon. His sculpture of West Wind depicts the Greek god Zephyr, the gentlest of the four winds which heralds Spring and his Spirit of the Wind features a wind-swept Greek goddess in diaphanous robes. Garbe also modeled porcelain masks which were a popular form of wall decoration in the Art Deco era. His study of Lachesis, was inspired by one of the three fates in Greek religion who determines the destiny or thread of life. The Royal Doulton masks of Fate in ivory, green and gold glazes were based on a bronze original.

One of the most spectacular sculptures in the Art Deco gallery at WMODA is the bust of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven with his muses, which was reproduced in terracotta and ivory stoneware at the Royal Doulton factory. Garbe also designed a monumental jardinière for Doulton and a garden statue of a Sea Lion in salt-glaze stoneware which was based on his 1929 stone carving in the Tate Gallery in London. A smaller version of the Sea Lion is displayed at WMODA.

Garbe was a pupil of the Central School of Arts and Crafts when it first opened in 1896 and returned to teach there before being appointed Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 1929. He worked with the Doulton factories in Lambeth and Stoke-on-Trent between 1933 and 1939 and designed sculptures for limited reproduction in salt-glazed stoneware and porcelain. Later, Garbe worked for the Wedgwood factory and three of his designs were put into production in 1941.

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A Tale of Two Vases

by Louise Irvine

The world’s largest Doulton vase is on display at WMODA. It stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and was commissioned by the Gaekwar of Baroda, an Indian prince who was the sixth richest man in the world in the 1890s. He came regularly to London to shop and was a great admirer of Doulton’s Faience wares made at their Lambeth studio. The prince ordered several Doulton masterpieces for his new palace in Baroda, two of which are on display at WMODA.

The monumental Doulton vase features a profusion of exotic flowers and palms painted in golden tones by Miss Florence Lewis, the head artist in Doulton’s Faience painting department. When the Gaekwar’s commission vase came out of the kiln, it was found to have some slight firing flaws in the glaze so Sir Henry Doulton shipped it instead to the 1893 Chicago World Fair where it was the crowning glory of their exhibit. A second vase was made for the Maharaja Sayakirao Gaekwad III, which is believed to be the one now at WMODA.

A World-Record Vase

It is not clear whether the Gaekwar’s commission ever made it to India as research requests to the Baroda archives have drawn a blank so far. When his new Laxmi Vilas palace was completed in the 1890s, it was the largest private dwelling ever built and was four times the size of Buckingham Palace. The gigantic Doulton vase came up for auction at Christie’s of London in 1986 and caused a sensation when it was sold to an anonymous bidder for the world-record price of £31,668. Recently, we discovered from Skinner’s auctioneer Stuart Slavid that it was purchased by the Warner LeRoy family, who owned the Tavern on the Green in Central Park, NY. Does anyone have a photo of the vase in this setting before it was sold in 2009? The vase was auctioned again at Skinner’s in Boston in 2011 and acquired by Arthur Wiener. For some years, it was displayed in his Hamptons home before coming to WMODA where it astonishes visitors in the reception area.

An Exhibition Triumph

The original vase, that was shipped to the 1893 Chicago World Fair, contributed greatly to Doulton’s phenomenal exhibition success. Chicago was a triumph for Sir Henry Doulton, who challenged his artists: “Be first or not at all, for to be second is to be nowhere”. They certainly marked his words with their exhibits which won seven awards, more than any other potter. The centerpiece was sold to the ladies of the North Western University Guild at the end of the exhibition. The Guild was founded in 1892 to promote art in the university and the community and the founding ladies raised money to beautify the campus. Their impressive pottery and porcelain collection was started with treasures from the World Fair and they negotiated some great bargains from the overseas exhibitors so that they did not have to pack and ship their pieces home.  It is recorded that the ladies visited the Doulton pavilion 23 times throughout the exposition and that the representative, Mr. Ford, was no less charming on their last visit as on the first! The monumental Doulton vase was priced at $6,000, a staggering sum at the time, but the shrewd ladies acquired it for just $500 plus duty.

A Display of Technical Virtuosity

For many years, the pride of the Guild’s collection was displayed in their lounge at the Lunt Library but it was crated up when the university needed more space in 1915. Together with other World’s Fair acquisitions, the vase was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in 1940 where it languished in their basement for many years. At the museum’s 50th anniversary in 1983, visitors could view parts of the vase highlighting the processes involved in creating this monumental manufacturing feat, which weighs in the region of 500 pounds.  The baluster shaped vase was wheel-thrown in three parts: the neck,  the body, which is 2 feet 6 inches in diameter with two handles attached at the shoulders, and the foot.  Negotiations to loan the vase back to the Guild took place in time to celebrate their 95th anniversary and I had the honor of unveiling the vase at a gala event in 1987.  The Chicago vase is now back at the Museum of Science and Industry where it can be seen today.

