guest post: book review of Fragiles by Vivian Orr

Porcelain, Glass and Ceramics
by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann and Sabrina Grill.
Text by Sonja Comments for Gestalten. Published by Gestalten, Berlin 2008
by: Vivian Orr, Communications & Publications Coordinator, Saskatchewan
Craft Council
“Fragiles is an eclectic
collection of unconventional contemporary work in porcelain, glass and
ceramics. Today, these materials are increasingly being used in playful ways by
both established and emerging design talents, who are inspired by Modernism, an
ironic depiction of kitsch and an expanded repertoire of forms made possible by
technological developments such as rapid prototyping. The spectrum and quality
of these innovative projects shows a current generation of designers just how
relevant and challenging working with these traditional fragile materials can
be.” ~Publisher
(from Vivian): Do not take this book to bed. It is over 2 kg, almost 5 lbs. You will not be able to breath
with it on your chest. Besides it is so interesting forget about sleeping. You
might as well sit in a comfortable chair.
book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter is PORCELAIN AS CANVAS and
the first artist is Tord Boontje.
is a designer whose work I personally love. Internationally recognized, he has
work in the permanent collections of the MOMA, New York and the Victoria and
Albert Museum, London. In this book Boontje’s TABLE STORIES (designed for
Authentics) is featured.
collection is a rich graphic narrative on everyday ceramic plates, bowls and
glasses. The drawings for the plates are filled with flowers, deer, squirrel,
birds, bear, butterflies, horses, bunnies and a peacock. The animals and
flowers seem to merge and to grow out of each other. Some of the elements we
have hidden inside the patterns, there is for example a hidden mouse in one of
the plates. Over time you can discover new elements while eating.
The graphic
images are applied as an underglaze print. This is an old ceramic technique by
which the image is first fired onto the ceramic body and second a clear glaze
is applied on top. This gives it a very durable, hard wearing quality, making
it suitable for everyday use.”~Studio Tord Boontje
This first
chapter is filled with strong examples of graphic images applied to plates,
cups, saucers, trays, bowls, bottles, etc. Some are monochromatic, some are
brightly coloured, all display a very personal, contemporary and fresh take on
traditional shapes and imagery.
Chapter two
FRAGILES IN TRANSITION highlight artists’ abilities to transform, or perhaps
more accurately – transmogrify everyday objects into something eye-popping.
Burks describes his PATCHWORK SERIES for Missoni:
some people might call them decorative, they’re much more of a recycling
project, about using a specific material in a structural way.” ~ Stephen Burks
The result
are thrift store vases meticulously covered, decoupage-like, in vibrant, striped, swatches
of Missoni fabric scraps then sealed in resin.
“In an age
of mass production craft really resonates.” ~Stephen Burks
To see more
of Stephen Burks work:
And now for
something completely different …
Benshetrit VASE OF PHASES (produced by Rosenthal) are stark and darkly elegant.
OF PHASES highlights the beauty of experience and reflects Dror Benshetrit’s
ruminations on the ideas of purity, damage, and transformation. The porcelain
vases are cast from moulds created from the three smashed originals.”
Watch an
interview of Benshetrit talking about his process to create VASE OF PHASES:
And for
DIY-ers out there, Xavier Mañosa has created PISSARO (produced by Apparatu);
vases coated with blackboard paint. You can draw and erase to your heart’s
Watch a
video of the Apparatu artisans creating extrusion bowls:
three OBJECTS AND DESIRES ranges from stunning to a wee bit disturbing.
Magdelena Nilsson’s very textured vase STOMACH is deceptive at first glance.
“I have
translated animal intestines into porcelain, transforming the soft, red, and
bloody into something clean, white and hard. The unusable became useful, and
the disgusting beautiful.” ~Magedelna Nillson
To see more
of her work visit:
On the
stunning side of the scale, four of Jennifer McCurdy’s hand thrown, altered and
carved vessels are featured. Her vessels are organic, filled with movement and
To see more of her work visit:
I am going
to close this article with BEADS & PIECES, designed by Hella Jogerius, it
is a Design With Conscience project.
With Conscience, founded by Artecnica in 2002, is a program for the design and
manufacturing of products to be in accordance with humanitarian and
environmentally sensitive principles.”
located in the primary coca leaf-growing region of Peru handcraft the
collection. With the help of Aid to Artisans, a non-profit organization that
provides practical assistance to artisans worldwide, Artecnica offers an
alternative economic reality to the people of this dangerous and oppressed
area. With its black ceramic embellished with delicate pink beading, Beads
& Pieces is classic Jongerius. Ceramic floral bouquets and wooden beads add
to the artful juxtaposition of elements. Beads & Pieces’ handcrafted and
socially responsible origins are apparent in its design. The ceramists’
workmanship is seen in the graceful curves of the black ceramic, a traditional
Peruvian pottery technique. Some motifs from the indigenous Shipibo tribe are
also incorporated into the beading..” ~Artecnica
learn more about Design with Conscience:
last three chapters are:
POUR L’ART (which includes Hans Van Bentem M16 crystal chandelier – had to
throw that in)
the book (it may be available through your public library). It is fascinating,
inspiring, at times creepy or just plain funny, but well worth the time to sit
in your comfy chair and read.

