I spent many hours wandering the ceramics galleries on the top floor of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, searching for examples of ceramics with inventive repairs. The refurbished galleries opened in 2009/10 and are filled with over 30,000 of examples of ceramics in floor to ceiling glass cases. The last time I was at the V&A the original wooden showcases were still in use and I took photos and made notes of the pieces that interested me. Now there are monitors in every room with photos and descriptions of the entire collection available online. The transformation of the old galleries to the current design is so dramatic that I think I gasped out loud when I stepped off of the elevator on to the 6th floor and saw the seemingly endless rows of vitrines for the first time!
Archive for the ‘anecdotal’ Category
I am back at my hotel in Notting Hill, resting up after taking on the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the Charles Dickens Museum all in one day. Needless to say, I spotted many a “make-do” at the two large institutions, but I was surprised to find a 19th century cut crystal and silver ewer with staple repairs to the base hiding in plain sight in Charles Dickens’ dining room!
I was invited to give a talk and show examples from my collection this past Thursday, April 3rd, at the English Ceramic Circle (ECC) at Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London. The ECC was founded in 1927 and is “the oldest society dedicated to the study of British ceramics and enamels.” Thankfully, the lecture was well attended and I enjoyed meeting many members, as well as viewing pieces from their own collections, that they were encouraged to bring in.
I was introduced by ECC president Roger Massey, who explained to the crowd that he was made aware of my blog a few years ago by a ceramics dealer. He was told about a “mad American” (crazy, not angry, I assume) who collects antiques with early repairs and that he should have a look. Roger apologized to me about the remark but I rather like it! After the talk I was invited to dinner and chatted with other members, including Nicholas Panes, Honorary Treasurer.
Thank you ECC for your warm welcome, and a special thanks to Stephen McManus who extended the invitation. I look forward to becoming a member of your marvelous society.
Photos by Mark Randall
Past Imperfect goes international, as I am in Amsterdam, the first stop of my European jaunt and research tour. I have just returned from spending a few hours at the gorgeously renovated Rijksmuseum, home of world renowned art and a collection of exquisite Dutch ceramics. While most pieces I saw were jaw-dropping, they appeared to be intact and had in fact, not been dropped at all. So, no inventive repairs for me to drool over. But I did see one 17th century jug with a metal sleeve covering a broken handle, but the repaired end was turned away from the front of the vitrine, so no one could see it…except for me. Sadly, it was too dark to get a good photo of it.
I did spot this early Delft bowl with religious decoration that was just sitting on a shelf without any mention of the HUGE, early metal staples holding it together. Yes, I thought you’d like it, too.
I also stumbled upon a wonderful oil painting, Prince’s Day by Jan Havicksz Steen (1625-1679), depicting the birthday celebration of Prince William III of Orange-Nassau on November 14, 1650. I always imagined that many a “perfect” jug and tankard became candidates for inventive repairs after long days and nights of rowdy celebration. If you look closely, you can see a barmaid holding a jug in her right hand with what appears to have a replaced pewter handle and support straps along the middle and bottom. I have seen repairs such as this on German jugs of the same time period, so I was excited to see it included in this painting.
This coming Thursday, April 3rd, at 6PM, I will be giving a lecture in London at Bonhams for the English Ceramic Circle. Please come see me and say hello.
Yesterday I braved the freezing cold weather and made my yearly trek up north to check out the 15th annual New York Ceramics Fair. I enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones, as well as spotting these gems with inventive repairs.
Martyn Edgell Antiques Ltd. brought a stunning collection of colorful mochaware pieces. Sadly for me, they were all in perfect condition. But this important Delft wine pot with blue Chinese decoration from 1680 has an unusual 18th century figural metal replacement spout strapped on to a metal ring around the base.
Martyn also brought this English salt glaze jug with copper lid, circa 1700. The tin base appears to have been added by a 19th century tinker to stabilize the jug and possibly cover chips along the bottom.
I stopped dead in my tracks when I came upon this enormous 18th century Whieldon-type pottery punch pot, courtesy of Earle Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc., with gorgeous trailing vines decoration and tortoise shell glaze. Naturally, my favorite feature is the sleek silver replacement spout, which mirrors the shape of the broken original.
