Saturday, November 6, 2010

Emma and the Wedgwood Collection

In 1917 Alice and William were visited at their Heart's Delight Farm in Chazy by a dear friend from Chicago, Emma Blanxius Hodge. Emma had come that long way not just to relax, visit with her friends, and enjoy the fresh country air. She had also planned to catalog Alice's burgeoning collection of china. It was appropriate that Mrs. Hodge should offer her extensive knowledge of decorative arts to her friend in this way since she was responsible for getting Mrs. Miner started with the collection in the first place.

If one were to mention they collect Wedgwood, their statement might merely conjure some vague notion that they were interested in pottery. What the majority of us likely would not realize is the breadth of pottery designs such a collection might include. This is what I hope to illustrate with the newest exhibit at The Alice. My intent was to display some of the Wedgwood pottery Alice collected in the early 1900s, and in the process found a wide variety of the types of objects Wedgwood Manufactory sold starting in 1758.

Of the thirteen pieces I have chosen for our Wedgwood exhibit, ten are described in the 1917 inventory Hodge penned. Emma wrote descriptions, and labeled and numbered more than 350 objects for Alice that summer. Along the way she included information about each pottery type, and its style and manufacturer. The catalog consists of 116 typewritten pages of very detailed information about a collection now housed in the Ballroom of The Alice T. Miner Museum.

Emma wrote, "This compiled catalog is dedicated to my dear friends of Heart's Delight Farm, who, while they were laboring with the knitting needle for our soldiers at the front, permitted me to assemble these facts concerning the collection of pottery and porcelain in the Matilda Trainer collection, and furnished for me a summer of fragrant and unforgettable associations.
Emma B. Hodge.
Heart's Delight Farm,
Chazy, New York.
August, 28, 1917"

Alice Miner named her collection of British and American porcelain and earthenware in memory of her recently departed oldest sister Matilda, who passed away on February 14, 1917 - just weeks before her 65th birthday. Emma's visit probably helped to ease the acute loss Alice must have felt that summer. Twelve years older than Alice, Matilda was much more than a sister - she had stepped in to help raise the younger children after their mother died in 1870, followed too soon by their father in 1876.

The objects currently exhibited in the Dining Room of The Alice range widely in style, glaze and intended use, as well as in taste! Included is a handsome black basalt bust portrait of George Washington, circa 1790. It is the largest and most striking Wedgwood object in the collection. When you come for a tour you will also see an ironstone china teapot made by Wedgwood that once belonged to William Miner's grandmother Lydia that was given to Alice for her collection by his aunt Huldah Miner in 1917. One of the more whimsical objects is a small teapot shaped like a cauliflower, realistic enough that it made a docent who is allergic to cauliflower sneeze while helping to install the exhibit!

Another Chicago collector represented in this Wedgwood exhibit, Frank Wakely Gunsaulus, was a mutual friend of the Miners and Emma B. Hodge. Gunsaulus was a major collector of illuminated manuscripts, ancient texts, decorative arts, as well as Wedgwood, and his influence on Alice's collection can be seen in numerous extraordinary objects in The Alice's collection. Many of the objects he had gathered, including an Old Wedgwood collection, were donated to The Art Institute of Chicago. The Alice and The Art Institute each own one of a pair of matching flower vases once owned by Mr. Gunsaulus. He had originally donated both to The Art Institute, yet then removed one from their collection to give to Alice. They are Wedgwood jasperware vases described by Mrs. Hodge as; "Flower Holder. Light blue jasper with white figures in low relief of children playing blind man's buff. Classic borders and octagonal base with geometric border in white low relief. Circa 1785. From the Frank W. Gunsaulus Collection of 'Old Wedgwood' in The Art Institute of Chicago."

The Wedgwood jasperware flower holder at The Art Institute of Chicago,
photo used with permission.

The jasperware flower vase in The Alice collection.

There is truly something for everyone in this Wedgwood exhibit: from teapots to sculptures, plates to flower vases - with a variety of glazes - from wonderful green glaze, to black basalt, or merely "plain" white glaze. There are Queen's ware, jasperware, Flo Blue, daisies, cucumber leaves, cauliflower and crocus... I can see Emma Hodge, Frank Gunsaulus and Alice Miner gathered around the dining table admiring these beautifully made and lovingly collected objects. Come to The Alice, squint your eyes a bit, and find out if you can see those folks too... Or just come to enjoy the collection!

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