Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From Museum Storage–Wiener Werkstätte Vase

Hilda Jesser (Austrian, 1894–1985), for Wiener Werkstätte, Vase, ca. 1921. Hand-painted earthenware, 9 1/4 x 3 3/8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Morris and Denis Gallion, Historical Design, New York City, M2002.104. Photo by John R. Glembin.

I’ve just learned that Hilda Jesser could design anything.

Correction: I’ve just learned who Hilda Jesser was.

To back up, I should explain that I often use this blog as an excuse to explore something in the Museum’s collection that I should know more about. This colorful ceramic vase is charming, but I’ve never selected it to go on view in the galleries because I wasn’t quite certain how to explain it.

Thanks to the markings on its base and the curatorial cataloging records here at the Museum, I knew that the vase was designed by Hilda Jesser while at the Wiener Werkstätte sometime around 1921.

But it doesn’t look anything like my preconceived notion of what Wiener Werkstätte ceramic designs would look like, so how could I select it to represent that influential moment in modern design history?

It was time to find out more.

Art Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection—Staffordshire Teapots

Teapot, 1760/1780 Staffordshire, England  Earthenware (creamware) Photo by Gavin Ashworth
English (Staffordshire), Teapot, 1760/1780. Earthenware (creamware). Chipstone Foundation, 1963.21. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Chances are that you own a teapot. What does your teapot look like?

It’s probably globular in form and might have some decoration applied to it. The Museum has on view a variety of teapots, including two that I find very curious. Both teapots are found in the Loca Miraculi “Cabinet of Curiosities” installation in the Museum’s lower level. One teapot is in the shape of a pineapple, the other is in the shape of a cauliflower.

Both teapots are made from creamware, a white-ish variety of earthenware clay made famous by Josiah Wedgewood in the 18th century. At a time when the whiteness of porcelain was extremely valued by the public, finding a way to make the cheaper earthenware clay white was a big accomplishment. It thus accounts for creamware’s popularity.

Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Conversation with the Curator: Way of the Dragon

Chipstone curator Kate Smith standing in "Way of the Dragon" at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Claudia Mooney.
Chipstone curator Kate Smith standing in "Way of the Dragon: The Chinoiserie Style, 1710-1830" at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Claudia Mooney.

The Chipstone Foundation recently opened its Summer of China exhibition: Way of the Dragon: The Chinoiserie Style, 1710-1830, which will be on view until November 6.

I sat down with the show’s curator, Kate Smith, to discuss the concept of “chinoiserie” as well as the exhibition process.

Claudia Mooney: I know a lot of visitors are probably wondering this, What does chinoiserie mean?

Kate Smith: The term “chinoiserie” basically means “in the Chinese style”. It refers to objects that are made outside of China in imitation of Chinese objects and images.

Art Art News

From the Collection—Toshiko Takaezu

Oil of the Earth

The ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu generously gave the Milwaukee Art Museum ten of her fine art vessels in 2006.

Today I was nonchalantly compiling information on her life in preparation for a potential display of those vessels, when I was suddenly saddened to read of her recent death on March 9, 2011. In Toshiko Takaezu’s obituary in the New York Times, she is credited with helping “to elevate ceramics from the production of functional vessels to a fine art.”

As one often does when encountered with the loss of either someone close or someone distant but admired (like an artist), I ran through my bank of fond memories.

Art Curatorial

From the Collection–George Washington (ish)

English (Staffordshire), Figure of Benjamin Franklin, 1780-1800. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd A. Segel, M1984.111.

President Barack Obama has one of the world’s most famous faces. It would be hard to imagine a newspaper or a t-shirt maker or a sculptor getting away with substituting a similar grin and telling us it was our President. I suspect we’d know the difference.

But if this were the 18th century, we may be none the wiser.