Gerda Heuckeuroth, Two vases (1962-64). Slipcast earthenware. Designed for Carstens 'Atelier' range. Germany. H.: 20 cm.*
Unlike in Britain, where an old prejudice against industry (inherited from William Morris) kept studio potters aloof from the ceramic industry, German manufacturers and a significant proportion of studio potters adopted a radically different attitude (similar to that adopted by Marianne de Trey in Britain), and factories drew inspiration from studio pottery and emulated it, as much as was feasible in an industrial context.
The exhibition pays tribute to the vision of those German manufacturers and studio potters who embraced Modernity — as expressed in the visual arts (in particular Pop and Op Art) — and set themselves the challenge of making it available potentially to every household, through ceramics.
Two main strands of German ceramics are represented in the exhibition:
1. Works made in small studio potteries (Werkstätten) by one person — with or without assistants — as this bottle-vase by Rudi Stahl:
Rudi Stahl, Bottle vase. 1960s. Hand-thrown stoneware, decorated with matt light and dark brown glaze. H.: 19 cm*
2. Works collaboratively produced in workshops and factories; using industrial modes of production, in combination with contemporary designs and integrated craft skills:
Kurt Tschörner (form) and Gerda Heuckeroth (glaze). Vase. Slipcast
The firm RUSCHA emphasised their artistic ambition by calling one of their range 'Ruscha Art' (in English), identifying it with a prominently placed paper label.
These categories, however, should not be treated as water tight; for the situation on the ground was more complex. For instance, in his Kunsttöpfferei, in Höhr-Grenzhause, Rudi Stahl made vases commissioned and designed by Theodor Bogler for Mariaa Laach.
After the war, the German ceramic industry had a long-standing tradition matched by skills and knowledge, which only demanded to be revived.
Some important facts: 1. German Manufacturers put Modernity on their agenda. 2. The seeds of that Modernity were planted by the Bauhaus, and were assimilated by the ceramic industry (as can be seen in German designs of the inter-war period). 3. Pop Art and Op Art came and provided popular and accessible forms of contemporary modernity.
* one only needs to take a look at an unglazed white blank to see how poor the clay body is in its materiality. Only a 'cult' could persuade its adepts that these items are more than cheaply made decorative wares for a popular market. A cult that has benefited those who have 'invested' in it. The vastly inflated prices testify to the lack of sound criteria in the appreciation of quality.
Discrepancies in Standards
The Critical Eye
GERMAN WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION
Alongside factory-produced ceramics, the exhibition will also present works made by studio potters who set up small workshops, to produce quality studio pieces at affordable prices.
'A vase is a vase is a vase…'
For studios and for all manufacturers of decorative ceramics, the VASE remained the most widely produced and top selling item — whether made in studios, workshops or factories — even when redefined, by Schäffenacker, Heiner Balzar and others, as a sculptural object.
To focus our looking on specifics, the exhibition invites us to us to ask the question 'WHAT IS A VASE?', and examine the formal variations presented in the exhibition.
Since the question may leave some perplexed, when asked point blank, let's note that a vase first consists of some or all of the following elements; named after parts of the (human) body: foot, body, neck, lip, spout (for a jug), handle and lid.
The second set of attributes is the decoration which can take the form of painted motifs, abstract glazes or be left out altogether.
Works in the exhibition will be selected from the following:
Whereas a significant portion of these work reinterprets the German stoneware tradition (Mühlendyck, Rudi Stahl, Ralph and Gudrun Unterstab), and William Kagel Jr., who created his own tradition, based on a 'folk' style. Others drew from archaeological museums, art ceramics, geometry, Japan, etc. (Kiessling, Liebenthron). Among them, some focused on developing new glazes (Albert Kiessling, Kirsten Unterstab, Wendelin Stahl).
The work of a small manufacturer, Hoy Keramik, is listed among studios, as all the work they produced was hand-thrown and hand-decorated with bright glazes; and display all the charateristics of studio works.
