Friday, July 27, 2012


Some people line their shelves with books of famous authors, spines bearing the titles, "Tropic of Cancer", "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Fifty Shades of Gray". Others dust around framed photos of family and friends. We like to line shelves with pottery. We'll go out on a limb and bring in some vintage Roseville and we can appreciate the cobalt blue of a shelf lined with Delft but our hearts belong to the simplicity of the mid-century matte white vases made by pottery companies and supplied to florists around the country.
It wasn't long ago that we could scour the flea markets and multi-dealer antique malls of Wisconsin and Georgia and come back with truckloads of Haeger, Rookwood and Redwing, even Roseville pottery, all for a song. We'd wrap our finds and cart them back to our little country store in the mountains of Upstate New York where we'd sell them at a normal retail based mark-up. We were never into book value pricing or arm-and-leg price hikes. The pottery would fly off the shelves. We'd keep a piece here and there for ourselves watching our own collection grow beyond the fireplace mantle and begin its spread onto the tops of dressers and into the open nooks of built-in bookcases. For me there may have been a personal connection. My father was from Dundee, Illinois, the home of Haeger Potteries. Started more than a hundred forties years ago as a brickyard it came to prominence after the great Chicago fire when rebuilding began and the material of choice was something a little less flammable than wood. Some time around the turn of the century the Haegers turned their efforts and their clay toward the production of ceramics. I can remember on family visits back to Dundee my Mother dragging me to the seconds shop at the Haeger Studios where she'd pick up a couple of vases, always matte white. We had a huge horizontal mirror in our living room with a glass shelf. My Mom displayed her vases filled with ivy and a questionable figure of a black man with a white turban and white flowing pants, a gold chain and arm bracelet attached to a ferocious looking black panther standing center stage on the glass shelf. My Mom actually had quit a flair for design.
Here are some pieces from our collection that we're particularly proud of:
Starting with what can be the hardest thing to pull off these tall slim vases show perfect proportion. The addition of the pedestal bases gives the right touch of detail. Don't ask us to ever part with this trio.
These two vertical vases take the form a little further, deconstructing the cylinder and putting it back together in a series of geometric shapes pushing form to the edge of innovation.
This series of vases shows how diversity works so well in our household. Not only is it a concept that works for humanity it also works for the vases on your shelf.
The matte white is not only found in vertical vases but it can be found in some very graceful horizontal forms as well. This is one of our favorites.
And here are some other people who have managed to use pottery in ways that make our drool buckets fill to the brim and dribble just a little over the edge.

This is such a small thing but at the same time it takes a big divot out of my image of Madison. New York and New Yorkers have had an image problem with the rest of the nation for decades. The stereotypical perception is one of rude pushy people scurrying around like a bunch of rats, self-possessed and entitled. We had a small country store in a little Upstate hamlet populated mostly by New York City weekenders. Most of our neighbors chose this area as a place to exhale, breath in a little mountain air and relax. Days were spent poolside at the community pool or weeding vegetable gardens and evenings were filled with rotating impromptu dinners and cocktails parties that lasted until the kids had fallen asleep on the couch. After we had put in some shallow roots we opened a small country home and garden store on our block long Main Street. We were only open Thursday through Sunday during the high tourist season. Rick and I actually fought over counter time at the store. It was a real social event where you didn't know who was going to come through the door. We had celebrities, restaurateurs, advertising executives, local construction workers, and the waitress from across the street, all come in to enjoy the shop. During our ten-year tenure I only once had to deal with a theft. A regular customer had come in with a friend. I watched as the woman's friend picked up a twelve- dollar book on cigar labels and tucked it under her coat. I debated saying something but then decided against it. The woman was a good customer and her friend obviously had a problem. It wasn't worth the twelve dollars. It was the only time to my recollection where anything was lifted from our store.
Madison's story has not been quit the same. I'm going to ignore our stint at a local antique mall. They warned us about putting valuable items out, not storing them behind lock and key. We lost several valuable pieces of Roseville pottery by not adhering to their warning. Undeterred we've continued to believe that in Madison we're not supposed to have to lock our doors or hide our valuables. Our retail business has been tough to get off the ground. A lot of people have tried to convince us to do something with some more obvious signage to point a bigger finger at our store. We are on a bike path with a fair amount of bike riders passing by. I couldn't bear to do a sandwich board or a flashing neon sign so I concocted a tableau of vintage flags, a contemporary side table and the open/closed sign we had used at our store in New York. I placed my tableaux curbside in the hopes of drawing some attention to the store. It was a sign our daughter had packed up when we left New York. It was her idea to use it here in Madison, her good luck charm for the store. Saturday in the middle of the day while I was working on some construction drawings in the back room someone came by and snatched the sign. I don't think it looked like trash. I don't think the bike riding population are a particularly nefarious breed but I'd like to think that whoever took it thought it was something set out as a freebee. I hope they'll see this and think about their karma and return the sign. Here's hoping Madison proves to be what I know it really is.

Weegee on his Studio Fire Escape, Ca 1939
Photographer, Unknown
Available from Getty Images

1 comment:

  1. I have a few of these wonderful matte white pottery pieces and love them, I love seeing what you and others have done with it!