Red Brick Black Mountain White Clay by Christopher Benfey

Lately it seems pretty rare that I get a chance to sit and enjoy the beauty and escapism of good literature. With a new baby in the house and a four year old on the loose, the days of sunny afternoons huddled with a book or staying up all night to finish just one more chapter are by-gone’s. Even further out of reach are the days of getting absorbed in some rich critical and theoretical writing. (I know my brain could once compute that language, but lately it seems more aligned with the language of superheros and motorbike noises). So I was pleasantly intrigued when contacted by TLC Book Tours to do a review of Red Brick Black Mountain White Clay by Christopher Benfey. I thought to myself, “Here I have an excuse to force myself to steal away some moments for reading. It’ll be work therefore I can hide away under a cozy blanket with my book and ignore my kids for a bit, guilt free.” Alas the reality was far more akin to 3am reading sessions while I rocked a disgruntled child back to sleep, less than idyllic, but a reality I love regardless.

So in the wee hours of the morning I was swept away on a journey of discovery of the lineage of a family, jumping around from place to place – japan, mexico, germany, small town here and there USA. Just as the potters Benfey writes about who seek to carve out the pure vein of coveted clay, Benfey carves out for the reader a family’s past and the many influences upon it which create character and perspective. Reading somewhat as a who’s who list of famous and noteworthy people that were either part of his family or family friends makes the story at times seem almost like someone at a cocktail party showing off – I mean really your grandmother’s cousins played with Walter Benjamin?! But I guess if my family history was equally as rich in history and noteworthy characters, I’d have written a book as well.

So why would this book be of interest to review on a ceramic blog like musing? Well much of the book is a reflection upon the lives of artists and potters. Benfey has a way of speaking about makers and the objects that they create in a manner that any maker can relate to: the knowledge of skill, of tradition, detail, value, intrinsic to a pot. The romanticism of the maker and their relationship to the land. There were moments in the book where I was left with a pang of guilt for my “weakness” of use of purchased clay, rather than dirtying my hands digging and working from scratch in the wilderness, finding my own clay and having it create the unique marks only such clay can inscribe on an object.

I was also compelled by the book to think about my own past and experiences in education, academic and otherwise and to try to view my own past in a new light of how certain circumstances led me down the creative path I’m on today. By taking a step back, could a see a broader picture of influence? How were events and the people/artists I’ve meet intertwined in my own life and work.

When it comes to reading, a book needs to grab me within a chapter or two, or it gets put away to collect dust. Life to me is too short for books that don’t speak to you. For me a good book isn’t always about great writing either; a good book makes me think, and Benfey’s accomplished that. There were times when I felt like I was being taken off on an unrelated tangent which frustrated me, but overall the book was compelling and filled with interesting people and stories. At one point one such tangent breaks from telling us about Black Mountain College, Bauhaus aesthetics, and Anni and Josef Albers, to talk about the meander pattern, Greek Mythology of Homer, and the story of the Labyrinth and Daedalus. I found this section and the idea of the labyrinth or meandering to be a perfect metaphor for the book itself. There is a meandering to Benfey’s story telling. But in the end he carves out a path and leads you out of the labyrinth.

If you have an interest in such things as Black Mountain College, Japanese ceramics, Wedgewood and the quest for porcelain in the United States, American potters like Mark Hewitt, or love insight into family histories I would suggest that this book would be of interest. I’d love to hear from others what they think of this book, their likes and dislikes or the questions it posed to them.

In the meantime you can read a few other reviews of the book by checking out the TLC Book Tours website or following the links below:

Travel Spot Iwriteinbooks’s blog Twisting the LensAvery Pottery and TileworksWhynot PotteryBookstack