Ranging from tankards, bowls and jugs to vases, his works can both be used and at the same time serve for decorative display; a tribute to his commitment to integrating ceramics in everyday life and to fulfilling William Morris's ideal that domestic functional objects should also be beautiful.
Rudi Stahl (3) worked in the same town of Höhr-Grenzhausen, where he set up his studio in 1938. There, he produced stoneware which reinterpreted the local tradition of undecorated stoneware, with some reference to Japanese stoneware. This led him to produce simple and elegant forms of great integrity.
Both Mühlendyck and Stahl produced ceramics for their times, by connected with and re-interpreting the local tradition of the region where they set up their studio (the Westerwäld region), adding new energies, and a new spirit; beyond pastiche.
William Kagel (1906-1987) took over his father's pottery, Kagel Keramische Werkstätten (1902-1988), in Partenkirchen, and developped a totally new range of hand-thrown earthenware pots, simply decorated in orange, brown, yellow, green or blue glaze, over simple, indented geometric patterns. These stylistic features confer upon his work a distinctive latter day Art and Craft feel, which he retained all his life, making subtle variations.
Kagel invented a tradition of his own, which redefined the idea of tradition, in a modern spirit — 'neo-traditionalism'. His style stands out as unmistakably his.
In the vase below (left), which re-interprets the stoneware wine bottle, the lip has been cut in an irregular way and the form of the vessel has been loosened; two choices which make the form less conventional and more 'modern'. The tall bottle (right) exagerates the thinness of the bottle and the blue splash on the salt glazed body seems iconoclastic: a pot of paint flung in the face of German stoneware?
Walter Gebauer seems to have had the same thought [see monograph cover].
Albert Kiessling, (8) set up Töpferei Kiessling, in Langhessen, in 1954 [DDR], where he produced sober hand-thrown vases, in a variety of shapes (inspired by traditional German and by Classical Mediterranean shapes). There he developed a distinctive range of snakeskin glazes, using a wax resist process, which have become his trade mark.
On the whole, Kiessling's glazes tend to be quite earthy and matt, with color limited to dark blue and green:
albert kiessling, vase decorated with crystalline glaze. H.: 11 cm.
The studio also produced pieces decorated with a blue crystalline glaze:
but without achieving the dense crystallisation achieved either by Kießling or by Stahl.
Brighter glazes tended to be achieved in factories (see either Kreutz or E-S Keramik vases) and, later, by studio potters; perhaps due to the commercial availability of new ready-mixed glazes.
Wendelin Stahl (Klotten,1952-2000) set up his own studio in 1952 (after working for a while with his brother Rudi) and produced more refined glazes; although some of Rudi's forms are echoed in his work: in smaller and more refined pieces; as in the two vases, below. Among studio potters, his works stand out by the rich luminous glazes with crystallisations:
Monika Maetzel (Hamburg,1947-) (1) produced simple but quietly engaging hand-thrown pieces, which she decorated either with simple painted geometric motifs or with a distinctive blue mottled glazed on dark brown slip, over a red clay body. This color later became her signature/trade mark. She also produced serial works which, paradoxically, have the look and feel of factory pieces.
Rüdiger and Debora Stock of Töpferei Stock produced a variety of vessels primarily for decorative use. The shiny transparent glaze applied over color glazes (red), however, gives the pots a one-dimensional quality, which may have been intended, to enhance the color, but seems brash to our taste.
Artist in Focus: Gerhard Liebenthron
After producing hand-built 'free form' vases, decorated with painted motifs, reminiscent of the work made by Capron and Portanier, in Vallauris during the 50s, Gerhard Liebenthron switched to stoneware, and produced a wide range of vessels: from domestic-size bowls, jugs and vases to larger pieces, whose primary function was decorative. With the experience he had gained during the 50s, of making 'modern' works, in a Picassoesque free style, he seeked inspiration from German rural stoneware and from other traditions; including the Japanese, which was being discovered through exhibitions and publications. His work, however, does not look imitative and the impressive range of forms he developed show a great capacity to work in different styles, and retain, at the same time, a distinctive character in his works. The large bottle vase summarizes a quest which displays an austere, monumentality, that unites Eastern and Western traditions, without turning into a pastiche.
