Monday, 20 January 2014

Popular Pots

I like this one from our Brighton weekend, despite the excessive contre jour and lens flare...  A little "reality versus representation" metaphor for you sophisticates to appreciate!  Nine out of ten for concept; five out of ten for execution.

After hours tramping the busy streets and seafront, it was nice to spend some quieter time in the City Museum and Gallery, situated next to the Royal Pavilion.  Provincial museums can be an unsatisfying and incoherent mixed bag, but this is one of the nicer ones I've visited.  It has recently been refurbished and, without doubt, the most interesting items on display are in the Willett Collection of Popular Pottery.

If you have a taste for vernacular ceramics -- the kind of commemorative and decorative knick-knacks that have adorned the mantelpieces and dressers of ordinary homes for centuries -- then this collection is a real treat.  It's a tabloid history of Britain fired in clay and glaze, and covers subject matter ranging from royalty through popular sporting events to notorious murders.  One of the attendants seemed particularly keen to share with us the story of the Red Barn Murder of 1827, a true tale of murder most horrid which culminated in the flayed skin of the perpetrator being tanned and used to bind an account of this gruesome but popular true-life story.

Henry Willett was a true collector, using his brewing fortune to purchase a wonderful assemblage of objects, which are thematically displayed in a room of nicely-cluttered but well-arranged and lit vitrines.  His basic motivation, apart from simple collector's mania, was a desire to show that "the history of a country may be traced on its homely pottery" and he accordingly gathered together what could be found "on the mantelpieces of English cottage homes, representations of what its inmates or their forefathers admired, reverenced, and trusted in a kind of unconscious survival of the Lares and Penates of the ancients."

That reference to the Lares et Penates -- the household gods of the Romans -- got my attention. One of the earliest photographic sequences I began, but never quite completed, had that very title, and involved photographing the constructs of toys and objects that could be found lying around the house, generally but not always placed in various nooks and crannies by our children, like little domestic altars.  Maybe I'll return to it some day, but this was all before the days of digital, and would involve much searching through files of film negatives, and interminable, tiresome scanning.  It is remarkable, though, the way the objects we bring into our homes -- even a simple pot used as a repository for other items like keys or pencils -- acquire an invested power and presence in our lives.

Classic Delft plate.
I'm intrigued by Queen Mary's Picasso-style bosom.
 Has someone accidentally -- or deliberately -- applied
 nipples to what was intended to be a bare shoulder
and a decorous hint of royal cleavage?


Huw said...

That's a great photo, Mike. The paintings look like Thomas Kinkade, or at least the effect he was going for.


Mike C. said...

Thanks, Huw -- actually, the "paintings" are photos of the pier printed on canvas, with all the dials on 11 (plus a hefty backlight from the low afternoon sun)!

So, real pier in the background, photos of the pier in the foreground, everyone looking at the photos and not the actual pier... A bit Martin Parr.