I think I’m the last person on the internet to discover the work of London-based Chilean artist Livia Marin, but I don’t care: I must feature these examples of melting ceramics (in the classic Willow pattern) because they are just so cool. We have a healthy tea culture here in Salem, and I can just picture a tea party with whole pieces on my dining room table and a display of these pieces on the mantle. According to the statement on her website, Marin “employs everyday objects to inquire into the nature of how we relate to material objects in an era dominated by standardization and global circulation” in order to “offer a reflection on the relationship we develop with those often unseen objects that meet our daily needs”: a much more thoughtful approach to my own preoccupation with the art (and history of course) of the everyday. I suppose I could come up with a long essay on how these objects are emblematic of the China Trade and all the myriad consequences of European imperialism, but really, I just like the way they look.
Tag Archives: Pottery
Given that today marks the birthday of one of the most important naturalists in world history, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778, also know as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus), the so-called “Pliny of the North”, “Flower King”, “Second Adam”, and perhaps most objectively “Father of Taxonomy”, I thought if would feature his namesake favorite flower, Linnaea borealis, more commonly known as the twinflower. I’ve been searching for this plant for my own garden for some time, but it has remained elusive. Linnaeus didn’t discover this rather humble plant, a native of the northern regions of his ancestral Sweden, but almost as soon as he gained fame and titles for his work he adopted it as his personal emblem. His constant commemoration, in Sweden and elsewhere, often encompasses the twinflower–first among all of the other specimens he classified in his groundbreaking system of binomial nomenclature.
Bust of Linnaeus with twinflowers, Dictionnaire pittoresque d’histoire naturelle et des phénomènes de la nature (1833-1839); Portraits of Linnaeus, twinflowers in hand, by Martin Hoffman (Wellcome Library) and Mrs. Anderson (1858; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew).
In tribute to Linnaeus, the linnaea borealis is the national flower of Sweden, and so it can be found everywhere: on fabrics, pottery, calendars, and cocktail napkins. All of those things are available over here too, and the plants apparently, but I just can’t find one. I know they will grow here in Massachusetts, I’ve picked out a lovely little place among the woodland plants in the back of my garden, but it remains linnaea-less. The long Memorial Day weekend is always a big nursery/gardening time for me, so I’ll try, try again, but I don’t have much hope: I might have to be satisfied with material substitutes. Anyway, on this appropriately beautiful May day, a toast to Carl Linnaeus, without whom we would all be wandering around in a very chaotic world of nature, and to his beloved twinflower!
ASDA photograph of twinflowers by Allison Brown; teaching slide from the Annals of Botany, “Limited mate availability decreases reproductive success of fragmented populations of Linnaea borealis, a rare, clonal self–incompatible plant” (maybe this explains my problem! Limited mate availability! Self-incompatible!); felted twinflowers on Art that‘s Felt; a portfolio of Linnaea Borealis porcelain from Hackefors and Svaneholm.
I’ve always been a hunter and gatherer of old stuff, and the first “collection” I assembled while still in my early 20s was of nineteenth-century pearlware children’s plates, primarily ABC and nursery plates intended for instruction and edification: I had quite a few of Franklin’s Maxims, a few domestic scenes, animals, and lots of Robinson Crusoe: I still have the latter, one elephant plate, and a fortune-telling scene, but I sold off the rest a decade or so, along with all of my transferware. When I was hunting around for these little plates, I remember seeing some that were a bit political, and wondering: why would children care about free trade? But slavery was a far more passionate and accessible topic, and quite a few abolitionist ABC plates appeared in the mid nineteenth-century, especially after the production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These plates were produced primarily in Britain for the northern American market, and the Staffordshire potteries had the dual motivation of meeting (and perhaps creating) demand in America while presenting themselves as morally superior to their cousins across the Atlantic: there is an amazing transfer-printed jug in the collection of the Winterthur Museum which advertises all the available patterns along with one scene in which showing “Britannia Protecting the Africans”. The British were so very clever at catering to both sides in the struggle over slavery in America: preaching to the North while buying cotton from the South! The Winterthur collection also contains an anti-slavery ABC plate based on the work of Mary Belson Elliot, “blending sound Christian principles with cheerful cultivation”, and a popular children’s mug first sold at the 1846 Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Fair, along with the wonderful Anti-Slavery Alphabet produced by the Townsend sisters.
From the Winterthur Museum Collections: Staffordshire pearlware jug made by Christopher Whitehead, c. 1817-1819, ABC plate, c. 1800-1830, and child’s mug, c. 1795-1865; Pages from the Anti-Slavery Alphabet of Philadelphia sisters Hannah and Mary Townsend, 1846.
