My Atelier Van Eyk collection has been substantially enlarged with a recent find of a 27 piece service. For sure I now have the largest online collection by this potters duo. Hardly anything ever comes up on google, ebay or where ever, so I think this is not being presumptuous.
The service was beautifully made. Like the other two pieces I featured in earlier posts, these are terra sigillata dating from 1950. On the bottom of the coffee pot it is signed “Handmade Holland Van Eyk” (see picture at the bottom of this post). The service is quite modern in its appearance, functional and to the point. The decoration is of a nice simplicity and the whole set looks very unpretentious and effortless. The pieces feel very nice when you handle them. You can tell they were designed with their future user in mind, each piece fitting nicely into your hands and pleasant to the touch.
Despite of its modern simplicity, undoubtedly influenced by the Bauhaus design philosophy (planning to getting back to that in a later post), the service has a certain sweetness about it. It has a perfectly smooth surface, decorated with all these little dots which are about the same size and equally spaced right around the pieces. Notice the single dot on the top end of the handle of the little sugar spoon (see picture at the top of the post). The shapes are super basic and nicely proportioned, emphasizing and echoing the simple circular shape throughout the whole set. Also there is this nice balance between the white glazed surfaces and the red terra sigillata. It all fits perfectly and so much care seems to have been put in the design and execution of this service.
I think this is the special thing about handmade pottery as apposed to industrial pottery. Anton and Dorothea van Eyk actually made these pieces themselves. In all these subtle ways you can catch a glimpse of their spirit through the work of their minds and hands. The service shows such an artistic sensitivity and beauty in its simplicity, I absolutely love it.
The Filigran decor by Ruscha is probably one of the most desirable decors in West German pottery. From a picture it is not always easy to spot that this is actually an early (and very pretty) example of a commercially produced lava glaze. The amalgam of female figures, dear, fishes and loose geometric shapes are inscribed in the foamy off white glaze. My own little, treasured copy of the Filigran decor featuring in this post, is only 12 cm/4.7 inch tall, but as you can see it will fit a whole lot of decor on it. Sadly, the Filigran decor is not very photogenic. Its beauty is best appreciated ‘life’, but I did my best with the pictures to give you an idea.
The decor was supposedly quite difficult to get right. I can only guess this had something to do with the unpredictability of the lava glaze during its firing, in combination with the inscribed decor. For this reason the Filigran decor was only produced for a short period of time. Being pretty, being rare and being Ruscha, collectors are willing to pay a fair amount of money for this decor nowadays. Only Roth’s Guitar vases can (still) top this. But for all its rarity, somehow you can find a Filigran (as well as a Guitar vase) on Ebay any day of the week. So, providing you have the means, you can easily get your own copy.
Adele Bolz was the designer of the Filigran decor. She is quite well know to collectors of West German pottery, although her career as a decor designer was relatively short. She had started in ceramics after a career as a ballet dancer was stopped short, because of a severe illness she caught at the end of WWII. Not much is know of her education as a designer. In 1955 she began at Arno Kiechle, designing several popular decors for wall plates and vases in a multicolored engobe technique. Ruscha managed to get her over to their team in 1959. Next to the legendary Filigran decor, she made numerous pretty decors for Ruscha in the elegant style that became her hallmark. She left in 1963 for Ulmer Keramik, where she worked till her death in 1964 (aged 50).
A slightly wet gardening season is coming to an end and again it was not much of a tomato year I am afraid. Well, all I have to do now is watch the garden die gracefully in a blazing explosion of color (I love autumn) and move on to pottery season! Of course it is not like I totally forget about pots during spring and summertime. In fact, I managed to get hold of some really lovely pieces.
Here are three ashtrays, one in the shape of a pelikan and two shaped as fishes, from around 1956 by West German manufacturer Schmider. They are designs by Anneliese Beckh. She was Schmiders main designer between 1950 and 1983. Of course, nowadays you can find ashtrays in the weirdest shapes possible, but mostly on the kitsch side of the spectrum. Beckhs ashtrays still have a hint of Art Deco, in the choice of colors, the matte glaze and the stylized animal shapes. Also, pots in the weirdest shapes possible were not all that common in the 1950s. So, an ashtray in the shape of an animal must still have been quite an exclusive accessory for a smoker.