This ealier, tall, 'brutalist', hand-thrown vase (dated 1967), is decorated with an applied hand-built slab which has been rythmically carved, then coated with three glazes: first a thick milky white layer was applied, onto which thin narrow streaks of brown were sprinkled and allowed to flow, and dissolve, in a clear glaze, which binds them together.
By contrast this smaller vase (dated 1968) of simple organic form, is decorated with a smooth, thick blue glaze — over a dark brown slip — which has been allowed to run, letting the slip show in waves, beneath the blue, but stopped short of the foot, to reveal the unglazed body.
A group of Liebenthron's work, will be presented as a micro retrospective, to illustrate the range of forms he evolved. From 1969, he replaced his bright color glazes with thin washes of earthy pigments, half-way between abstract calligraphy and drip painting.
The monumental floor vase, in the shape of a jug, seems to aspire to the status of sculpture beyond any functionality except, perhaps, that of a ritual vessel, or to become a painted sculpture.
The sculptor Helmut Schäffenacker (6 vases + 4 plaques) set up a workshop in Ulm, in 1948. During the 50s he started making decorative ceramic plaques, in response to public demand. From the 60s he began making vases of sculptural forms, which became the focus of his production throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, till he ceased production in 1993. Schäffenecker redefined the vase as a sculptural object, and made all his works himself developing a casting and moulding techniques which enabled him to produce editions of works. He never employed more than ten helpers: to decorate and glaze his vases.
His works will be put in conversation with works by Hans Coper from the University collection.
(to be continued)
2. Works Produced in Factories and Manufactures
Works selected from thirty-two German manufacturers will be presented in the exhibition:
Bay Keramik (Ransbach-Baumbach, 1933-71) [1 spherical red and black vase '70.20', using white lava as slip decoration; in conversation with a vase by Le Vaucour, Vallauris], Bückeburg (1912-71) [3 plaques by Helge Pfaff (1962-) from the 1960s; with an arrangement of vases displayed on one of the plaques], Carstens Tönnieshoff (Fredelsloh, 1945-84) 'Atelier' range [ = 2 spherical handled vases with different glazes, designed by Gerda Heuckeroth, 1962-64 + 1 sci-fi blue vase by Heinz Siery]; Ceramano (Ransbach-Baumbach,1959-84) [1665 + 1x blue luster 'Saturne' dekor bottle vase + krug vase '204/2', with Pergamon dekor]; Dümler & Breiden (Höhr-Grenzhausen, 1883-1992) [blue vase '313.20' with white lava glaze]; E-S Keramik (Rheinbach, 1921-74) [1 large floor krug vase, orange red lava glaze, in Prats + blue mottled glaze handle vase?]; Fohr (Ransbach-Baumbach, 1859-) [yellow crusty fat Lava 'krug' handle vase '411-20']; Gräflich Ortenburg (Tambach, 1946-58) [x 2 krug vases designed by Irena Pasinski 605/2 and '627', 1956]; Grootenburg (Krefeld, 1913-); Heibe Keramik (Ransbach-Baumbach, mid 70s-late 80s) [1 two handle moulded vase, c. mid.1970s]; Hoy Keramik [see studio potters] Hutschenreuther (Selb, 1857-2000) [6+ blue, yellow, orange, red plate]; Jasba Keramikfabriken (Ransbach-Baumbach, 1926-71) [Aztec vase + Art and Craft]; Jopeko (Ransbach-Baumbach, 1948-) [ 1 ed & black lava jug, 2 cylinders black and white lava vases]; Karlsruhe Majolika-Manufaktur (1901-) [salmon craquelé n.1 + large Chinese craquelé by Gretel Schulte-Hosteda]; Keicher-Keramik Reichenbach (1947-76) [x4]; Keramik Werkstaat Margeritenhohe (Essen, 1925-) [x4 vases]; Kreutz Keramik (Haiger-Langenaubach, 1958-early 80s) [x1 gourde shape vase]; Otto-Keramik (Rheinbach, 1964-) [x1: ears vase]; Marei [x14]; Roth Keramik (Ebernhahn, early 70s-) [x 8 lava vases]; Ruscha Keramik (Rheinbach, 1948-1996)5 X 315 + ? 