The particular plate that returned my attention to ABC plates in general and anti-slavery ABC products in particular is a lot in the upcoming Memorial Day Auction at Northeast Auctions: “Gathering Cotton”. This is a Staffordshire plate as well, but produced later than the Winterthur pieces (between 1850 and 1865) and its meaning/purpose is far less straightforward: I can’t tell if it’s for or against slavery! With children front and center, I assume it is anti-, but it projects a far less strident message than other plates that were produced at this time, primarily based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with scenes such as “The Buyer and Seller of the Human Article” and “Uncle Tom Whipped to Death” depicted. Once the Civil War began, the messaging of ABC plates became even more straightforward, with simple depictions of Union generals produced, of course, in Great Britain.
“Gathering Cotton” and other mid-nineteenth century Staffordshire ABC plates, from the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Decorative Arts Database, referenced in two great articles: Louise L. Stevenson’s “Virtue Displayed: the Tie-Ins of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (available here), and Jill Weitzman Fenichell’s “Fragile Lessons: Ceramic and Porcelain Representations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (available here). “The Arrival of General McClellan” Staffordshire ABC plate, Cowan’s Auctions.
I must admit that I stole the title of this post from the online shelter magazine Lonny: I couldn’t resist, but it is so obvious you would think I could have come up with it myself! In terms of content, however: my bowls are very different from theirs. Not being a big fan of either football in general or the Super Bowl in particular, I have to seek alternative activities for this weekend and shopping for or merely seeking material objects always works for me. As bowls are probably the most utilitarian object around–perhaps even more so than plates–there was a big sea to navigate but nevertheless I came up with a top ten list pretty quickly. My preferences run to antique with glazed or embellished finishes–I am currently obsessed with silver lustreware–but a touch of subtle iridescence or whimsy on a bowl of any vintage will always catch my eye.
Okay, let’s get a big more realistic: I might be able to swing for the silver lustreware bowl but certainly not the mochaware one. I have a pantry full of Mason Cash bowls, so I certainly don’t need any more, but I like basic yellow ware bowls, both old and new, particularly the white-banded variety. Many modern potters seem to produce updated creamware bowls, in a variety of interesting shapes and glazes.
Two cute cereal bowls: buttons and Dali.
And finally, the best bowl haircut of all time: on the heroic, short-lived King Henry V (1387-1422): as depicted in a portrait by an unknown artist in the late Tudor era–an age which fixed his image for all time.
Henry V, © National Portrait Gallery, London
We spent Thanksgiving up in my hometown of York Harbor, Maine, which is only about an hour north of Salem. When we arrived York looked very different than still-green Salem, coated in icy snow. Many people in the southern counties of Maine and adjacent counties of New Hampshire lost their power due to a Thanksgiving-eve snowstorm, but we were fortunate to have light and heat and lots of food and drink. While waiting to eat on Thanksgiving Day, we took a drive around the grey town: York (encompassing York Harbor, York Village, York Beach and Cape Neddick) is a summer town and it always looks strikingly stark to me in the winter. I’ve also got some pictures of my stepmother’s Thanksgiving table here–before we messed it up. When we returned to Salem, all was icy and white but today is forecasted for the 50s so the terrain is returning to that golden brownish-green hue so characteristic of November.
This cat o’nine tail exploded before we left; the rest burst while we were away (just one day and night!) Impossible to clean up all this fluff.
Thanksgiving table: Della Robbia plates and Shaker chairs.
Fifty shades of grey off Nubble Light.
White on white: one of my favorite houses in York, and the gargoyle outside my parents’ house.
My favorite childhood painting.
Back home; sunny Sunday.
The amalgamated Holidays officially kick in this week, so it’s time to think about festive things to eat and drink. Last year at this time, I seemed preoccupied with the latter, but now I’m thinking about food. I came across my grandmother’s recipe for molasses cookies–very thin, crispy and buttery, my absolute favorite, and started wondering about the principal ingredient. There must have been tons of it here in Salem in the nineteenth century, as it was the key ingredient in rum production and there were so many distilleries here. I know that molasses was imported into New England from the West Indies in the colonial era, but it think there were domestic refineries in the nineteenth century: was it produced in Salem? If so, where? Molasses-making is a messy business: was Salem ever in danger of experiencing its own version of the disastrous 1919 Great Molasses Flood in Boston? And what about consumption (besides rum): molasses does seem to have been much more in demand a century or so ago than now: why? There are so many recipes out there–for Black Jacks, still produced by America’s oldest candy shop, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie right here in Salem, as well as for another local molasses creation, Anadama bread, not to mention Indian Pudding, Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread. Molasses seems to be as characteristically New England or “Boston” as the Red Sox. Then the English historian in me kicked in and I confronted the age-old question: what’s the difference between molasses and treacle? Then the sixteenth-century historian in me kicked in, and I wondered what was the connection between molasses and the root of that old English word treacle, theriac, which was sold as a powerful panacea across early modern Europe. And just like that, my mind had wandered/wondered from cookies and candy to plague cures.
