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Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware at the Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum presents ‘Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware’ open September 2, 2010–January 17, 2011.

Slipware, sculptural bottles, faience, and creamware are all part of the rich artistic legacy of North Carolina’s first earthenware potters. During the last half of the eighteenth century, artisans of European descent introduced a variety of old-world ceramic traditions to the Carolina backcountry. From storage and cooking vessels with deeply rooted antecedents to sophisticated ornamental ware with Islamic, Asian, and European overtones, the work of these artisans was as diverse as the culture it helped sustain. North Carolina potters transformed the simplest of materials into vessels of practical utility, astonishing beauty, and cultural and religious significance.

Art in Clay is the first major survey of these earthenware traditions and features more than 150 objects. The exhibition explores, among others, work related to the multi-generational Loy family tradition, which originated in France, and that by Moravian immigrant potters who were trained (or influenced) by Gottfried Aust. Aust (American, b. Germany, 1722–1788) was a master potter trained in Saxony, Germany, who later found a home in the North Carolina Moravian missionary settlement. Superior in quality to the pottery the early American colonists were creating, the slip-decorated earthenware, though utilitarian, represented the religious beliefs for which their makers had once been persecuted, and allowed the settlers to maintain a sense of cultural identity in the new world.

Art in Clay is co-sponsored by the Chipstone Foundation and Old Salem Museums and Gardens, North Carolina.

The exhibition is curated by Luke Beckerdite, an authority on American decorative arts; Johanna Brown, curator of Moravian arts at Old Salem Museums and Gardens; and Rob Hunter, editor of Ceramics in America. It is organized at the Milwaukee Art Museum by Ethan Lasser and Claudia Arzeno of the Chipstone Foundation.

Image: Sugar Pot, Alamance County, North Carolina, 1790–1800. Lead-glazed earthenware. H. 10 in. Courtesy, Old Salem Museums & Gardens. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

The Milwaukee Art Museum collects and preserves art, presenting it to the community as a vital source of inspiration and education.

20,000 works of art. 300,000+ visitors a year. 120 years of collecting art. From its roots in Milwaukee’s first art gallery in 1888, the Museum has grown today to be an icon for Milwaukee and a resource for the entire state.

The 341,000-square-foot Museum includes the War Memorial Center (1957) designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the Kahler Building (1975) by David Kahler, and the Quadracci Pavilion (2001) created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

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