Saturday, July 20, 2019

United by Separation

Two Wine Decanters and Glazes designed by Weston Neil Andersen circa 1950's
Recently two beautiful wine decanters, designed by Weston in midcentury, were returned to us. I date them at the late fifties or early sixties because the wine decanters were not produced as frequently by the seventies, to my recollection, as the wild life sculpture line and other functional designs became predominately featured. 

The form is understated in its simplicity. There are other forms of the midcentury or mid-century-inspired-era based on a bulb with a thin elongated neck but this form predates most of them. There are forms going back to antiquity based on a bulb with an elongated neck and yet I have never seen one that resembles the particular design choices made by Weston when he created this form for the first Andersen Design line to be marketed to the public.

The cast and fettling of these two decanter-vases is perfectly executed, bringing out the finer sensibilities of the design. The fullness of the bulb is anchored toward the ground. The bulb elongates, curving inward in both upward and downward directions. The downward curve is shorter for security at the base. The bulb elongates upward and tapers to a reserved degree before it expands outward again, without extravagance, toward the heavens, like a bulb flowering from earth to sky.

The glaze and the application of the glaze is accomplished with the perfection of skilled craftsmanship. The white glaze differs from the andersen signature look. It is a glossy white rather than a matte. The glossy white compliments the sensuality of the forms curvature.

Bulb Decanter with Slanted Lip and Two-Tone Glaze
Designed and Crafted by Weston Neil Andersen
Circa 1948

Glazing is one of the most intriguing and seductive arts of the ceramic designer craftsperson. It is both a science and an art. It involves molecular interactions which cannot be seen with the naked eye requiring an understanding of chemistry worked out as mathematical relationships. Every material has a different combination of oxides, which have different melting points and affects on other oxides. The glaze has to be matched to the body and daily attention paid to the water level and additives which regulate the flow of the glaze in both its first untempered character and as it becomes hot liquid glass flowing on a body of interacting clay molecules.

The Blueberry glaze is perfectly applied. The surface is smooth, embedded with deeper tones in speckled variegations. As the decanter was turned during the glaze application, the glaze flowed together on two sides, producing two elegant streams of a deep blue color. One stream is subtle and the other pronounced. The tactile surface is uninterrupted and smooth to the touch. The glaze meets the bottom of the form evenly with only one discretely present bubble aligned with the contrasting coloring where the glaze streamed into itself producing a darker tone. One must look closely to perceive it.

When Dad created his glazes he had to calculate everything by hand but today we are lucky to have a genius among us named Tony Hansen who created an invaluable glaze calculating software called digital fire or Insight and an ongoing blog which discusses many of the problems and sought after solutions in this fascinating field. Enter your materials and the program calculates the chemical information in an instant, but the hands on process of creating ceramics remains the same as it has been since the dawn of civilization.

Very Early One of a Kind Three Footed Tear Drop Vase with hand-crafted turquioise glaze by Weston Neil Andersen in late forties

Melon Vase and Bronze glaze designed by Weston. Glaze application by Mackenzie Andersen circa 2010
These two beautiful decanters began their lives like Siamese twins, bonded together in the kiln by a happenstance of placement when loading the kiln. They were placed too close together and were joined together during the transmutational process of heating and cooling.

There after was an attempt to separate the pair which created two matching holes around the center of the bulbs. The holes did not bother me but rather seemed a part of the union lasting for over half a century, a bond made stronger by history, one at birth and inseparable ever since, even after a forced attempt was made to separate them.

However when I recorded an image of the torn asunder decanters, I could not view it, I was filled with feelings of horror at the human capacity for evil. The image so sickened me that I immediately clicked it out of sight. In the two dimensional version, the vases had been executed! The feeling was amplified by the three dimensional vases sitting on the table top.

In the instant of perceiving the two dimensional vases as an execution, The restrained simplicity and refined craftsmanship of the whole vases in three dimensions became a memorial of every human soul whose life has been cut short by the horrors of human destruction. The contrast between one view of the vases and the other heightened the understanding of why mankind's desire to create objects of beauty matters.

In the early twentieth century Marcel Duchamp reacted to the concept of art as created for the viewing with the eye, only, referring to the prevailing concept of art as "retinal art'. Duchamp was one of the most influential artistic and intellectual minds of the twentieth century. His first controversial art work was The Nude Descending the Staircase, created at a time when nudes were commonly depicted in art as rendered realistically in the style of Renaissance Art, but Marcel was interested in deconstructing and reordering thinking about art. It was a time  when science was breaking old concepts of nature as defined by the most common human senses to discover an underlying dimension in which the laws of nature in the quantum domain contradict the laws of nature sustained in the classical paradigm. Heisenberg's uncertainty principal introduced what Bohr called, "the end of what we can know" as it became apparent that the act of observing was affecting the observed and that position (space) amd momentum (time) could not be measured simultaneously. The Nude Descending the Staircase expresses the new revolution in man's perception of nature and reality as it attempted to transcend a portrait anchored by classical time-space co-ordinates and depict a quantum superposition. I do not know if all of that was transpiring in Duchamp's mind but the idea that art transcends the intent of its maker was inherent to Duchamp's thinking about art as a conceptual process in which the artist could chose a work of art, rather than making it and the artist surrendered control of the work of art to other factors.