Advertisement for the famous Mary Jane molasses and peanut butter candy, made first by the Charles N. Miller Company in Boston in 1914 and later by the New England Confectionery Company (Necco).
The migration of medieval medical recipes into the culinary sphere was not always a straightforward process, but it’s best to proceed from the past rather than the other way around. Theriac was an ancient electuary (medicinal paste) used first and foremost as an antidote to venomous snake bites. In the classic case of fighting fire with fire, The flesh of the snakes themselves was an essential ingredient, along with lots of others–64 in all in the classic Galenic recipe. In the course of the Renaissance, theriac was compounded to various formulas and came to be regarded as a universal antidote and panacea, with that produced in Venice generally regarded as the most effective, and the most expensive, naturally. As poison was associated with plague in the late medieval medical mentality, so theriac became the key plague antidote and consequently its preparation was serious business: under official supervision to ensure the proper process and correct composition.
Theriac preparation from snakes (the origins of snake oil???) from the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach, Mainz, 1491; woodcut illustration by Hieronymus Brunschwig of a physician supervising the manufacture of theriac by an apothecary, Liber de Arte Distillandi de Compositis, 1512, and seventeenth-century Italian majolica theriac jar, Wellcome Library.
Despite its (undeserved) reputation for efficacy, Venetian theriac could not crowd out the market in plague cures and regional recipes began to develop. In England, there were several major developments in the use and perception of theriac over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: in typical English fashion, the foreign word had long been anglicized as “treacle”, and “Venetian Treacle” became an ingredient in variant plague cures and preservatives, rather than the exclusive antidote at about the same time that the London College of Pharmacists ruled that treacle need not contain snakes, and treacle (sans Venetian) started appearing in both medicinal and culinary recipes. Everything really changed–or came together–in the course of the seventeenth century, an era that was characterized by many, many recipes for “treacle water” as well as increasing imports of refined sugar from the West Indies, along with its by-products. These sweeter syrups, collectively called treacle, began to replace honey in the medicinal “London Treacle”, at about the same time that they started to appear as key ingredients in recipes for gingerbread, tarts, and puddings. So treacle comes to mean any syrup made during the sugar-refining process: black treacle, golden syrup, blackstrap, and molasses–all of which were relatively cheap ways to sweeten your plague water or your pudding. There were also treacle “lozenges” that soothed the throat and provided a bit of “sweatmeat” at the same time, and a recipe for gingerbread cakes that closely resembles that for my grandmother’s molasses cookies.
A mid-17th century recipe for Treacle water containing Venice Treacle and less exotic ingredients, Wellcome Library Manuscripts; recipes from Mary Kettilby’s Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses (1714–Thick Gingerbread) and Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747–Gingerbread Cakes); The two British treacles: plain treacle or “golden syrup” and “black treacle”, the closest approximation of American molasses.
The acquisitive instinct in me has been kicking in lately, which I think is a good thing. I’ve been working very hard for the past year or so, and focusing on more material things gives my mind a rest. It’s really all about the search: I don’t have to buy, I can just look (really)! Looking around, I get little short-lived obsessions, and right now I’m very focused on the creations of the prolific artistic partnership of Kahn/Selesnick, whose work spans decades and genres and explores a myriad of alternative historical and futuristic themes in ways that are both conceptually and visually panoramic. Be prepared to be submerged into other worlds if you check out their website or those of any of the galleries that showcase their work, most of which is way beyond my ability to acquire except, perhaps, for a few of their Green Men. When I was browsing around the online shop of the Morbid Anatomy Museum (which has quite an eclectic collection, let me assure you), I became immediately fixated on the Kahn/Selesnick calendar plates, which feature a different Green Man for each month, and then I was off on a mission in search of more.
I think I can swing one or two plates (of course I want them all) but the Green Man photographs are a bit too dear for me. I would love a few of the amazing hand-colored “souvenir” playing cards from Kahn & Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt (a fictitious independent city-state located on a Baltic iceberg in the 1920s) series, but they seem to be long sold out, so I suppose my only paper option is a seed pack designed by the dynamic duo for Hudson Valley Seed Library. I can frame it!
Kahn/ Selesnick “On a Flowering Path” and “The Green God” photographs @ the Carrie Haddad Gallery; Eisbergfreistadt playing cards at the Kahn/Selesnick online store; and sunflower seed pack at Hudson Valley Seed Library. More Green Men.