In the same booth I found this lovely 18th century Wieldon-type footed teapot, also with trailing vines decoration and tortoise shell glaze. This piece has two early repairs – a silver replacement spout and an overscaled urn-shaped knob. It looks especially appealing displayed next to the much larger punch pot above.
This past July I took a drive down to Virginia to visit Colonial Williamsburg, where I spent some time with Angelika Kuettner, Assistant Curator of Ceramics and fellow enthusiast of antiques with inventive repairs. Angelika was most generous with her time and showed me recent acquisitions as well as some of her favorite pieces on permanent display in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum’s collection and research center. After going behind the scenes to view some recently acquired items, we walked through the public galleries, where I was pleased to see many examples of inventively repaired items and, in addition, a couple of historical references within the exhibit.
One large showcase, filled with ceramics, includes a small group titled Repaired Goods, with this explanation: “Ceramic tablewares could sometimes be mended in a manner that permitted continued use. The metal handle on the small Chinese porcelain cream jug, for example, is an early replacement that allowed it to function properly. Similarly, the silver mounts on the rim and foot of the German stoneware jug were no doubt applied to cover chips…Badly broken ceramic plates and dishes, however, were tossed on the trash heap, or, in some instances, mended with rivets so that they could be displayed but not used.” I believe many stapled pieces were indeed still used for years after they were mended and not just displayed.
Another well designed display, Good Housekeeping, has a sign which states: “It was the responsibility of the mistress of a well-to-do household to oversee the proper care of her family’s fine possessions…If broken or damaged, objects were often repaired rather than discarded. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many a craftsman in both Britain and America earned a substantial part of his livelihood mending and cleaning older metal, ceramic, and even glass objects. The shop records for the Massachusetts silversmith Paul Revere, for instance, document that he repaired a glass dessert pyramid, probably by attaching silver bands and rivets to damaged areas. More frequently, metalsmiths in Williamsburg and elsewhere took out dents, replaced missing parts, and cleaned and polished vessels of all sorts.”
I am grateful to Angelika, and the others in her department, for their appreciation of inventively repaired items, and for displaying them proudly alongside the “perfect” examples in the museum’s vast collection.
Photos taken at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum
Yesterday I learned how to make replacement handles for broken vessels from Don Carpentier, the visionary behind Eastfield Village and master of all trades. Last year at Dish Camp, the annual “POTpourri” ceramics conference where I presented examples from my own collection, I mentioned that I would like to learn the craft of early repair. Don assured me that making tin replacement handles was easy and that he could teach me all I needed to know in one afternoon. Flash forward one year, I find myself in Don’s workshop Period Make-Do’s and How to Reproduce Them, learning how to cut, bend and solder tin.
I urge anyone with an interest in learning traditional trades and domestic arts to visit Eastfield Village and attend a workshop this summer. Please take a look at my post from Dish Camp 2012, which shows some of the historic buildings and links to Don’s site.
This is the finished product. I am in awe of the handle and buttress Don effortlessly created, identical to the ones made by itinerant tinkers in the 18th through 20th century in North American and Europe. The broken mocha ware jug was given to me by my mother who had kept it in her cupboard for many years, knowing that even with a missing handle and large crack, it was too good to throw out.
Within seconds, Don drew a sketch of the proposed replacement handle, showing the placement of the 2 horizontal bands and the 4 vertical supports.
After scribing a piece of tin, I carefully snip one of the 2 support bands.
Don attaches the lower horizontal band, bending and locking the 2 ends together.
I am placing the 4 vertical bands and marking them for Don.
Don is soldiering the first vertical band.
Using an original tin crimping machine from the mid 1800s, Don is embedding wire in the handle edge, which provides extra support.
The handle is being bent and formed.
Don has a remarkable eye and in very little time, has cut out a tiny piece at the top of the broken handle stub to allow for the new handle to fit snugly in place.
By the 1800s, tinkers added embellishments such as thumb rests. Don thought it would be a good addition, as do I.
Unable to drill through the body of the jug for fear of leaking contents, tinkers attached handles to whatever was left of the broken handles. Don snipped out the center part of the lower handle, leaving enough of the tin-encased wire to bend around the remains of the lower handle stub and solder to the lower support band.
Photos courtesy of Mark Randall