Thursday, September 28, 2017

Art Inspiration from Ancestors: Italian Majolica

I've been having fun exploring the arts and crafts of the cultures in my family history. I have some Italian ancestry, but it turns out that the connection goes back much further than I'll ever be able to trace on the family tree. My DNA puts me in a haplogroup (people with one shared ancestor thousands of years ago) that comprises only a fraction (0.2%) of people from England and some other Northern European locales, but is much more prevalent in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. So: Italy.

Traditional Italian crafts include laces, mosaics, leather work, quilting, and wood inlay, but I was interested in pottery, specifically majolica. I inherited one small majolica plate that prompted the search for information.

The name 'majolica' (maiolica) comes from the Spanish island of Majorca where ships carrying lusterware from Valencia stopped on their way to Italy. Italian majolica is earthenware with an opaque white tin oxide glaze. Its most outstanding feature is the beautiful, colorful decoration which never fades. Majolica is usually associated with the Renaissance when it hit its aesthetic peak, but it has been produced in Italy since about 1350 and is still produced today.

After the photo are links to more images, and information about majolica and its history.

Circa 1890 Ginori plate
Recently sold at Xupes

Italian Ceramics from the Middle Ages to the Present
Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche

"History of Italian Ceramics"
Italian Pottery Outlet website

Renaissance Maiolica: Painted Pottery for Shelf and Table
Overview on The Met website of an exhibition that just closed in July

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Family + Art/Craft: Quilts

Family + Art/Craft: An artist friend of mine emailed yesterday that she thought my work looked like "Amish quilts on acid!" Once again, I wonder if I was influenced by the beautiful quilts I inherited from my grandmother. Although not Amish, they have the familiar patterns that were popular throughout the mid-west in the late 1800s and early 1900s. My quilts were made by my grandmother, great-grandmother, at least one great-aunt, and a quilting group of women to which my grandmother and her sister belonged. I grew up with one of the quilts always on my parents' bed, and my mother has one on her bed today. There are several more. I think it's time to retrieve them from storage to enjoy again.

Catalog from a show in 2010: "Quilts : masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum" by Elizabeth V. Warren, with a preface by Maria Ann Conelli, a foreword by Martha Stewart, and an introduction by Stacy C. Hollander [Available here and here.]

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Family + Art/Craft: Hand-painted China Plates

Family + Art/Craft: On the kitchen walls are six beautiful hand-painted plates. They've gone from home to home with me, ever since I inherited them from my maternal grandmother. They are all different in style, I don't know how old they are, and I'd have to look at the backs to be reminded of their pedigree -- or lack of one. I just checked the smallest one that has a delicate floral border. It's marked "Stouffer's Hand Decorated" which means it was painted between 1905 and 1907 at the Stouffer Studio in Chicago. It's also marked J&C Bavaria, referring to Jaeger & Co. which produced china in the Marktredwitz area in the Free State of Bavaria, Germany. Was it their manufacture? That's what the mark would indicate. Their design? I wonder. ~ I have always loved these plates. Florals, a still life of fruit, and a pastoral landscape. I can't imagine living without them. Learn more about the Stouffer Studio in Chicago here.

Jacob H. Stouffer portrait, ca. 1905-1910

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Art Inspiration from Ancestors: Belgian Lace

I've always loved lace and have several beautiful items which were made by my great aunt, who was very adept at all kinds of needlework. Is my affinity for lace -- and was hers -- influenced by our family history? From the late 1500s to 1663, our ancestors lived in a city called Kortryk (Dutch) or Courtrai (French) in the Spanish Netherlands which, in modern times, became Belgium. Belgium has long been known for its superb lace, and it turns out that Courtrai was a center of lace-making at that time, due, in significant part, to its location. The thread used in making the exceptionally delicate Brussels lace is of exquisite fineness and the steeping of flax for its creation was done in the nearby river, Lys, "which gives better results than any other water." ("A History of Handmade Lace," Emily Jackson, 1900)

Art Inspiration from Ancestors: Austria/Germany/Hungary/Poland/Russia/Ukraine Embroidery

I like to look at traditional textiles and embroidery to learn about color and pattern. All of these countries contribute to my Ashkenazi heritage. 

So far, my father's paternal ancestry has been traced back to 1737, but the quest for understanding where the family is from is complicated. The province in which my paternal gggg-grandfather was born is now in Poland, but Poland didn't exist at that time. Genealogist cousin Bill explains: "The area was repeatedly partitioned between the Kingdoms of Russia, Prussia, and France. Members of each of the three Friedlob clans could have been born in the same Provence, and have been variously under Russian and/or German occupation at the time - the borders changing with time, without the towns relocating. (I thought I just heard the plaintive strains of the theme from Fiddler on the Roof playing somewhere in the background?)"

Turns out my paternal great-grandfather, who immigrated to the US in 1880, declared Russia as his place of birth. 

My paternal grandmother's parents emigrated in 1883 from Austria. In the 1920 census, they declared that their native language was German. I remember being told that her family was from Austria/Hungary. Boundaries changed often in that area, too.

When I was searching for images to post, I was surprised that so many vintage pieces were not able to be identified specifically by country. Posters would list two or three possibilities. Sometimes arbitrarily imposed national boundaries just don't mean much when you're looking at arts/crafts -- or family histories!












More Art Inspiration from Ancestors: Hungary

Exploring another branch on the family tree, this time looking at colorful traditional embroidery from 18th and 19th century HungaryI like to look at embroidery and textiles to get a sense of traditional patterns and colors. The website of the Hungarian Folklore Museum in Passaic, NJ, has an interesting article about the history of Hungarian embroidery.