5. A Clay Menagerie: The Animal World in Ceramics

From: Global Clay

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141 5 | a clay menagerie The Animal World in Ceramics . . . The animals went in two by two, The elephant and the kangaroo, And they all went into the ark For to get out of the rain. . . . . . . The animals went in five by five, By hunting each other they kept alive, And they all went into the ark For to get out of the rain. Variant of a children’s counting folk song1 We humans have had a complex relationship with others in the animal world. One of the positive aspects of this relationship is the inspiration provided by our nonhuman cousins to visual artists, including the traditional potters whose creations are the focus of this book. The depiction of animals in clay art reflects the many roles humans have imposed on them: as a source of food; as helpmates/servants in our work; as objects/victims of sport and other entertainments; and as companions/pets. Our anthropocentric perspective tends to project our human traits onto nonhuman animals, especially evident in cartoon treatments (e.g., Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck) but also in certain ceramic representations (fig. 5.1). Further, the fact that in both the ancient Mesopotamian and Hebrew Flood myths the animal world is saved through human agency (with divine blessing, of course) is early evidence of our sense of power over other species; to emphasize that point we’re told that to give thanks for surviving the Flood both Utnapishtim and Noah sacrifice some of the animals they’d saved (fig. 5.2). Figure 5.1. Salt-glazed stoneware love-bird jars—more anthropomorphic than zoomorphic—by Martin Brothers, Southall (Greater London), England, ca. 1900. The Martins were artist-potters who’d taken classes at Lambeth School of Art; Robert first worked as an architectural sculptor, while Walter and Edwin were introduced to stoneware at Doulton & Co., Lambeth. A fourth brother, Charles, managed the studio. Courtesy of Skinner, Inc., www.skinnerinc.com. Figure 5.2. Faience plate illustrating Noah’s animal sacrifice to give thanks for surviving the Flood (after a woodcut by Bernard Salomon), Nevers or Lyons, France, 1580–1610. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, www .metmuseum.org. Figure 5.3. Terracotta celengan (piggy bank), Eastern Java, Indonesia, 1300–1500, perhaps broken by original owner to remove coins. Many were excavated around the site of Trowulan, early capital of the Majapahit Empire. Portuguese and later Dutch trade in Indonesia may have introduced the idea of a pig-shaped bank to Europe. Collection of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl. Figure 5.4. Pig bottle with removable “hogshead” drinking cup, earthenware with manganese-speckled lead glaze, attributed to Frederick Mitchell, Cadborough (near Rye), Sussex, England, ca. 1850s (when the large Sussex or Rudgwick pig breed was disappearing). Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, https://www .vam.ac.uk. Figure 5.5. Salt-glazed stoneware pig flask by Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick, Anna, Union County, Illinois, 1882. Anna Pottery produced these wheel thrown, then hand modeled, flasks for Midwestern businesses to distribute as premiums or for presentation, which also promoted the pottery. Most have an incised “Railroad and River Guide” map. Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company, Rock Island, Illinois. Figure 5.6. Yue-ware huzi (tiger) urinal, celadon-glazed stoneware, probably Zhejiang province, China, first Jin dynasty, ca. 300 CE, as displayed with recent porcelain kewpie doll at Hong Kong Heritage Museum, China. Photo: Hermann Luyken, via Wikimedia Commons. Figure 5.7. Cizhou-ware tiger pillow, painted stoneware, Hebei province, Great Jin dynasty, ca. 1200. Uncomfortable as such Chinese ceramic neck rests may appear, they are thought to have influenced dreams and maintained the elaborate hairstyles of elite women. Collection of Chazen Museum of Art, University of WisconsinMadison . Photograph: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons. A Clay Menagerie | 149 In many pottery images the usefulness of nonhuman animals to us seems to be the main point, as if they exist solely for our purposes. Obvious examples would be containers shaped as animals. The earliest banks in pig shape are those of the Majapahit Empire of East Java, Indonesia, dating to the fifteenth century CE (fig. 5.3).2 The represented animal is a celeng, or swaybacked, black-skinned Javanese wild boar, a symbol of prosperity. The slot in the bank’s back was for receiving kepeng, round Chinese brass coins with square holes. When excavated, many celengans are found to be broken, the only way they could be emptied. How the idea of a piggy bank made...