Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Sampling of Platters

As Thanksgiving and other holidays fast approach many of us are well into planning our holiday meals - either by purchasing the myriad ingredients or by deciding which dinner invitations to accept. Whether cook or guest, our holidays often seem to be centered around the feasts we are all so fortunate to partake in. I am one who loves to cook, especially the elaborate preparation of a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings! I enjoy all aspects of the meal, from going out to purchase the ingredients, to the preparation and coordination of the meal itself, mulling over how each element will be prepared, and finally, how to serve it all in a pleasing way.

Since I prefer to let the food speak for itself, my style of hosting does not require a lot of fancy presentation, but it is really helpful to have access to the proper tools! Occasionally I look around The Alice ballroom and think how fun it might be to utilize a few of the objects exhibited there to assist in serving a fabulous meal... Now that is the sort of collecting I could sink my teeth into!

Recently I was studying a Staffordshire blue and white platter with a very clever gravy-well design. There are a few platters at the museum with this smart design - clearly created with the chef in mind. When I did a search for "platters" in our catalog I found that The Alice holds more than 20 ceramic platters! When I study the age and history of the pieces I can't help but wonder if they were ever actually used, and if so, how did they survive the meals they held over the many years before coming to reside at The Alice? Now that they're here, they are all safe from the wear and tear of use in a kitchen like mine! I'll tell you about a few of my favorites.

Most of our pieces are transferware - made by transferring an engraving onto the pottery from a printed sheet of tissue paper... one of Alice's platters, however, is a fine example of sponge ware - created, as you may have guessed, by applying the pigment design directly to the pottery with a sponge. This particular sponge ware platter was created in England circa 1840, and it also has a transferred design in the center depicting a spread eagle and colonial shield. The sponged border is blue while the transferred design is a grey pigment. The simple decoration of this platter contrasts with the rest of the pieces, which are usually covered in bucolic scenes with floral borders. These ornate designs are clearly meant to be displayed (when not covered by a sumptuous turkey or roast!)

One such fancy design was made by Enoch Wood & Sons between 1829-1846 and printed with a scene familiar to most of us. Our early catalog of the porcelain collection, written by Emma Hodge in 1917, describes the piece: "Platter. Medium size. Decoration, central medallion in blue transfer of 'Niagara Falls, on the American side'. Heavy woods to the left of the falls. Figures in the foreground viewing the landscape. Shell border around rim."

Another transferware scene is on the piece I referred to previously with its handy gravy-well shaped into the porcelain. It is a Staffordshire blue and white chamfered rectangular well and tree platter, also decorated with a bucolic view. This octagonal Stubbs piece was made circa 1825 and has a romantic landscape with ruins, cattle and sheep in blue transfer print.

Along with the sponge ware platter, another piece stands out from the many blue and white transferware objects. It is a lovely Swansea or Cambrian Pottery platter of heavy porcelain with scroll motifs and isolated transfer decorated flowers in enamel colors. Emma Hodge described it: "Swansea porcelain 5th period 1825. Platter. White porcelain. Medallions in low relief, in which are bunches of flowers in polychrome. Irregular edge finished off in gold, circa 1815."

There are hundreds of wonderful pieces of pottery in The Alice collection for you to experience. If platters per se don't exactly float your boat, we do have gravy boats! ~ along with creamers, tea cups and saucers, plates and pitchers, as well as many other forms of decorative arts collected by Alice Miner in the early 20th century. The Alice is open through the end of December - Tuesday through Saturday - with the exception of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve. Come in for a tour and gather ideas for your holiday entertaining!

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