Art Mar­ket

Pot­tery shards shed new light on the his­tory of Amer­i­can ce­ram­ics and the An­tique Deal­ers’ Fair prom­ises some­thing to suit ev­ery taste

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Huon Mal­lalieu picks up the pieces of Amer­ica’s porce­lain his­tory

Three weeks ago, at the an­nual New York ce­ram­ics and glass fair, ar­chae­ol­o­gists and sci­en­tists un­veiled the re­assem­bled frag­ments of an or­di­nary-look­ing but ac­tu­ally very re­mark­able white bowl (Fig 2). ‘One of the most in­trigu­ing sto­ries in the world of ce­ramic his­tory is the search for the se­crets of mak­ing hard-paste porce­lain,’ said robert hunter, ed­i­tor of Ce­ram­ics in Amer­ica and an au­thor and ar­chae­ol­o­gist. ‘The search, how­ever, for phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of mak­ing true porce­lain in 18th-cen­tury Amer­ica has been frus­trat­ingly un­suc­cess­ful—un­til now. The dis­cov­ery of this bowl is like find­ing the holy grail of Amer­i­can ce­ram­ics and is a thrilling ad­di­tion to the his­tory of the Amer­i­can ef­fort to pro­duce this cov­eted ma­te­rial.’

The shards were not found among nearly 85,000 ar­ti­facts on the site of the new Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion and were ini­tially thought to be stoneware. how­ever, sub­se­quent ma­te­rial anal­y­sis by Dr J. Victor Owen, an ex­pert on the geo­chem­istry of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ce­ram­ics and glass, and his col­leagues re­vealed that the 18th-cen­tury bowl is true porce­lain and had most likely been man­u­fac­tured in Philadel­phia in 1771 or 1772.

The finds were un­cov­ered on the site of the city’s short-lived first pot­tery, Bon­nin and Morris, where soft-paste porce­lain was known to have been made, but one that had been oc­cu­pied from the set­tle­ment’s found­ing and most were in brick-lined lava­tory and well shafts. Bon­nin and Morris’s site in what is now Navy Yard, a lit­tle to the south, could also tell a con­fused ar­chae­o­log­i­cal story, as the pot­tery was suc­ceeded by a brass-can­non foundry and then, ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal his­tory: ‘This long row of wooden houses af­ter­wards be­came fa­mous as a sailor’s brothel and riot house on a large scale.’

While the Western search for the recipe of true porce­lain was un­der way, many euro­pean fac­to­ries pro­duced soft paste, a sub­sti­tute gen­er­ally made from white clay and ground glass fired at a much lower tem­per­a­ture than re­quired for the real thing. This hard paste was made from kaolin and a felds­pathic rock called chi­na­s­tone. Whether or not Böttger was the first euro­pean to dis­cover it—in 1708 for Meis­sen —the first com­mer­cially pro­duced in eng­land was at Cook­wor­thy’s Ply­mouth Porce­lain Fac­tory in 1768.

Prior to that, Bow in east Lon­don and oth­ers had been mak­ing soft-paste, es­pe­cially af­ter 1748, when Thomas Frye of Bow patented a mix­ture of china clay im­ported from Vir­ginia and Carolina and bone ash, which gave much needed strength. The ma­te­rial was not the only link be­tween Frye, Bow and Bon­nin and Morris.

Frye (about 1710–62) was an Ir­ish painter and mez­zot­in­ter, whose two se­ries of life-sized heads are greatly prized by print col­lec­tors and who ran the Bow fac­tory from the early 1740s to 1759. he dec­o­rated some of the prod­ucts him­self, as did his daugh­ters, one of whom later worked for Wedg­wood. White and coloured wares were pro­duced, in­clud­ing bowls, ink wells

and fig­ures. Af­ter his re­tire­ment and death, Bow con­tin­ued, al­though less suc­cess­fully, un­til 1775, when it was bought by the owner of the Derby fac­tory.

In De­cem­ber 1769, Gousse Bon­nin, a re­cent English im­mi­grant, and his lo­cal part­ner Ge­orge An­thony Morris, a Philadel­phia Quaker, an­nounced their pro­ject to make first in­dige­nous porce­lain. The de­mand was there be­cause the much-re­sented Town­shend Acts tax­ing tea and other im­ports had pro­voked a boy­cott of British goods, and it is pos­si­ble that there was an un­der­stand­ing be­tween the fac­to­ries in or­der to avoid the im­posts. It is also pos­si­ble that the English pot­ters hired by Bon­nin and Morris were brought over from Bow.

Un­for­tu­nately for them, the Acts were re­pealed be­fore pro­duc­tion be­gan in 1771, but for a while they did well among the city’s rich ‘Pa­tri­ots’, in­clud­ing Mrs Ben­jamin Franklin. It did not last; by 1774, Bon­nin was bankrupt and Morris dead. The fragility of the wares en­sured that very few ex­am­ples sur­vive.

A fur­ther link be­tween Bon­nin and Bow is a no­tice in the Penn­syl­va­nia Jour­nal of Oc­to­ber 10, 1771, seek­ing the ap­pre­hen­sion of a runaway ap­pren­tice, ‘about six­teen years of age… five feet five inches high, [with] short light brown hair, [and] of a fair com­plex­ion’. This was Thomas Frye’s nephew and name­sake.

The ce­ram­ics and glass fair seems to have gone quite well, de­spite hav­ing to con­tend with open­ing on the evening of what was said to be a record-break­ing bliz­zard for New York. It is to be hoped that the long-promised but elu­sive hard win­ter does not ar­rive in Eng­land for the open­ing of the An­tique Deal­ers’ Fair at The Mere Golf Re­sort, Knutsford, on Fe­bru­ary 24. Last year, the fair did not take place be­cause the lo­ca­tion was oth­er­wise oc­cu­pied, but in pre­vi­ous vis­its, it had proved a pop­u­lar event.

In the past, pic­tures of­fered at pro­vin­cial fairs have mostly been by tra­di­tional 19th- and 20th-cen­tury artists, but now in­creas­ing num­bers of ex­hibitors are show­ing work by im­por­tant British artists from the 1960s and later. Among them at Mere will be Rich­wood from Lan­cashire with Brid­get Ri­ley and Patrick Caulfield and Hol­land Mur­ray from Lon­don with a strik­ing John Hoy­land, Hope Morn­ing, a 20in by 24in acrylic ab­stract priced at £24,000 (Fig 3).

In other fields, Odyssey of South­port has a most el­e­gant leka­nis (Fig 1), a 4th-cen­tury bc lid­ded red-fig­ure make-up bowl from Cam­pa­nia at £895 and An­der­son Jones of Lon­don comes with a per­fect gold brooch for a golf widow at £1,000 (Fig 4).

The fair of­fers a plat­form for three schol­ars of the Queen El­iz­a­beth Schol­ar­ship Trust, one be­ing Jenny Pickford, an artist-black­smith, whose gar­den piece Un­furl in forged steel and blown glass is at £3,200 (Fig 5). The fair runs to Fe­bru­ary 26.

Next week TEFAF and BADA

Fig 1: Lid­ded leka­nis from the 4th cen­tury

bc. With Odyssey of South­port

Fig 2: True-porce­lain bowl made in 1771 in Philadel­phia

Fig 3: John Hoy­land’s Hope Morn­ing. With Hol­land Mur­ray

Fig 5: Un­furl by artist-black­smith Jenny Pickford at £3,200

Fig 4: Gold golf-bag brooch. With An­der­son Jones of Lon­don

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