313 + 1 x 333 +...] ; Scheurich Keramik (Kleinheubach, 1954-) [x 3 244/15; x2 '529/25'] Schloßberg Keramik (Langenaubach, 1946-1975) [green vase with knobbly body]; Sgrafo Modern (Höhr-Grenzhausen, 1955. Became ASA)[selection of porcelaine vases]; Silberdistel (Gevelsberg, 1947-2004*); Steuler Industriewerke (Höhr-Grenzhausen, 1917-1996) [blue Modernist vase; large block blue zaloni vase]; Strehla Keramik (Dresden, 1828-); Terra Forma [x1 sgraffito bowl]; Töpferei Römhild (Römhild, ?-): Siegfried Gramann) [3/4]; Ü-Keramik (Uebelacker) (Ransbach-Baumbach, 1909-1990) [early 1950s mottled red and blue glaze vase '1057/25' + large lava block vase '1446'?]; van Daalen (Aalen, 1939-1973) [2/3 vases + large jug]; VEB Haldensleben (Uffrecht, 1845-) [1 blue mottled vase]; Wächtersbach Steingutfabrik (Waechtersbach, ?) [x2 Fesca jugs + 1 Fesca Tunis Vase]; Wormser Terra Sigillata (Worms, 1950-) [x1 vase cut flower motifs];
Studio potter Rudi Stahl, adopted the numbering system used by factories; which gives the design reference number followed by size. This encouraged Stahl to serially produce a 'range' of vases, and facilitated the task of supplying retailers.
The Bauhaus Legacy: Art and Design for All
By combining art values and craft skills in the design and in the making of ceramics suitable for mass production, the BAUHAUS ceramic workshop, in Dornburg, paved the way for the development of a new type of industrial ceramics, during the following decades; before the competition of cheap products from the Far East and the non-discriminating attitude of customers (looking for ever cheaper goods), caused many firms to close down.
The Vase as a Canvas for Glaze Experiments
It is worth noting that, in Germany, most of the experiments with glazes were applied either to classical forms borrowed from archaeological museums, drawn from local traditions, the Bauhaus, or adopting geometric shapes, such as the sphere or the cylinder.
New shapes were evolved by manufacturers by combining features from existing shapes. It is not unusual, however, to find the most experimental glazes occuring on traditional forms; as this Marei vase*, decorated with a thick, rich orange-red glaze, which seems to run over the vase, magma-like, like a lava flow:
|Marei Keramik* Vase. Stoneware (1970s)|
Streamlining impacted on the designs of Ursula Fesca, Kurt Tschörner, Heinz Siery and others, and injected a new dynamism in moulded, mass-produced forms.
THE VASE ALWAYS…
This perenity of the vase is an indication that Modernity does not work against tradition but from and with it; by reinterpreting it in a new key…
If we except the works of a few artists like Schaffenacker, Peter Muller and Heine Balzar— who redefined the vase as a sculptural objects — the traditional vase remained an anchor point for glaze experiments.
The Handle as Expressive Toool
Many German vases possess a handle (twelve of the thirteen Marei and Roth vases in the exhibition have a handle!).
