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Petra on pottery

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

Handles have always been used in creative ways in the design of pots. Especially in flower vases, where the practical need of the handle is limited, there has always been ample room to design the handles in expressive rather than practical ways, sometimes almost beyond recognition. But also in teapots and pitchers you can find stunningly creative designs, where there is even some practicality left. Below I gathered a few examples from ceramic history to illustrate this.

Similarly, with the creative boom in mid century German decorative pottery you can find all kinds of handles, from huge sweeping ones on floor vases to knob like handles on smaller vases and everything in between. Mostly, you will see the handles attached to the body as a separate part of the pot, which -in a way- is still rather conventional. But a paradigm shift had been set in earlier, that would also effect the handling of the handles. Below, first some examples from my own collection where body and handles are still clearly separate entities in the overall design. However, the relationship between body and handles was heading for new interpretations.

First some historic background (for those interested) in the tiniest nutshell

Already during the 19th and early 20th century, the separating lines between pottery, sculpture, architecture and painting had started to become blurred. Avant garde artists, designers and architects were striving to cross the boundaries between their respective fields, to create the Romantic ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk, a perfect unity between all of the arts (fine, decorative and applied). Potters and ceramic designers who looked beyond their own field, were taking home new ideas to incorporate into their own work. From this point on and into the 20th century, next to traditional pottery, you can see pots appearing that are more painterly, more sculptural and more architectural then before. Potters were trying new things, other artists were discovering ceramics as a medium, architects incorporated work from ceramic artists and sculptors into their buildings, architects were doing ceramic designs, cross fertilizing the field. To illustrate some of this:

Painters and sculptors into ceramics:

Architects and designers into ceramics

Potters taking shapes and glazes to the next level:

So, there you go with a wellspring of creative and conceptual innovation taking place in the arts from the late 19th into the 20th century, emanating from a search for new ways within the art fields and from the cross-overs between the fields of pottery, sculpture, painting, design and architecture. Pottery traditions and techniques did not go overboard of course, but the approach of the painter, the sculptor and the architect/designer were added, opening up new ways of seeing things. Looking at post-war German art pottery, you can see pot makers mixing and matching (and sometimes mismatching) all of these influences into their designs. From my own collection:

The painterly: treating the body of the vase as a canvas for the expressive use of lines and colors:

The sculptural: with an original interplay of expressive shapes, textures, surface designs and glazes :

The (Modernist) architectural: integrating clear three dimensional shapes into an elegantly balanced whole:

Now: back to handles 

But why did I start with handles? Some pots have them. Some pots do not. What is the big deal? Well, for all the interesting, new approaches to shapes, surface design, decors and glazes, I think the integration of the handles into the body of the vase is one of the most interesting conceptual innovations. Already in the vase design by architect Peter Behrens in the gallery above, you can see how the handles are being treated as part of the body of the vase, rather than just being attached to it. There are several examples in my collection where this is also the case.

However, the handles in the gallery above are still fairly recognizable as such. But what about the designs below? The handles have totally merged with the body. You might even say that in the Rosenthal designs by Beate Kuhn (left) the body of the so-called “Kummet” (meaning horse collar; thank you Carry for the right translation, see comments) vase has become one big handle.

Surely, it must have been the approach of the Modernist architect/designer influencing this handling of the handles in some of the most Modern pottery designs. “Things merely attached” (ornament) just won’t do in the Modernist mind. Everything  has to be integrated into an aesthetic and rational whole, bringing down complexity to its essentials and leaving out all the fuss. What this meant for the handle, is beautifully demonstrated in the Rosenthal designs by Beate Kuhn (not part of my collection unfortunately).

So, what about the Dümler & Breiden vase on the right? Is that the logical conclusion of the handles merging with the body of the vase? I am guessing that might even be a bit of Post-Modernism avant la lettre. It is a bit tongue in cheek almost. Critiquing this Modernist trend with a sense of humour and putting the handle smack in the middle. From a handle to a hole.




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