After a time, I could view the two dimensional artwork and see it as two vases with holes, clearly not bullet holes which would have shattered them to bits. The vases and their history are inseparable from the artwork which they have become. They were bonded together at birth, pulled asunder but inseparable after over half a century, art created through the passage of time, which ultimately highlights the original instinct which brought them into being, man's quest for beauty. Their beauty may be retinal but their journey is conceptual, open to interpretation. What made them inseparable? Together they became one when they were broken apart as a shared experience.

This blog series is introducing a collection of rare and one of a kind historical works to the public. The prices for which these rarities are being offered is high relative to the selling prices points for a line which originated with the idea of creating a hand made product affordable to the middle classes but modest relative in the marketplace of rare and one of a kind collectible objects. The idea of establishing a production studio with such a purpose as to create a hand made product affordable to the middle class, was a response to the industrial era of plastics. Weston and Brenda began Andersen Design at the pinnacle of America's great middle class era, a time when the greatest amount of wealth was distributed among the greatest number of people. Today the world has been re-ordered on completely different terms, but like the two vases, there is no way to separate Andersen Design from its history and from the unique moment of its birth or from the process of making something by hand, the pursuit of beauty, and philosophical artistic, and economic choices made in response to the industrial and technological era of their day.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Vote for Andersen Is A Vote for a Philosophy that Endures Through Change

Photos by Mackenzie Andersen have been accepted in the American Art Pottery Calender Photo Contest. 

Please take a moment of your time to vote for the photos you like in this Contest. We hope it will include ours.

Vote for multiple photos – 13 will be chosen for the calendar. You will receive an email confirmation to confirm each vote.Voting ends JULY 31, 2019. Winner will be announced on the American Art Pottery/ FaceBook Page August 1st, 2019.

The art pottery movement in America began in the 1870s, coinciding with the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement, which gained momentum in the 1880s. Wikipedia describes it as " aesthetically distinctive hand-made ceramics in earthenware and stoneware from the period 1870-1950s"

The work in the photos submitted to the American Art Pottery Calendar Contest is from the late forties to the early fifties. Our work is usually associated with the mid-century design esthetic but we are also American Art & Design in Stoneware. 

While Andersen Design's work does not fit the image of what is ordinarily thought of as "American Art Pottery", it fits the philosophy of the movement. We feel that this philosophy did not end in the 1940's but is still alive and well today. 

Our customers started calling our work"art" when the first Andersen Gallery opened in barn on Southport Island in 1952. At that time it was only a functional line but the forms, glazes and decoration transcended mere functionality in the spirit of the American Art Pottery movement.


Andersen Design's work inhabits a matrix on a continuum that extends in many directions. Our vintage work has roots in the early twentieth century which we hope will seed a new beginning in a new century.

The presence of Andersen Design in the American Art Pottery Calendar places Andersen's work on a historical continuum nor previously linked together in public perception but indelibly linked in the ongoing process of history. The times were changing and Andersen's work expressed that change.
Please take a moment of your time to view all of the wonderful photographs in the American Art Pottery Photo Contest and vote for as many of them that move you to do so.

Many Thanks, Mackenzie Andersen.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hand Making Ceramics in the USA, The Medium is still the Message

This post is republished from my blog, Preserving the American Political Philosophy.

Mug by Weston, Face by Brenda (c) andersendesign 1955

"This, is not a soup!" by Lou Ect is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

"Smiley" by mag3737 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

I was raised in a ceramic business in the home, which was different from its surroundings, making myself and my siblings, outsiders inside the classroom environment. When school closed and summer commenced, an alternate reality emerged, a world in which my family's art was sought after by a wide range of humanity. I felt welcomed by the foreigners and an outsider among local peers. Later when I left home for  NYC, circa 1966, I found myself surrounded by welcoming peers, a difference between night and day. It was New York City at the pinnacle of the flower power era when Greenwich Village was wall-to wall youth culture

As you can imagine this formulated a peculiar psychology, so strange, that even I didn't recognize it!
From Levittown
To Maine in 1952
Page from Jim Harnedy's book on the Boothbay Region. The 200 year old barn which was the first home of Andersen Design was torn down after we moved to East Boothbay

A while ago a high school acquaintance told me that what our family did was thought so unusual, when we moved into the neighborhood and put out a sign and ran a business from our home. It was my job to watch for customers, while walking the beams of the 200 year old barn where the swallows flew through an open space in the roof. When visitors arrived, I jumped from the beams and ran down the hill to alert my parents. I remember it as an era of personal freedom, but that personal freedom was a choice made by my parents when they moved from a Levittown styled community in Ohio to Maine. They chose the path less travelled in their time, which in those days was something that could be done in Maine. Then they carved a path against the medium of plastics to design and produce hand-made ceramics.

