In the first forty years of the Twentieth Century, America and England produced great quantities of “middle class” ceramics—the kinds of pieces that were bought inexpensively and used to decorate average, middle class homes. Such functional art pottery—vases, bowls and planters—were not considered “precious” or “sophisticated” but, rather, attractive and useful objets, intended to brighten a room corner or table top. They might be nicely designed and beautifully glazed but they would never be confused with their artful and refined distant cousins: Rookwood, Grueby, and Fulper. And these pieces were intended to be used, not locked-up in a display cabinet or placed on an out-of-reach shelf.
Then came World War II, and (as wars will do) many things were forever changed—including the economies of the American art pottery industry. Alas, ceramics production is highly labor-intensive; clay has to be dug, mixed, cast or thrown, finished, glazed, decorated, fired, inspected, packed, and (finally) shipped. After the war, American (and British) labor became more expensive (in many ways a good thing). This meant labor-intensive industries—especially those producing inexpensive consumer goods—would find it difficult to continue in The States. High-end potteries might possibly survive as long as demand continued and premium prices could be charged. But the middle- and lower-level manufacturers were destined to struggle.
Simultaneously, the countries which lost the war had masses of people desperate for work (and governments desperate to re-start their economies). Labor was relatively cheap in places like Germany and Japan. Thus, after the war, middle-class pottery production shifted—from the victor countries to the vanquished. This is why one sees a “boom” in German, Japanese and Italian post-war ceramics (often exported to places like Western Europe, England and The United States).
We’ve just received a large shipment of (mostly) Mid-Century West German pottery, crafted during the 1960’s and 1970’s, including the red-glazed grouping pictured above. Collected in Germany and Eastern Europe, the pieces shown here include the workshops of Carstens, Gramann, and Rhein Ruhr. In the decades shortly after the war, these were the kinds of pieces one might find in a (Modern) middle class household.
Over the next several days, we’ll share more of this recent shipment—arranged, of course, by color.