Bay West German Vase with Impressed "Cuneiform" Decoration (LEO Design)

The ancient Mesopotamians of Sumer (which is now modern-day Iraq) invented the Cuneiform system of writing some 5,000 years ago. The name “cuneiform” comes from the Latin “cuneus” (meaning “wedge”) and “forma” (meaning “shape”).  Wedge-shaped wooden styluses were used to impress marks into soft clay tablets which were dried (or fired) and, properly stored, would last indefinitely.  Hundreds of thousands of these ancient clay tablets are held by museums and at archaeological sites around the world. The Cuneiform system remained in use for over 3,000 years until it was replaced by the Phoenician alphabet in the first century after Christ.

Throughout history, decorative artists often appropriated the design and motifs of the past for their contemporary works—and ceramicists in the 1960’s and 1970’s were no different. Mid-Century Modern ceramicists sometimes adapted the aesthetics of ancient objets recently unearthed in Twentieth Century archaeological digs. Such “borrowing” allowed the artist to “tip his hat” to timeless classical style—and it allowed an educated consumer the satisfaction of recognizing the continuum of aesthetic history from a long-gone are.

The vase above, made in West Germany in the 1960’s or 1970’s, is crafted with a cuneiform-like texture pattern—making the piece at once Modernist and ancient.