Traveling with Pots

I wanted to take some pictures to show people “behind the scenes” at Modernware. But there is no factory anymore where these ceramics are made. There is only one of each. Each was made a long time ago and had a long, difficult journey through time to the present day. Each had to survive being placed too near the edge of a shelf, the visit of the toddler from next door, the earthquake, the move from one state to another, often the move from one country to another.

And the art ceramics I sell and collect come to me through different ways. Some are cast away and of no further use to the owner. Some come from overseas, some I find in my own neighborhood. Some I buy at auction after a bidding war. There is no one place.

So, instead of where these ceramics come from, I decided to show you where they have been. But since I can’t go back in time and show you, I decided to travel with my pots. That is the beginning of this story.

I asked each pot where it would like to go. Not very communicative, I often had to let the pot sit nearby on a shelf and the destination would just come to me.

The Carstens Tönnieshof vase is a sophisticated but spontaneous, modern beauty. There is nothing that feels machine made about this piece. To me it seems as if it grew organically from nature. So on a recent trip to the Oregon coast with my son, I put it carefully in a box in the back seat. I took it with me for a walk at Lookout Point, near Tillamook, and it settled right on the rocks of the beach. It was as if it was part rock, part seaweed, part sand, part seawater.


I discovered this Italian mystery jar online, with no attribution. There was something about the incised pattern and rough texture that said Bitossi Ceramiche. And it was so. Rough and medieval-looking, in surprising Mid Century red orange, this is one of my favorite pots. It looks like a Hobbit treasure chest and required to be found in some mossy forest. So that is where we went, to the woods not far from my house, along the Willamette River.


The vase by Poole pottery in England, features a startled Persian deer, running through a fairy land of exotic flowers and plants. Painted by Gwen Haskins from a design by the great Truda Carter, the vase cried out to be in a the nearest mysterious wonderland. Luckily, I live in Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge is about half an hour away. There you will find a lovely collection of waterfalls, from elfin to giant. I rounded up my son, who is a photographer, and we headed out with Truda’s vase. There at Wahkeena Falls, the vase teetered on a rock long enough to be captured, deer and all and the water thundered on.


One of my favorite makers is Wilhelm Kagel (the younger). My wife is very tolerant of the large number of plates, vases, pitchers in our house from Partenkirchen, Germany, mostly 1950s. Kagel created a style that was part folk art and part Arts and Crafts art pottery. There is little pretension however, so this lovely sunflower plate seemed quite at home on my backyard woodpile.


As you can see on my About page, I started collecting ceramics with a Hall teapot. At first I was a purist and would only collect teapots without the gaudy gold accents that grace many Hall teapots. My wife was the one who convinced me to open the doors to the gold ones. And I figured that if I wanted gold, go for the most over the top one of all, the polka-dotted Hall “windshield” teapot. And where best to find one? In my goldfish pond, circled by goldfish.


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