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Art Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection–Presentation Jug

Jug, Staffordshire, England, ca. 1850, Chipstone Foundation Collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Jug, Staffordshire, England, ca. 1850, Chipstone Foundation Collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Among the Chipstone Foundation’s fine collection of early English pottery stands an startlingly oversized curiosity: what appears to be a 30-inch ironstone tall milk jug, or pitcher.

Adorned with rich copper lustre ornamentation and hand-painted flowers, this monumentally scaled object also features an unusual inscription that gives some insights into the jug’s origins. The gilt lettering reads, “Presented by Alfred Meakin, Tunstall England to Sohn, Ricker and Weisenhom Quincy Ills U.S.A.” Who exactly are these people? And how did this huge jug make its way to the U.S. from England? Read on to find out.

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Art Curatorial

Musical Furniture

Veneered high chest of drawers. Attributed to Christopher Townsend or Job Townsend, 1735-1745. Newport, Rhode Island. Chipstone Foundation. Photo courtesy of Gavin Ashworth.
Veneered high chest of drawers. Attributed to Christopher Townsend or Job Townsend, 1735-1745. Newport, Rhode Island. Chipstone Foundation. Photo courtesy of Gavin Ashworth.

Based on my title for this blog post you might expect this to be about music boxes, or perhaps creative studio art pieces that sing when you sit on them, or even some sort of game derived from musical chairs. As interesting as any of those possibilities may sound, I’m going to discuss not an object, but an intriguing practice: that of using music to aide in the viewing and interpretation of furniture.

In 2008, Chipstone curator Ethan Lasser met with Dr. Christian Elser, a composer, in the furniture gallery on the Lower Level of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Ethan noticed that the vocabulary he used when describing furniture was very similar to the terms Dr. Elser used when descrbing music–for example, they both used words such as “baroque” or “gothic.” This spurred Ethan to ask Dr. Elser: “If you could pair each piece in this gallery with one piece of music, what would that be?”

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Art Curatorial

Chipstone’s Resident Biophysicist—Professor Temple Burling, Part 2

Tea bowl, John Bartlam,  1765-1769. Chipstone Foundation. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Tea bowl, John Bartlam, 1765-1769. Chipstone Foundation. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

The Chipstone Foundation’s previous post introduced you to Temple Burling, our resident biophysicist. This post continues his story as he recounts his experience with a blue and white teabowl in Chipstone’s collection.

At the end of my last post, I found myself asking: “How did a porcelain tea-cup with an Asian inspired shape and decorative scheme come to be made in eighteenth-century America?”

This cup is a container for tea, but, as it turns out, the cup also overflows with wonderful stories that partially answer this question. These stories combine science, history, technology, commerce, and cultural exchange, making the cup a slice of a long and fascinating history of porcelain–from its invention in China in the 7th century, to the mania for porcelain collecting by European aristocrats beginning in the Renaissance and exploding during the 18th century.

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Art Curatorial

Chipstone’s Resident Biophysicist: Professor Temple Burling, Part 1

Tea bowl, John Bartlam, 1665-69. Chipstone Foundation. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Tea bowl, John Bartlam, 1765-1769. Chipstone Foundation. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Temple Burling, professor of physics, astronomy, biology and great ideas at Carthage College, has been part of the Object Lab team since 2009. He first connected with Chipstone staff through a shared interest in cabinets of curiosities, an example of which is our Rooms of Wonder exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Since we first got to know him, Temple has been bringing his museum studies class up to Milwaukee every year (yes, he is a biophysicist that teaches a course on museums), as well as discussing possible collaborative projects with us. The opportunity came up when Temple was awarded a sabbatical, and he asked if he could spend this year’s fall semester in Milwaukee studying the Chipstone Foundation’s collection.

We jumped at the chance to have a scientist interpret our collection. Since his sabbatical is almost over, I asked Temple to write about his experience these past few months. View an object in the Chipstone collection through the eyes of a brilliant scientist, in part one of two posts, below.

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Art Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection—Fecundity Dish

Dish, England, 1681. (Chipstone Foundation; Photo Gavin Ashworth)
Dish, England, 1681. (Chipstone Foundation; Photo Gavin Ashworth)

On the Museum’s Lower Level in the Hidden Dimensions gallery, there is a section on Myth, showcasing objects, such as card tables, that portray mythical figures. There are also several dishes mounted on the wall. A charger featuring the erotic seductress Venus is the subject of this blog post.

The dish in question dates to 1681 and is made of tin-glazed earthenware (also called Delftware). It features a reclining female nude with a child standing on her lap and four more children, or putti, playing behind her. The dish’s border depicts arrangements of fruit, cherries, flowers, masks in relief, and the inscription S/ WM/ 1681. Chargers with this scene are called fecundity dishes and were made in London between 1633 and 1697.