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In Fine Form: MAM’s ‘Art in Clay’

Art Review

Dec. 20, 2010
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A traveling exhibit featuring functional decorative objects molded from clay comes to the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) in “Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware.” The exhibition focuses on the work and legacies of North Carolina potters from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The artifacts showcase various motifs and ornamentation on items like bottles and tableware. The imagery of flowers found on the works—imagery emphasized by Moravian immigrants—commonly symbolized religious concepts and the transient nature of life, “the ephemeral nature of worldly things.”

One large case at the MAM exhibits a variety of sugar pots, which were a valued commodity in the new colonies. Among these is The Lffler Sugar Pot, featuring a burnt orange glaze overlaid with brown and ivory spots. Sugar, often taken for granted in today’s food culture, was considered a rich indulgence then.

Ceramic artists, history buffs and anyone fascinated by colonial America will revel in this rare, finely showcased pottery. Casual viewers may delight in the colorful designs, forerunners to contemporary dinnerware, as well as the playful bottles capturing the likenesses of fish and turtles.

These stylized, masterful designs, sourced from the imagination and from nature, precede those found upstairs at the MAM in the Baker/Rowland Galleries’ “European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century.” The “European Design” exhibition highlights the modern versions of the bottles, bowls, plates and sugar pots found in “Art in Clay” and demonstrates humanity’s propensity for imbuing ordinary objects with beauty and meaning. When viewed together, the exhibitions offer an interesting perspective on everyday design over the course of centuries.

“Art in Clay” continues through Jan. 17, 2011.


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