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Petra on pottery

featuring West German art pottery, Fat Lava and more 20th century ceramics

The ceramic chess game in this post was made by a young Dutch man called Nico Bongers in the mid 60s, while he worked as an intern at Bay Keramik in Ransbach-Baumbach. I acquired it in 2014 from his widow Marianne, who had put it up for sale. The chess set had been sitting in a box on the attic for quite a number of years. There was no room to put it on display and Marianne Bongers thought it was a shame, so she decided to make somebody else happy with it. That happy someone turned out to be me.

IMG_8144What caught my eye, besides it being a ceramic chess game, was the glaze. The red one looked a bit like the volcano glazes used by Ruscha and the turquoise like the ones used by Bay on the Rimini Blu-like pieces in the 1960s. It definitely had a mid-century German look to it. So when I went to pick it up, there turned out to be this interesting story of an internship at Bay Keramik behind the set.

IMG_8140I have a complete set, plus 12 extra pieces. Nico designed and made six molds for casting the whole set. The individual shapes are shown above. The pieces are between 16 and 20 cm high, with simple nicely proportioned shapes. Twenty two pieces were cast for each colour. The excess of 6 pieces per colour all show some kind of imperfection. This really shows the process of making ceramics, with patches where the glaze turned out too thin, with shrinkage cracks in the piece, with runny glaze at the base, with chips….oops.

The matte blue glaze of the chess pieces was also used in the production of other Bay pieces. The red glaze on the other hand, I have never seen on any Bay piece. Was it an experiment? In the chess set, you can see the red volcano glaze is running over quite a shiny brown glaze. At the base of the red pieces, you can also see what can go wrong, when the volcano glaze starts to ripple IMG_4041and it turns out to be a less then pretty finish. Maybe it was not such a succes and hence never taken into production? For comparison, to the left you can see a Ruscha piece with the volcano glaze running over a matte greenish glaze, where it may have behaved in a more controlled way. While in the Bay pieces the red volcano glaze tends to slide off sometimes. Or maybe there was enough volcano glaze to go around anyway? No need to flood the market with more. Who knows.

The chess set was also not taken into production. Probably, it was a bit too large for most households to own. It is not a chess set you can throw into the cupboard when you are done playing, like you would with the little wooden or plastic pieces. Where to put it? Aha, in a box in the attic! It would likely not have been a commercial succes.

So, this set is a one-off, I guess. Nico Bongers did not continue in a career as a potter or an industrial designer of such. He went on to own his own ceramics shop in the east of the Netherlands, which I am sure he did a fine job at. But judging from his work as an intern, I think he would have made an excellent designer too. I am glad to share in this post the evidence of his talent.



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