This is not an excentricity as a commentator suggested, but an important feature which provided designers and makers with interesting expressive possibilities. Vases 313, 315 and 333, designed by Kurt Tschörner, for Ruscha; (see section 7: Ceramic Conversations) are a case in point. They may also have made the glaze experiments that covered them more acceptable than if they had been on free forms.
The popularity of the 'jug-vase' ('Krug Vase'), clearly not designed to be used as jug, but to express its function aesthetically, should not be taken for granted.
Art/Craft In Industry
Whilst a student at the Bauhaus, Theodor Bogler, alongside his remarkable experimental studio work, developed casting techniques which enabled him and fellow student Marguerite Friedlaender to produce quality designs for the ceramic Industry.
Comparison with the neo-classical 'Fidibus' vase*(1820-30) designed by Karl Schinkle, and edited by Furstenberg, and with the vase designed by Walter Nitszche* for Furstenberg, in 1937, shows how Friedlaender radically redefined the classical white porcelain vase for the 20th century and set a reference for her contemporaries:
Looking at the ceramics produced in the Bauhaus ceramic workshop, in Dornburg, one notes an analytical approach to form; in which the different parts of the vessel are clearly differentiated. This is evident in the Halle porcelain vase (above) designed by Marguerite Friedlaender-Vildehain, in 1931, for KPM, and in this 'krug vase', by Bauhaus-trained potter, Johannes Leßmann* made during the 30s at the Keramike Werkstatt Margaretenhöhe, which he led, from 1933 to 1941:
This piece from the 1930s, echoes the austere analytical Bauhaus ceramic aesthetics, embodied in the works of Otto Lindig, Theodor Bogler, Lucia Mohly and Marguerite Friedlaender; in particular, the clear articulation of the different parts/functions of the jug (foot, body, neck, lip, spout, handle), with an emphasis on the neck-lip-spout pouring function.
The transition from modernist geometry to organic forms, and the introduction of color glazes, is also evidenced by two vases by Walter Gebauer, from 1938 and 1953 respectively:
Whereas the vase on the right is clearly in Bauhaus style; the one on the left, is in the lighter 'streamlined' style that Fesca developed during the 50s at Wächtersbacher, till she retired in 1965.
The fact that both vases were made after 1945 (as shown by the crown mark, and the added mention 'Made in West Germany'), suggests that the green vase may have been designed during Fesca's first period at Wächtersbacher (1931-1939) [before she temporarily retired for ill health] and was either issued or reissued when she returned in 1947 [where she worked till she retired in 1965]. Horst Makus' remark, however, [in Keramik der 50er Jahre: Gormen, Farben und Dekore] that Fesca briefly returned to earlier [modernist] forms after Erdmute Henning left, in 1949, suggests that the vase could have been designed and made around 1950 [perhaps as an homage and farewell to the Bauhaus] before she immersed herself in the streamlined forms for which she is better known. The absence of decor number, under the green jug, but the presence of the impressed form number '080/1' could provide the final clue for dating it. Unfortunately this numbering system is not matched by any of the items documented and dated in the catalogue of the Angelika Jensen collection. [Wächtersbacher Steingut. Die Sammlung Angelika Jensen, Museumsberg Flensburg]. A version of the same vase also stamped 080/1, but decorated with a 1950s red on black glaze was sold on ebay, and was made with a lighter clay…
By the 1950s the Bauhaus ceramic ethos had been widely assimilated by German manufacturers — large and small — as can be seen in this vase* designed by Bauhaus student and teacher Theodor Bogler, for the Maria Laach ceramics workshops, which he led:
Here, the combination of a pure form — achieved by casting from a mould — enhances rather than detracts from the subtle, textured blue glaze, and produced a work which was both beautiful and affordable, in the spirit of the Bauhaus.
Whilst at Maria Laach, Bogler also produced designs for the nearby, prestigious Karlsruhe Majolika Manufaktur.
