Saturday, July 16, 2011

Transferware in The Alice Collection

The story written by past Director/Curator Nell Sullivan suggests Alice T. Miner may not have become a collector but for the urging of her dear friend Emma B. Hodge. Nell Sullivan was the last of the Directors hand-picked by Alice to lead her museum. According to Mrs. Sullivan, Emma gave Alice a box holding a variety of china, with the intent of interesting her friend in the lovely things she could be collecting. Eventually this trick worked and Alice began collecting porcelain and glass, eventually expanding her interests well beyond what I will cover in this article. (Scroll down to previous blog posts to learn more!)

Alice Miner did not merely gather beautiful objects, she was also very interested in the history and background of the objects she acquired. Because of her voracious reading and self-education about the decorative arts, the museum's reference library relating to the collection is extensive. Many of the books the staff refers to regularly have the Miner bookplate in the front, and many have notes written in Alice's own handwriting. She also looked to her friend Emma Hodge for guidance and assistance, and in the summer of 1917, before the museum was even a drawing on paper, Emma B. Hodge came to Heart's Delight Farm to catalog Alice T. Miner's growing collection of pottery and porcelain!

Many of the pieces Emma catalogued that summer are referred to as transferware. This is a method of decorating on pottery, perfected as early as the 175os in England, in which copper plates are engraved with designs and printed on tissue paper. While the print is still wet the paper print is then transferred onto pottery which is in turn fired at low temperature to permanently affix the design. The most durable method was to transfer the design on to the pottery before glazing. Once the glaze was applied and fired it then served to further set the transferred image on the plate, cup, tea pot, etc. Before the development of this method of design, pottery had been laboriously painted by hand and thus was much more expensive to produce.

The early pieces of transferware were printed with black ink on white porcelain. It was soon found, however, that the color blue was both more attractive and less expensive to produce. Around 1835, as the popularity of blue transfer designs waned, other colors such as light blue, pink, green and purple became more prevalent.

One such blue and white transferware plate in The Alice T. Miner Museum collection is decorated in what is called the "States" design. In her 1917 inventory for Alice, Emma describes the plate - "Tea plate. This is what is known as the "States" plate design. Decoration, central medallion in blue transfer, of three story building in the distance and sheep in the foreground. To the left is the figure of "Justice" blindfolded, holding a portrait of Washington. On the right is the kneeling figure of "Independence". Festoon border containing the names of the fifteen states in the Union, with the stars above. Irregular lace border around edge. Mark "Clews warranted Staffordshire" in circle with crown impressed."

The figure Emma Hodge refers to as Justice is actually Liberty holding a staff with the liberty cap on top. The two figures stand or kneel on a short pedestal. Under Justice the pedestal says "AMERICA AND" and the pedestal on which Liberty kneels says "INDEPENDENCE", hence the confusion about what the figure represents. Included in the plate design is the Masonic symbol of the square and compass pictured on an apron worn by Justice, perhaps in honor of Washington, who was a Freemason. The plate was made circa 1820 in Staffordshire, England by Clews Brothers. James Clews was one of the best known of the Staffordshire potters here in the United States because he actually attempted to make his pottery in Indiana for a short time in 1836, but was not successful, ultimately returning to England.

In the Ballroom of the museum, Alice's collection of glass and porcelain is beautifully exhibited in cases built into the walls. The blue and white transferware pieces catch one's eye upon entering the room. Along with the "States" design one can see another popular Clews design of the Landing of Lafayette. This pattern depicts Lafayette's ship landing with great ceremony in Castle Garden, New York on his second and final visit to America, in 1824. Other makers' designs are represented, including views of Niagara Falls, unknown buildings, and various bucolic scenes. Alice Miner also collected red, black, light blue, green, purple, and brown transferware of all shapes from various manufacturers. Do come to The Alice for a tour of the museum, and examine and enjoy the Ballroom pottery!

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