Animal figurines, animals in painted decoration or molded additions to pots have been a part of West European pottery since forever. But functional pots that are totally shaped like animals, like these ashtrays, seem to be more incidental. On average, European pots have a tendency to look like…. well, pots. We do have some well known human shaped pots like the Toby jug (18th century) or the face jugs by the Martin Brothers (late 19th century). Other examples appear through time ever so often. For the best examples of animal shaped vessels you would have to go back to medieval times or preferable look at non-European pottery. Pre-Columbian pottery for instance is well known for its, so called, animal effigies. I added some examples from different ages below to give you an idea. Just to make the point that, while you can take it for granted that Anneliese Beckh designed these ashtrays in the shape of a pelikan or a fish, in the grand scheme of things, I think that makes them rather special.
It has been a while since my last post. I have to admit that from early April till about October vases have to take a backseat to my other passion, which is gardening. Now that the garden is well on its way (just did my round of slugs), it is time for some more Fat Lava.
Many friends, growing up in the 1970s, vividly remember their parents’ lava vases and on top of that, they remember hating them. Seeing my collection always brings back some of those memories. They still tend to have trouble appreciating the 1970s vases, especially the ones that were very common back than. The vase on the left seems to have been quite ordinary, according to a friend. I really love that little vase. The frothy black and white lava over a shiny orange glaze. Where do you still see orange like that! Well, nowhere of course, because it did involve a bit of highly unfriendly cadmium…..but still, how wonderful it looks. My friend on the other hand, had seen too many back in the days and she was still fed up with them to the brim. Unsurprisingly, she did not care much for the little orange lava vase.
My parents never had any hip vases, being more into antiques, so I have no bad memories to project on my precious vase collection. Still, I do like the feedback of people who have a vivid memory of West German vases. It can be quite an eyeopener and a shock too. How can you not like this vase?! You must be blind!
Also, it is funny how in studio pottery of the 1970s the thick lava glazes and the bright colors seem to have been virtually (or totally) absent. Judging from a good number of books on German studio pottery, commercial art pottery and studio pottery lived in two separate universes. While I am fairly capable of dating commercial art pottery by the decade, with studio pottery I would need a whole new frame of reference. At least the factory vases, like fashion and painting of the 1970s, are screaming 1970s to you. The top studio potters made a far more subtle and ageless product that could be quite wonderful, but how different. It is almost as if there is something like an introverted vase, a studio gem that takes some time getting to know and an -in your vase- extroverted factory vase you have a hard time to forget. Another eyeopener.
Finally, I ask myself: Where has the lava glaze gone? It must have been quite a revolution when this thick, textured glaze entered ceramics production. It was applied in many different ways, very beautifully in combination with smooth glazes. Fat lava vases were sold in large numbers, like ABBA records. Still, studio pottery of the time seemed to ignore the new glaze almost completely and I have not seen it applied much after the 1970s. Why not? Why not apply it again in modern ceramics. The fatter the better, that’s what I say!
If any young, aspiring ceramics designer out there wants to give the fat lava glaze another shot, go for it! And be sure to visit the More than Fat Lava exhibition for inspiration. It is opening in Amsterdam on June 18, 2011. Further information on the Pottery and Glass forum.
Hover over the pics for details on the vase.
I turned out collecting some Italian pottery next to my German collection, because when looking for German pottery I noticed these vases that looked German, but where somehow a bit odd. These turned out to be Italian. Italian and German vases from the 1950s can look alike, but there is something about the choice and combination of colors and the ‘looseness’ of the decor in Italian pieces that hints at a different origin. Also Italian pottery makers in the 1950s more often seemed to favor texture for their pieces and a figurative decor rather than abstract patterns. But these are hunches. I know way too little about Italian pottery to make any general statements.