Regarding the relation between art and spirituality [see Kandinski, Of the Spiritual in Art] it is interesting to note that, after his studies and teaching at the Bauhaus, Bögler studied theology and became prior of the Maria Laach abbey, where he also led the ceramics workshop.
It is undeniable that works produced in series, by industrial or semi-industrial means, do not have the same materiality as hand-made studio works.
In Art and Industry, Herbert Read, contrasts two forms of vitality resulting from whether a pot was hand-thrown ('organic vitality') or cast ('mechanical vitality'). Since the quality gained by the later is precision, and is at the service of a design, Read advises that, the design must be 'the invention of an artist' (p.72).
Referring to the studio pottery revivalism based on the emulation of 17th century 'peasant pottery' Read remarks that 'All attempts to revive such types of art, lacking economic and practical justification, end in artificiality and crankiness', adding 'The economic law is absolute, and healthy; it compels the human spirit to adapt itself to new conditions, and to be ever creating new forms', before concluding: 'It is only when sentimentality and a nostalgia for the past are allowed to prevail, that these forms cease to evolve in conformity with aesthetic values' (p.160).
The German ceramics industry and a number of studio potters of the post-war period raised to the challenge evoked by Read. But it did so not solely by providing the high quality design input recommended by Read, but by the grafting craft skills into the industrial making process. The combined effect of design and craft in an industrial context is what conferred upon these works their specific and distinctive qualities, alongside studio works.
The juxtapposition of two studio pieces by Hans Coper and vases by Schaffenacker highlight these specificities, as does the conversation below.
The juxtapposition of a hand-thrown and sgraffito decorated vase by Pol Chambost,* made during the 50s — in a form and with a deep red 'sang de boeuf glaze suggestive of an earlier period — and a 'krug vase'* designed by Irene Kapinski* in 1956, for Graflich Ortenburg, blurs the boundaries between 'studio-' and 'factory-' made ceramics, as design and craft skills blend harmoniously in both vases; making, in this case, the distinction studio/factory non longer relevant:
As we have seen with Dalpayrat, [see Section 2: The Battle for Color in Britain] the factory, with its specialist staff and its capacity to fund research and experimentation [as Doulton did for their Sung and Chang ware* range produced in Burslem, and Minton, very briefly (1871-72), was the place where to conduct experiments with glazes, which required equipment and chemical knowledge that were beyond the scope of any single individual potter.
It seems, however, that during the period Dalpayrat worked with his wife and three sons, in Bourg-La-Reine, during the mid-1890s he produced experimental glazes which surpass all the serial works that he produced commercially. We may argue with Read that the design of the pieces (forms and glazes) that were produced in series capitalized on the artistic input which made his works so highly admired and widely collected, but it is undeniable that the unrepeatable accidents produced in his 'trial' pieces represent his highest achievements.
A FINAL REMARK ABOUT WGP AND VALLAURIS
As can be seen in the two works below: by Fohr Keramik (left), and by Annette Roux (right), who had a studio in Juan-Les-Pins, near Vallauris, hand-throwing and slip-casting produced different materialities:
In Vallauris hand-throwing persisted, alongside slip-casting, and was extensively used in 'factory' production, during the 50s and the early 60s.
Examples from 'Fady' shows vases that were hand thrown:
and others that were slip-cast.
From the modern collector's point of view the difference is significant. The glaze tend to retain the same quality.
Comparison between the Fohr and the Roux vases, however, highlights a sharp contrast between the austere geometric form and highly controlled glazes produced by many German manufacturers (Jopeko, E.S. Keramic, Scheurich, Gerz,Roth, etc.), and the freer, more fluid, organic form and decoration produced in Vallauris and at Le Cyclope in Annecy. Some Marei pieces decorated with lava glazes managed to minimize the standardized look of conventional slip-cast forms by freely applying thick glaze layers and letting them run. Although not absolute, this distinction between German and Vallauris popular ceramics provide a useful guideline for their appreciation and filiation: Bauhaus vs Picasso…