Monday, April 16, 2012

Pottery and Porcelain -- Day 99

Walk: R/T Mindful Body and into the wonderful Presidio Post Office (shhhh) to mail 2011 taxes
Distance: 8 blocks and yoga class

A cornerstone of the Fine Arts Museums' European decorative arts collection is a large and distinguished assemblage of 18th-century porcelain donated to the Fine Arts Museums by collectors Constance and Henry Bowles. Usually I react like fingernails on a blackboard to little, Victorian situations with cloying teacups, plates, tureens and saucers staring out at me like schoolmarms at boarding school. But, the few times I've gone into the gallery that houses the Bowles (and other donors') collection, I find myself becoming absolutely covetous of each smoothly luminous and delicate creation.

Even the smallest piece can transfix me with its shapeliness and exquisitely fragile beauty - like the little Worchester milk jug with lid and cream jug each with blue panels and dated ca 1770.

The large pieces, complex pieces are another type of wonder - like this Chelsea dovecote dated circa 1755-56.

Being interested in history and having spent some time this spring at lectures about Southwestern, Eskimo, Olmec and other early American pottery, I was curious about the relationship - if any - between it and English porcelain. And I learned among other things:

Of all Mother Earth's many gifts, few are more wondrous than clay. Properly cleaned, refined, tempered, cured and fired, clay can be shaped into containers for carrying water, for storing and cooking food, for religious as well as decorative objects. Not only is pottery one of humanity's oldest crafts, but it is also one of our oldest art forms.

In the past, the skill of pottery making was associated with Neolithic culture, with the development of agriculture and settled communities (6000 - 4000 BCE). However, Professor Marek Zvelebil and Lecturer Peter Jordan of the University of Sheffield have shown that pottery was being made by Asian hunter-gatherers 13,000 years ago. They believe knowledge of pottery-making spread from China into Japan and westward across northern Eurasia to Europe. (

Perhaps it is the constellation of all these ancient links with earth, ancient peoples, food, religion, first art forms with the finely evolved techniques and patient artistry of the English porcelain that elicits the covetousness, the deep wanting to have, in me.

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