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The New American Wing: American Art Pottery
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the Metropolitan Museum's Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts, talks with Robert Ellison about his collection of American ceramics from 1876 to 1956, a promised gift to the Museum. The works will be displayed on the mezzanine balcony of the Charles Engelhard Court in the New American Wing, which reopens to the public on May 19, 2009. More information about the American Decorative Arts collection is available on the Museum's Audio Guide.

Transcript

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: I'm Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen and we're here doing the finishing touches of this most exciting installation of the mezzanine, which is American ceramics from 1876 to 1956—American art pottery—which is the promised gift of Robert Ellison, who is standing right here with me.

Robert Ellison: Yes, that's me. I collected all this works over vaguely a forty-five-year period. Certainly the best of what I collected is here on view, and I hope it'll be an educational experience to show what a marvelous period this eighty-year segment is in American ceramics.

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: It's an extraordinary collection, and for the Met, it transforms our holdings in this area. It really brings to light for the first time the very best from the time of the 1876 centennial, with sculptor-designed works in a very commercial pottery that were designed for that special exhibition, all the way up through, really, pushing the boundaries in the American wing to the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, to the mid-1950s. I'm just loving the dialogues that are played up with this opportunity to see them all—to really bring them together.

Robert Ellison: There's little small stories throughout the eighty-year period. However, in each period, the painting styles suddenly change, certain glazes become more popular or discovered or little evolutionary things that took place.

Morrison Heckscher: They pointed out some favorites. One was in the case toward one end of the mezzanine, containing the earliest pieces in the collection.

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: I mean, I love the—what I call the "Keramos Vase" and it's a great piece, I think, to start this off because it's really focusing on the art of ceramics, from the Egyptians on one side to the Greeks on the other and then in the front you have the then-modern-day potter.

Robert Ellison: Well, that's a pot that I grew to love, but it's a pot I shouldn’t like because it's a—it's a composite of styles when they still didn't quite know how to produce a style for the times.

Morrison Heckscher: And then they turned to a nearby case, devoted to one late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century potter named George Ohr.

Robert Ellison: Well, he's an anomaly within this period. He did things that nobody did. At the time, everybody thought Ohr was, like, a joker, was trying to get attention, so they didn't take it seriously, and he had no followers to carry on his—he didn't influence anybody. So when he died, in a sense, his work died.

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: They're incredibly light, they're featherweight, very, very thinly potted. You can actually see where his fingers have punched in these pieces, twisted it, but highly controlled. I mean, it's extraordinary when you think of how thin these walls were, the control that he was able to achieve.

Robert Ellison: Well, even his contemporaries had to admit he was a fantastic thrower and they did like his glazes, but they thought he was torturing his forms. 

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: Really wasn't until, what, the early 1970s, that. . . ?

Robert Ellison: The early seventies. And, at that time, contemporary potters started taking notice, so he had a degree of influence in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: Contemporary artists, too, Jasper Johns and others were very. . .

Robert Ellison: Yes, fine artists liked it, potters liked it.

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen: . . . taken with it.

Robert Ellison: He often said, "Well, you know, what I'm doing is something informed. And some day you'll appreciate it." And so it remained for a bunch of us in this last quarter of the twentieth century to confirm that George Ohr actually knew what he was doing.

[image captions]

[1–5] Installation views of cases on the mezzanine balcony of the Charles Engelhard Court. Photographs by Bruce Schwarz.

[2] Union Porcelain Works (1863–ca. 1922). Designed by Karl L. H. Müller (ca. 1820–1887). Vase, 1876. Stoneware. Brooklyn, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.22). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[3] Rookwood Pottery (1880–1967). Executed by Edward Timothy Hurley (1869–1950). Bowl, 1929. Earthenware. Cincinnati, Ohio. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.87). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[4] W. Hunt Diederich (1884–1953). Charger, 1925–35. Earthenware. New York City. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.76). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[5] Maija Grotell (1899–1973). Vase, 1938–50. Stoneware. Cranbrook, Michigan. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.80). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[6] Peter Voulkos (1924–2002). Vase, ca. 1955. Stoneware. Los Angeles, California. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.91). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[7] John Bennett (1840–1907). Vase, 1882. Earthenware. New York City. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.50). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[8] Charles Volkmar (1841–1914). Vase, 1877–78. Earthenware. France. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.44). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[9] Rookwood Pottery (1880–1967). Decorated by Edward Timothy Hurley (1869–1950). Vase, 1908. Earthenware. Cincinnati, Ohio. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.274). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[10] Rookwood Pottery (1880–1967). Decorated by Harriet E. Wilcox (active at Rookwood 1886–1907). Vase, 1901. Earthenware. Cincinnati, Ohio. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.270). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[11] Grueby Faience Company (1894–ca.1911). Designed by George P. Kendrick (1850–1919). Vase, ca. 1900–08. Earthenware. Boston, Massachusetts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.192). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[12] Installation view on the mezzanine balcony of the Charles Engelhard Court. Photograph by Bruce Schwarz.

[13] Union Porcelain Works (1863–ca. 1922). Designed by Karl L. H. Müller (ca. 1820–1887). Vase, 1876. Porcelain. Brooklyn, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.23). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[14] Installation view on the mezzanine balcony of the Charles Engelhard Court. Photograph by Bruce Schwarz.

[15] George E. Ohr (1857–1918). Vase, 1897–1900. Earthenware. Biloxi, Mississippi. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.283). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[16] George E. Ohr (1857–1918). Vase, 1897–1900. Earthenware. Biloxi, Mississippi. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.257). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[17] George E. Ohr (1857–1918). Vase, 1897–1900. Earthenware. Biloxi, Mississippi. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.282). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[18] George E. Ohr (1857–1918). Teapot, 1897–1900. Earthenware. Biloxi, Mississippi. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr. (L.2009.22.279a, b). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[19] George E. Ohr (1857–1918). Vase, 1897–1900. Earthenware. Biloxi, Mississippi. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2009 (L.2009.22.289). Photograph by Robert A. Ellison Jr.

[20] Installation view on the mezzanine balcony of the Charles Engelhard Court. Photograph by Bruce Schwarz.

Collections (13)