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As the Crow Flies

Rookwood Revisited

Feb. 19, 2013
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Hermes (aka Mercury) looked slightly blue standing in the buff in the entry courtyard at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, though his stone-cold body wasn’t entirely nude. Tied around his trim waist was a prissy white apron, perhaps left over from the “Garden of Curious Delights” exhibition’s recent closing.

Inside the east wing on floor two, the sunshine bouncing off Lake Michigan hinted at spring and the 37 lushly painted and glazed porcelain vessels (on display through April 7) certainly reflected the coming change. The assembled beauties (“Modern Rookwood: 1918-1933”), arranged skillfully under the direction of guest curator Dr. Annemarie Sawkins, are selections from the collection of Riley Humler and Annie Bauer. Humler will tell a fuller tale of the vessels’ history during an informal lecture (Thursday, March 7 at 6 p.m.), perhaps sharing tidbits about how they gained fame under the Rookwood spell—a spell conjured in Cincinnati in 1880 with a mogul’s money. Fortunately, the mogul’s daughter had the good sense (and good taste) to grab some of the loot and become the first woman to run a major company. It not only thrived, but survived and is alive today on Facebook. Thank you, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, and thank you Sawkins for consistently bringing us art that details the ambitions of women everywhere.

Rookwood takes its name from the aforementioned mogul’s lavish estate, but you have to wonder why else such glorious products might be named after “rooks,” otherwise known as “ugly black crows.” Perhaps though, the name also suggests an era of royalty and luxe living, foreign shores and exotic flora and fauna.

Jens Jensen’s 1933 Vase with Seven Nudes depicts its subjects from straight on, celebrating the round, firm and fully packed female figure, still rosily fresh in 2013. Other vessels are embellished with turtles, a Native American chief and scenes heavily influenced by Japanese watercolors and woodblock prints. The exhibition is not just for ladies and gentlemen in sensible shoes; indeed, anyone with an interest in the history of ceramics, and by extension, the history of how mogul money makes money, should go where the crow flies.



In the headline and captions of last week’s art review, Mike Fredrickson’s name was misspelled.


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