A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part 2

Last time, I described some of my guilty pleasures in majolica.
Here are a few more.

I have always loved the design of this platter. If you separate the beautiful design from the terribly garish glaze treatment the plate usually gets, you can appreciate the gorgeous Art Nouveau lines of it with the elegant dragonfly in the center. I always thought it was designed by someone who understood art and great design but glazed by someone who didn't have a clue.

Another guilty pleasure is the large group of mottled wares made by many of the major potteries, particularly Wedgwood and George Jones. The mottling was supposed to imitate tortoise shell or snake skin.
Why I'm not supposed to like these I think has something to do with its retail popularity, which is minimal. I think it's quite gorgeous, but then I'm an artist, I like the way colors flow together when they're allowed to but most people don't seem to like it so it's not fashionable.

The last group of wares I've always liked that I'm not supposed to is the Wedgwood Argenta wares. Dealers who specialize in majolica hate Argenta. It's a very slow seller in the majolica world. Most people buy majolica for the bright colors so it seems natural that those wares with the most restrained color palettes would be the least popular.  I've always loved the restricted colors of Argenta. The combination of colored glazes used are very sophisticated. Maybe they're too sophisticated for most casual observers. Of all the majolica wares I find these to be the most timeless in their appeal. They have a contemporary quality lacking in the more boldly painted wares. They would fit in beautifully among the most austere furnishings.
But don't tell that to a majolica dealer. They're likely to roll on the floor laughing at the idea.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

Wikipedia defines a guilty pleasure as something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. The "guilt" involved is sometimes simply fear of others discovering one's lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes.
When people speak of guilty pleasures they're usually talking about movies or books or sometimes foods. I must admit that I have guilty pleasures where majolica is concerned as well.

My guilty pleasures actually go back to my earliest attempts at finding majolica. At that time only the most pedestrian majolica was easily found with none of the biggest names really available outside of specialty dealers. There were certain patterns I saw again and again in my tour of antique shops and shows and learned to love them for their simple rustic beauty. It wasn't until I really got to know the breadth of the majolica palette that I learned that I wasn't supposed to like them.

I can distinctly remember my first run in with this type of majolica snobbery. I saw a majolica dealer at a show who specialized in fine English pieces. At the time one of my early loves was the Etruscan Cauliflower pattern so I asked the dealer if they had any. I will never forget the disdain with which they told me that they didn't carry "American crap." It was a rude awakening to the snobbery that exists very much to this day in certain circles of the majolica community where American and unmarked majolica is concerned. Thanks to this run in I carry a certain amount of shame of my love for the Etruscan Cauliflower pattern. I don't admit it openly to new majolica enthusiasts when I first meet them. Not until I "feel them out" and feel comfortable around them do I admit that it is still my favorite majolica pattern.

I have other guilty pleasures as well. The very first piece of majolica hollowware I bought was in Texas-- a bowl in a commonly found overlapping begonia leaf pattern. It's a simple, rustic pattern that to me defines the essence of the beauty of majolica.
I eventually gave the bowl to my Mother as a Mother's Day gift after she told me she admired it. She used it to serve salads in. Today that bowl is in my sister's possession, having inherited it after my Mother's passing. Every time I see it I am reminded how much I love this common majolica pattern.

Another pattern that I loved early on is the simple pond lily plate. I actually had a rather large set of it at one point with plates in several sizes and a lovely dessert stand supported by standing herons. I was forced to sell it all to put a deposit on a car many years ago. It made me sad but I still dream of reassembling it some day.

It's a pity that majolica snobbery cast a dark shadow on my love of these wonderful pieces but I have since learned that snobbery exists in every collecting field. As you get older you realize that you really need to keep true to yourself and the things you love, in spite of whether others approve or not.
Only that way can you be really happy.