PORCELAIN WORKS TO KILN FOR
Yesterday morning and afternoon, four groups of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in FIU Professor Tori Arpad-Cotta’s Art Studio course came to the library for an orientation and presentation of materials related to porcelain and pottery production.
Once they entered the main reading room, the students had the chance to peruse a large number of porcelain-related reference books pre-selected by their professor. A recipient of one of our Mellon curriculum development grants, Tori had regularly come to the Wolfsonian library during the summer months to sift through our extensive collection of works on porcelain and pottery production, and to find materials appropriate for her studio classes being taught this fall. Some of the items she chose focus on specific decorative styles (Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernist); others on country or region of origin (Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and California); and still others on specific potters or manufacturers (Russel Wright and William H. Grueby).
During their own first visit, the students had the opportunity to view a variety of rare library materials as well, including rare color chromolithograph portfolio prints from the late nineteenth century that accompanied Stephen Bushnell’s Oriental Ceramic Art, a hefty volume highlighting Oriental forms and decorative designs.
The library also holds a rich collection of manufacturers’ catalogs from a various European countries. For example, the students had the opportunity to look over a couple of trade catalogs produced by the Königliche Porzellanmanufaktur (Royal Saxon China-Manufactory) in Meissen, Germany showcasing a variety of tableware forms and decorative patterns.
While our trade catalogs aimed at selling tableware, vases, lamp bases, candlestick stands, figurines, and other porcelain products, other books in our collection demonstrated how these very same porcelain forms could be used to sell an ideology. In the wake of the Russian revolution, the Soviet government strove to erase the legacy of the Czarist regime by decorating ceramics produced in the state porcelain factories with the iconography, symbols, and slogans of the new order. While showing the students how to access our library catalog online, we also pointed them to our virtual exhibit website and to a display entitled Art in Revolution, where they could see a page spread from a book on Soviet decorative arts that pictured a large vase emblazoned with a heroic image of Comrade Stalin.
In the museum objects collection, which the students will be viewing directly next week, it is not unusual to come across Russian peasants and proletarians marching across dainty high-end teacups and services; tractors plowing collectivist farms; and a plate adorned with Lenin’s portrait, ration cards, and the slogan “He who does not work, does not eat.”