That was in 1952. when Andersen Design was born out of a unique philosophy, focused on creating a hand made product affordable to the middle class. The hand made making process was the ground out of which our art grew, literally the ground where the raw materials of the ceramist are are found.

By the time I arrived in NYC in 1966. Marshall McCluhan was as popular as the happy face, which came later.  McCluhan's time was the age of electricity. McCluhan held that most people perceive the content and not the medium. He identified those who can see the medium as artists, in whatever their chosen field of practice. Today they are called visionaries. In The Medium Is The Message, McCluhan wrote:"The artist can correct the sense ratios before the blow of new technology has numbed conscious procedures."

Today we live in the digital age with an ever accelerating rate of change. Entrepreneurs become multi-billionaires when they perceive the medium and how it will change the world. The medium is the messenger of change, and today part of the change the new medium has brought about is the billionaire syndrome, accompanied by the widening divide between classes, which is not only the content of the digital medium, but a new political medium as well, producing its own content. written in the statutes instituting sequential order in conformity with the will of global masters.

Every new medium, be it electricity or data, produces new processes and replaces old ones. Ceramic making is a process, rooted in antiquity, enduring through ever new mediums without changing its essence. One could be tempted to say that my parents resisted change when they chose the hand crafted ceramic process, but there was no change to resist in the making of ceramics. It is an art and a  technology which has existed since the dawn of civilization.
"Percussed victims of the new technology have invariably muttered clich├ęs about the impracticality of artists and their fanciful preferences. But in the past century it has come to be generally acknowledged that, in the words of Wyndham Lewis, “The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present.” Knowledge of this simple fact is now needed for human survival. The ability of the artist to sidestep the bully blow of new technology of any age, and to parry such violence with full awareness, is age-old. Equally age-old is the inability of the percussed victims, who cannot sidestep the new violence, to recognize their need of the artist. To reward and to make celebrities of artists can, also, be a way of ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for survival. The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness" Marshal McCluhan, The Medium is the Message, 1964 

McCluhan defines medium as extensions of our bodies and our senses, be it an iphone or a brush. The hand made process removes layers of extensions and connects to the continuity of human experience through time. All great civilizations have been great periods of art and culture which has included ceramics. The making of ceramics engages the maker in a meaningful medium, not merely the content emerging from the medium in the form of objects, but the making process itself, which is at once the medium and its content.

One of a Kind Happy Face Mug, Form by Weston , Face by Brenda in the 1950's
In 1966 Andy Warhol was doing production as an art form and becoming the darling of the New York art world. Warhol's studio, known as the Factory, was a den of iniquity, where silk screened art of soup cans and portraits of celebrities were produced. The Factory was both a culture and a hand made work process. It was in a sense an urban business in a home away from home for its inner core and circle of followers.

In the same extended period, that Warhol painted soup cans, images emergent from the medium of commercialism, my father designed simple functional forms like the hand crafted chowder bowl. The reader can have both worlds by filling the hand crafted chowder bowl with some yummy Campbell's soup!

The classic chowder bowl pre-dates the iconic Campbell's soup can by Warhol
While commercialism reflects collectivism, the hand made forms produced by Andersen Design called out to the individual. Collectors collected Andersen as an expression of their personal taste, not as a trend, borne out by the fact the market appeal has attained classic status, enduring through time.

Back in the urban environs of New York, my parents peers of a former time, were designing for companies with factories which produced the designs. Later those factories would relocate to countries with low wage labor markets, while Andersen Design's production remained in America and successfully competed against foreign-made imports.

Andy Warhol's art factory was inseparable from the human culture which inhabited it.  Warhol's factory was an urban extension of a farm, the original business in a home, as much as it was a factory. and so the factory was more than a factory, it was a scene, which brings us back to McCluhan, when he associates the medium, as the background. The scene at the factory produced an abundance of creative content, not only silk screen artwork, but music and film and poetry. Warhol directed other artists to create his works but he was also involved in a hands on relationship with the creation of the art, and in that way Andersen Design and Andy Warhol's factory are similar concepts. As owners of our own "factory" we have never stopped being hands on involved in the process, be we need to work with others to produce a line of over 200 designs, and because producing a line of slip cast ceramics is a very complex process  requiring a team, working synergistically together.

Mark Kostabi and Jeff Koons, carried on the Warhol art as production tradition but pride themselves on never touching the artwork produced in their factories. If there is a human culture associated with their productions, it never reached the cultural notoriety of Andy's factory. Koons and Kostabi are more like designer-CEO's than artists in the meaning embedded in that identity by McCluhan. They are the sequential followers of Warhol, but at once, as commercial as a soup can, seeing only that art can be produced in a factory, but missing the deeper cultural import of Warhol, who created a farm for a dysfunctional family in the Biggest Apple in the orchard of urbanism. The significant message of Warhol is in the cultural medium he created.