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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Purple Majolica Rain

Like most people alive in the 1980s, we cannot conceive of the decade without the music of Prince. He and Michael Jackson dominated that decade musically with many of our fondest memories triggered by their songs. When we heard this afternoon that Prince had died the very first image that came to mind was driving down Sunset Boulevard for the first time in the summer of 1984 with "When Doves Cry" blaring on the speakers of our car. It's though memory pictures like this that artists touch our lives and gain immortality through their art.

As we were thinking of a way of honoring Prince through our blog it became clear that purple wasn't a color that was used much as a main ground color in majolica. In fact we can't think of a single piece in which purple was used as the predominate color. There was plenty of lavender and mauve and lilac and violet and aubergine but no pure purple. So we decided to collect images of pieces we knew of in these variations of purple and use them in our small tribute to Prince's life.

The French probably used the color more than any other group with the Massier frères using variations of purple on their flower form pieces.

The English used variations of purple often as a contrasting color. Minton, Brown Westhead & More, and Copeland pieces often had purple and its variations used as an accent color. It was also a component of the Wedgwood Argenta glazed pieces.

Minton majolica lotus pitcher
Minton majolica oyster plate
Minton majolica wine cooler
Minton majolica frog and eggplant creamer
Minton garden seat
Copeland pansy butter pat

Wedgwood Argenta seafood plate

It was used sometimes in Minton's  tiles.

The Germans and Austrians used the color occasionally in their smoke themed wares.

It also appeared in its lavender and periwinkle variations in American majolica.

Etruscan majolica font
Etruscan grape leaf plate
Etruscan majolica maple leaf plate
So, with this cursory view of the color purple on majolica we say goodbye to a great musician who will always remain with us in some way: Prince.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Majolica in the Movies: "Annie"

It was an uncharacteristically cold and rainy April afternoon that I decided to forgo my usual weekend chores and vegetate in front of the TV. I turned on my usual go-to channel, Turner Classic Movies, and found them playing "The Wizard of Oz."  As Dorothy went about discovering that there's no place like home I started drifting off into a nap on my sofa. I woke up about an hour later to find myself watching John Huston's movie version of the Broadway musical "Annie."

I remember seeing "Annie" at the movie theatre in 1982 and disliking it enormously. I'm not entirely sure what it is about that musical that rubs me the wrong way but I had a similar response to the play on Broadway when I saw it a few years earlier. My memories of that evening on the Great White Way are quite vivid, but the musical has very little to do with that. Could this be the source of my "Annie" problem? 

You see, I was in the Alvin theatre watching "Annie" on July 13, 1977, the evening of the great New York blackout. After Reid Shelton's Daddy Warbucks and Sandy Faison's Grace led the cast into a rousing chorus of the song "You Won't Be an Orphan for Long" for the first act finale the lights in the theatre rose for the play's intermission.

The original Broadway cast of "Annie."
About five minutes into the intermission. the theatre lights suddenly went dark. There was some confusion about what was happening. Ushers rushed people back to their seats with their flashlights expecting the second act to begin... but nothing happened. After about fifteen minutes an announcement came from the stage that the remainder of the performance had been cancelled. As theatre patrons from "Annie" started drifting out into the Times Square area, we witnessed one of the most astonishing sights I have ever seen. All of Manhattan was pitch black. The only lights in the entire city came from the automobiles in the street. The great buildings of Times Square were just dark silhouettes against the moonlit sky. 

As I wandered down Broadway marveling at the great city in the dark, the crowds around me took on something of a party attitude. People were laughing and screaming with delight, dancing, drinking and getting rowdy. It wasn't long though that the atmosphere began to change to one a little less congenial: people became rowdier and fighting began to break out here and there around Times Square. As I approached the garage where my car was parked on 42nd street, a young woman ran up to me and threw her arms around me asking for a kiss. She caught me completely off guard but it didn't take long to tell she was grabbing for my wallet. I pushed her away and headed straight to my car. With the confusion and potential danger in the streets I couldn't get out of the city fast enough. It was a good thing I did. The city broke down into rioting and looting as the evening wore on. By then I was safely on the New Jersey Turnpike on my way back to my home in Philadelphia.

Midtown Manhattan July 13, 1977
I can't say for sure if my reaction to "Annie" is colored by that initial experience with it. Maybe it is. In any event I've never liked any iteration of the musical. I don't know what caused me to sit back and continue to watch the movie on TCM that Saturday afternoon but I'm glad I did. During the song "I think I'm going to like it here" a large piece of Minton majolica appeared on the screen. The Minton naiads with a clam shell centerpiece was on Daddy Warbucks' dining table! I couldn't believe my eyes so I took a second look. It was definitely the Minton piece. 

Daddy Warbucks dining table With Minton centerpiece in 1982's "Annie"
As the song developed another piece of majolica appeared: a Minton pedestal in a bathroom where Sandy, the dog, was being washed. 

Sandy's bathroom with Minton pedestal
I only wish we could have had a better view of the pedestal it but it was off to the side of the screen. I was energized by the casual appearance of the majolica so I paid closer attention to the movie sets. Alas, there was no more majolica to be seen in the remainder of the movie.

Minton majolica centerpiece
Minton majolica pedestal
With the movie finished I had to admit that my final opinion of it hadn't really changed I'm afraid, despite the genial background decor. I guess that July trip to New York in 1977 will remain the only interesting memory I'll ever have of "Annie."