The Oldest Pottery in the World

June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

We have been considering pottery and then I come across this today.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18602281

When Glass Was Roman Gold

June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

There was a tale about the emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus (42 BCE -37 CE).  A master of glass blowing had invented a method of blowing glass in a mold. In this way, uniform glass objects could be made with greater speed.  Tiberius got the man’s assurance that no one else knew of this method. Then had him beheaded. Tiberius thought that with the use of such a method, glass which was as valuable as gold would quickly become as cheap as dirt. (Did he anticipate the industrial revolution and our modern times?)

Along those lines I would like to present to you a marvelous glass object from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. It is a heavy bit of glassware, almost as round as a globe.  It has wonderful wide handles of pulled glass.   The container is tinted green the natural color of glass and in the interior we have remains of a cremation. The object is an urn in fact. Regardless of it’s somewhat somber role, I think this is an great example of ancient glass blowing.

The second object with metal fittings that echos the leaf-like flaring of the pulled glass. The two materials, glass and bronze seem to compliment each other in form and color. Both objects have a form the reminds me of an Ancient Greek bottle for perfumed oils called  aryballos

This is but two items can be seen at the New York Metropolitan Museum. If you go there take spend some time in the Greek and  Roman exhibit.  It has been recently reinstalled and well worth your time.

 

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Found, One Black Cat

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Years ago there was a nightclub on thirteenth street between fourth and Broadway in Manhattan
I never went there but I was impressed by a brush work cat painted on the side of their building. The cat was arched back its tail seemed to have been done through an act if slinging paint. It was impressive. Night before last not far away I came across another black cat, much smaller, painted on the sidewalk. This one, if not impressive is at least charming.

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A Short Reflection on Glass.

June 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Glass as a material has been known to mankind since 3000BCE. The use of glass for the creation of objects began around 1500BCE in Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Egypt, the first glass containers started with a clay core. Molten glass was wrapped around it like strands of taffy. The clay was then plucked out leaving a hollow interior. There are many examples of this type of glass making in Ancient Egypt often in the form of small cosmetic bottles.

Much later glass blowing came into practice. A metal pipe was used to blow air into the molten glass to forced an expanding hollow in the center of the glass. The glass could be twisted and shaped into seeming endless forms during this process. The Romans took this glassmaking method to great technical and artistic heights. More glass objects were made in the Roman times than at any other period, until the industrial revolution.

One of the great goals of glass making was to create clear glass or crystal. The natural color of glass is green. In the late 1600’s it was discovered that lead oxide would do the trick. Lead has been replaced by zinc and other oxides in modern crystal glass because of health concerns.

For centuries many of the secrets of glass making were kept by the glass houses of  Italy. The houses near Venice became famous for their excellent glassware. Arab and Asian influences should be factored in. Venice was at the crossroads of east and west.

Coming out of the middle ages and keeping a glassmaking tradition that might stretch back to Roman times were Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, England and even Sweden.  These counties  had a tradition of green glass or forest glass houses.  The houses were sit up in the forest and where often but not alway temporary.  The used the materials of the wilderness to create their glass.  Compared to the houses of Italy they produced a useful but inferior green tinted product.

Starting in the 1600’s there was a fledgling glass industry in the American colonies.Virginia, New Jersey, and  Massachusetts had some of the earliest glass houses .

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The Child of Poro

June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

This object is in the African Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.  It is what is called a rhythm pounder. Created by a craftsmen/artist, of the Senufo people.  The Senufo are from the Ivory Coast primarily.  Such objects are tools for a village closed society called Poro. One important responsibility of the Poro is the initiation of young people into adulthood. Another is the burial of members of the Poro society.  Most Africa wood sculpture is carved from a single piece of wood. In this case the lower part of the object is left close to it’s natural state, which is common for this sort of object.  It adds weight to the objects which is held by the arms and swung, from side to side.  It is also tapped on the ground.  This ground tapping or pounding is thought to get the attention of the ancestors, inviting them to attend important village rituals.  When a Poro member dies the bounders are brought to the grave site. At least one in placed in the grave with the dead for a time. It is then removed. Pounders are used to tap down the earth above the grave.