A Remarkable Artist

Miss Florence Lewis, the painter of the twin vases, was one of Doulton’s most accomplished artists. She worked at the Minton Art Pottery Studio in London before joining Doulton’s new Art Pottery in Lambeth around 1874. Miss Lewis became supervisor of Doulton’s Faience department in 1880, training the younger woman artists, and in 1883 she wrote a book about china painting for amateur and professional students. Her work was admired by Queen Victoria, who bought a tea service decorated with primroses in 1887. She won many medals and accolades during her career including a silver medal at the International Health Exhibition of 1884 and the Princess Alice prize at the Howell and James exhibition of 1879 for a plaque purchased by the Empress of Germany. John Sparkes, Principal of the Lambeth School of Art said of her work: “She has a remarkable power of design and a skill in painting that is seldom surpassed. Her designs are of flowers, foliage and birds and whether she is working out a large design or a small tile her energy and power are equally apparent.”

Royal Magnificence

The talents of Miss Lewis can be appreciated also in a second vase made for the Gaekwar, which is on display in the Royal Doulton Gallery at WMODA. This vase, which stands 4 feet 6 inches tall, was designed by Mark Marshall and painted with tropical flowers by Florence Lewis. The Doulton Lambeth factory also made a salt-glazed stoneware playing fountain for the gardens of the Gaekwar’s palace and painted several other Faience vases and jardinières. One day, we hope to discover more about the history of all these works of art originally destined for India.

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A Visit to Ardmore

The highlight of my travels to South Africa is always a visit to Ardmore Ceramic Art in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Although I have been there many times, I never cease to be enthralled by the wit and ingenuity of Fée and the Ardmore artists in this magical place.  Visiting the studio has been described as tumbling into a Henri Rousseau painting alive with African birds, beasts, and patterns. I also feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into a Wonderland filled with weird creatures and circumstances. Majestic elephants dance daintily on their hind legs and mischievous monkeys ride hippos through crocodile infested swamps – Ardmore makes you smile at every turn.

The Ardmore studio is located at the confluence of two rivers in a lush pastoral landscape. Even in mid-winter, the African sun beats down and bakes the clay models straight from the sculptors’ studio before they are fired in the kiln. Fée delights in showing off all the new work created by the Ardmore sculptors and painters. During my visit, some of the painters were putting the finishing touches to an exhibition inspired by the Okavango Delta, one of the natural wonders of Africa. Others were working on some “Big Five” animal pieces for exhibition in America. The Big Five animals in Africa are the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. Big-game hunters coined the name to describe the five most difficult and dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Subsequently, the term was adopted by African tour operators to highlight the animals to be seen on wildlife safaris. Over the years, the Ardmore artists have incorporated the Big Five into many of their designs. Here is Jabu Nene pictured with her latest Big Five masterpiece in honor of National Women’s Day in South Africa which is celebrated on August 9th.

Women’s Day is an annual public holiday which commemorates the 1956 march of 20,000 South African women against the country’s pass laws during the apartheid era. The women left bundles of petitions at the office doors of the Prime Minister in Pretoria and sang a protest song composed in honor of the occasion. In the years since the march, the catch phrase of the protest song “you strike a woman, you strike a rock” has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa. Women play a major role at Ardmore. As well as the founder Fee Halsted, and her daughters Catherine and Megan, there are around 50 talented female artists working in the studio today.

Catherine showed me how the designs for the Zambesi fabric collection are derived from Ardmore ceramics by adapting vivacious patterns created by leading artists, such as Punch Shabalala. The Monkey Bean and Lovebird Leopard motifs have been transformed into elegant scatter cushions and there’s also a spectacular sofa with a cheeky monkey teasing a haughty leopard. I saw also how the fabulous new Ardmore wall paper designs for Cole & Son of England are now inspiring new ceramic masterpieces, such as Safari Dance and Leopard Walk. Lee Jofa, the distributors of Ardmore wallpapers in the United States, have donated a sample book of their wall coverings to WMODA, which you can browse while enjoying our exhibition of Ardmore ceramic art.

Catherine also told me all about her latest ventures with Hermès of Paris, who are launching a new silk scarf design this year called Flowers of Africa.  Ardmore is now in the swim of things at Hermès with their new collection of beachwear featuring the Savana Dance pattern. Look out for all the Ardmore swimwear and beach towels at Hermès boutiques and get ready for our Cultural Cruise to Cuba on board the Azamara Quest next March when Fée Halsted will be our special guest lecturer. Fée will also be one of our star artists at the 2018 International Ceramics and Glass Fair, which will be held at the Gallery of Amazing Things in conjunction with WMODA from March 2-8, 2018.

My visit also coincided with the Ardmore Winter School, which is now in its third year and draws young men and women from around Africa who are interested in pursuing a career in ceramic art. Over a period of three months, twenty students are taught clay sculpting and painting by Fée and the experienced Ardmore artist Wiseman Ndlovu. It is so rewarding to see the excitement and enthusiasm of these aspiring artists as they explore the medium of clay. For most it is the first time they have tried working with the material and their aptitude and potential are assessed as they develop the skills necessary to work at Ardmore. At the end of the course, the best students are invited to work at the studio under the mentorship of the senior artists. Fée has great ambitions for the Winter School and is raising money to build bigger and better facilities to accommodate more students. Let us know if you would like to help Fée create the next generation of Ardmore artists. Ardmore is an investment in art and happiness.

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