Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Where are the doves?

I remember as a child in Dublin,
playing in my friend's house and being shown her new teaset.  It was a ceramic one, in my memory it was a scaled down child size replica of a Willow Pattern dinner set and, confusingly, it was in a deep Mulberry colour.  Well to me, this seemed wrong, although our home had no Willow Pattern I somehow knew it should be blue, but more than that I experienced real envy as my own toy tea set was made of plastic and was white and lime green, uber-modern with its square plates in its context of seventies design and clearly, even as an unsophisticated eight year old, it was an inferior product compared to my pal's set.  We laughed when I reminded her of this decades later.

Now, as  a ceramic artist who teaches Print On Clay techniques I amuse myself recalling little things like that.  I am a Willow Pattern enthusiast, not that I collect and use the ware much, more that I am enthralled by the decorative elements of the classic china pattern, the pagoda's, the boats, trees, bridge, the sweet little doves and the borders.  My lovely husband Henry went to an auction last weekend to find himself a project,  a clock in particular, something to dismantle, tinker with and work out how to make it good again.  He'd grown up with a beautiful antique Grandfather clock in the family home and it was through his boyish ingenuity and curiosity that  it was mended it and given life.  So, now that his various bike and motorbike phases are at rest (no really, I'm not rolling my eyes here, much) somehow the desire to fix a clock has reawakened.  For sure this man will have a very busy retirement when the time comes, he will never be idle.

the backstamp on my new old plates
While I was off at my clay fest in Perth last weekend, just a few blocks away Henry was at an auction house bidding for a hanging pendulum wall clock to fix, and also scored a couple of old Royal Worcester meat plates he figured I'd like.  As a Print on Clay bod, I love them!  It was a really thoughtful thing to buy for me. I think Hen was waiting for an 'attaboy' but I was absorbed immediately by the pale blue printed pattern and the differences between it and the classic cobalt look we associate with Willow.  The design is more ornate and developed than commonplace Blue Willow images, the trees are so pretty, the print very crisp.  I was taking in the engraved look, the sense of the print transferring from the tissue, the onglaze print is perfect.  I've checked the backstamp and our acquisitions are from 1893, though they look identical to those made forty years later from the same factory due to the quality control and consistency in place at the factory.   The glaze is also perfect, no crazing, no scratches on the surface to indicate decades of carving and serving.  Have they ever been used, or have they spent their lives on display or hung on a wall?  I'm pretty sure they've had a gentle life.

But HANG on ... where are the doves?    Look at the first photo.  Those teeny little birds are the doves!  I almost want my money back.  The trees and the doves are what I adore in the Willow Pattern, I draw and print them  all the time.  On these plates the doves are relegated to miniscule blue silhouettes.  All the exquisite detail is in the tree foliage and the textures and forms of buildings and the little men in boats and on bridges.

Do you know the myth associated with the pattern?  The Willow Legend
There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se. He employed a secretary, Chang who, while he was attending to his master's accounts, fell in love with Koong-se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.
The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin's estate so that Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could only walk in the gardens and to the water's edge. One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem, and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang, floated to the water's edge. Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away.
She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal.
However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-se's room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away without detection, but Koong-se's father saw her at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge.
The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-se's father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.
One night the Mandarin's spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river and the Mandarin's guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned. Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se's maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.
They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.
Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two doves, eternally flying together in the sky. 

Love, drama, a good chase scene and a tragedy - what more does a story need?   Well yes, but call me petty, I am mortified that the doves have been so dimunitised on these old plates.  To me they are the essence of the story, the spirit of the tragic lovers and all that jazz.   Here are two examples of Willow Doves, the background one on an old plate with a hint of nice brushwork and one as a modern decal on a porcelain brooch I made.  Do you see what I mean?  The sense of survival, freedom and that 'only have eyes for you' kind of look.  

A classic ornate backstamp on a Burleighware plate

A contemporary backstamp, rather lacking in the traditional feel, I think.
Reader do you think this is all a little weird?  There are squillions of folk inspired by the blue willow pattern, one blogger elected to draw elements of the pattern on paper by hand over weeks for the challenge and enjoyment of it.  I totally understand that.  Plus, if you are interested you could look at the work of contemporary ceramic artists Paul Scott and Robert Dawson, homage and subversion all at once in some pieces. I love a subtle politican dig in art sometimes, when it is as well done as Paul does it.  Both artists have had their work blogged and discussed a great deal.

Robert Dawson plate
detail of Paul Scott's plate A Willow for Ai WeiWei
altered to refer to Chinese Artist Ai WeiWei and his Sunflower Seed Installation at the V&A London
Image from article http://sciencenordic.com/politics-blend-art-modern-protest-old-chinese-platter - read it and maybe this too http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/arts-entertainment/object-factory-art-industrial-ceramics-21369.html

I mean seriously?  How could anyone say that pottery is boring, although I realise that this little blurt is focussing on the surface decoration and history therein,  and to think, this entire posting is a diversion from the posting I am composing about the three day POTober clayfest last weekend in Perth, WA.  So many pix to sift through, you should watch out for it.  Lots to share!

Let's click here and pop over to the fabulous MUD COLONY to see what all the other clayfolk are up to.  


All text in this blog posting is copyright of Elaine Bradley, Ceramic Artist, Western Australia unless quoting from another source.  All photographs in this blog posting are copyright of Elaine Bradley unless otherwise stated.  No responsibility can be taken for external links.  Please report any errors in crediting photographs, sources or facts to the author in order to allow her to rectify the matter.  Your response or feedback is welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Scott gave a wonderful presentation at Subversive Clay in Adelaide recently. I will never look at Willow pattern in the same light. Well to be honest I had never looked deeply at it before as it overloaded my brain, so I mostly ignored it. But now thanks to Paul's talk I am critically examining willow pattern bits and pieces as I come across them.