These objects are also called  “Children of Poro”

I love not only the hand of the artist here, but the hand of time so to speak.  It was a beautiful object from the start. The shape of the head, the cresting headdress, the long face the small mouth the large eyes.  Then there is time and accident that has left parts missing, surfaces smoothed and worn down to soft shapes, exposure of the natural aging wood and it soft brown color. All of this is now part of its aesthetic power and its quiet, and almost sad beauty.

The Familiar Object that Startles

June 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you have been reading my blogs you might have noticed that I seem to spend a lot of time at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I like art museums in general and I do like MIA in particular.

One of the objects that I find surprising and wonderful is a car in on the second floor. It is in what I take to be the museum’s collection of Design. I wrote my nephew who is a lover of the contemporary automobile about this car. “It would not be the sort of car that you would not want to encounter on a country road in the middle of the night. You would not know if you should flee or follow.”

Context in is very important here and this car is, I think, a marvelous addition to the Museum’s collection.

The Earthly Art of an African Woman

June 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Now in addition to figure and decoration on pottery we have the element of form and surface to take into account. One of the most spectacular examples of this is the pottery of the Kenyan/British potter Magdalene Odundo.  I have copied a description of her work from the web site of the Metropolitan Museum New York.  (below)

One of the issues that museums confront when displaying her work is how or more accurately, where to display it. I discussed this with the late William Siegmann, curator of African Art at the Brooklyn Museum. One of her vessels came to the African department as a gift or purchase, I forget which.  Bill felt that it did have it’s links to the African potting traditions (Pottery in traditional Africa is belongs in the realm of women, and is associated with spirit powers), Odundo’s objects would be just as at home in a gallery of contemporary arts and crafts.  I personally feel, having seen her vessels in African collections, that in fact her work does seem more at home among contemporary objects. This is not however to negate their ancient yet  timeless quality.

Metropolitan label:

The sinuous ceramic vessels created by contemporary artist Magdalene Odundo have been praised for their elegant aesthetic appeal. While their beauty can derive from the simple appreciation of their graceful forms, Odundo’s vessels blend multiple associations and meanings in a manner that makes them simultaneously familiar and novel.

This example from the Museum’s collection is comprised of a round-bodied pot and an elongated, wide-mouthed neck. There are four small nodules at the base of the neck, and two more centered on opposite sides of the main body. Odundo creates her works using the coiling method—a practice thousands of years old and found worldwide. She begins by pulling a cone of clay upward as its middle is hollowed out to form the body of the vessel. Many of her pieces feature a round, voluptuous body; variation is expressed in the profile and gesture of the neck. Within this limited vocabulary of shapes, Odundo focuses on small physical additions and modifications to maximize aesthetic impact. It is through firing that Odundo’s vessels are transformed and finished. A piece is fired in one of two ways: in a purely oxidizing atmosphere, which turns the vessel a natural luminous red-orange, or in an oxidizing followed by a reducing atmosphere, which produces a rich charcoal-black. The gray/black tones of this piece are probably the result of partial reduction during the firing process. The exact outcome of firing is uncontrollable, adding a small element of chance to the artistic process. In this case, it may have aided in forming the abstract-expressionist qualities of the color scheme.

Odundo’s work explicitly acknowledges a link to the pottery traditions of Africa—indeed, in much of Africa, ceramic is a medium primarily associated with female creativity, and the anthropomorphic references to the female body in her work literalize that connection. The work, however, reveals a thorough knowledge of non-African traditions, including the complex vessel shapes of ancient Cyprus, the geometry of Cycladic figures, the heavy forms of Japan’s Jomon culture, and the unusual gourd-shaped pots of the Pokot of Kenya, among many others. Although Odundo was born in Kenya and received initial training as a graphic artist there, it was in England that she explored an interest in clay, after which she traveled to Kenya, Nigeria, the southwest United States, and many other locales to study indigenous pottery techniques. She then completed a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London, where she continues to live and work. The blend of influences present in her work prevents Odundo from being pigeonholed as a strictly African artist. Her profound exploration of the technical and expressive possibilities of the ceramic medium has created work unique within the landscape of contemporary art.

 

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