I do find it harder to get hold of good Italian pieces. Either they are way too expensive because Fantoni made them (or someone close to that) or they are just not that good (not even good kitsch). But every once in a while I stumble upon something well worth my while, like the vases in this post.
These were made by the Fanciulacci Brothers (Montelupo, Italy) and they are simply super. The pieces are decorated with a combination of an unglazed chamotte clay and incised figurines with colored glazes. You can find this in several decors of which two varieties are shown here (front and back).
Scheurich (founded in 1928) was one of the largest (maybe even the largest) West German pottery manufacturers. Their marketing strategy was to have a fair amount of shapes, cover these with an endless variety of glazes and sell them at a competitive price. There was a Scheurich vase to fit anybody’s taste. It was a good strategy, because they sold thousands and thousands of vases. As a matter of fact it kept them in business till this very day. Scheurich is still going strong.
You can still find a huge amount of older Scheurich vases on the secondhand market. The 1950s vases are OK, but don’t stand out and some have a bit of a grandma thing about them. The vases of the 1960s and 70s seem to be the most collectible. Shapes are always quite OK, I think. They produced some more daring shapes, but on average Scheurich seemed to go for the simple, more traditional, but never old fashion shapes. The glazes are another thing. Scheurich made a truly monumental amount of glazes, trying all kinds of things, often involving some kind of lava or drip glaze. They made figurative decors and abstract decors, combining smooth glazes with textured glazes, shiny with matte glazes, using all kinds of colors with ‘loud’ combinations especially during the 1970s. In the 1960s Scheurich also made some iconic designs with a moulded pattern.
Some collectors focus on Scheurich, collecting shelfs full of one shape, but in a million different glazes. The sight of these kind of collections can be very impressive. I myself am not that kind of collector. I don’t have rows of one shape, but a lot of different shapes and no real plan or theme behind my Scheurich collection. Some vases I ended up with, some I really wanted to buy at the time, some I thought I should buy because they were Highly Collectible, some I still like, other not so much any more. But the ones I like most at this particular time are still out there.
Here are a few vases to give you an inch of an idea of what Scheurich is about. More Scheurich will follow.
Jasba is one of the companies I actively look for when searching for interesting vases to add to my collection. Founded in 1926 by Jakob Schwaderlapp (the same man who founded Ceramano in 1959) it produced a wide range of art pottery until the end of the 1970s.
Actually, I don’t realy like their 1950s pieces. Cilli Wörsdörfer was the key designer at Jasba in this period and she made several fairly nice designs in the modernist fashion, but I don’t tend to buy these pieces. They are just a bit too sedate to my taste, with matte glazes and a held back color pallet. The other 1950s pieces are either so kitsch they make me gasp or so boring they make me dose off. There I said it. Now on with the 1960s and 70s!
Interesting times started from the 1960s onward. In 1960 Jasba started the ‘Bunte Welt der Keramik’ (=Colorful World of Ceramics) line and shiny glazes with bright colors entered the stage. Christiane Reuter took over from Cilli Wörsdörfer around this time. I think most of the vases on the picture above are part of this line, except maybe for the brown one also showing on the left. These vases with their smooth drip glazes are still quite easy to find, so I guess these must have been commercially successful and sold by the thousands. They are fun, but this small collection is more than enough to get the picture.
Beside these pieces, Jasba managed to produce a number of interesting vases with just the right combination of color, molded pattern or shape, either with a straight forward shape and a smooth and simple decor or a more complex shape, maybe with a molded pattern and exactly the right color to match. Jasba did not do a lot of lava or other textured glazes. It was a company that was especially experimental with shapes and molded patterns. The variety is really amazing and with a good Jasba vase you really have a excellent piece of West German art pottery. Leave the so-so ones alone and of course they made far too many vases to get them all right, but even the weird ones I discussed in the post about the head vase have something about them. Jasba sometimes needs looking twice.
I am going to make it my business to acquire a really nice collection of 1960s and 70s Jasba vases. Here are a few examples to start with. More to come!
Below are two pieces I have shown in earlier posts.