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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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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