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Lotus Ware

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Lotus Ware is generally considered to be the finest porcelain ever produced in the United States[1]. The Knowles, Taylor & Knowles (KT&K) pottery of East Liverpool, Ohio produced it from approximately 1892 to 1896. The name of the porcelain came from owner Isaac Knowles, who felt that the glaze of the pieces resembled the glowing sheen of lotus blossom petals.

Knowles, Taylor & KnowlesEditar

Isaac Knowles was an East Liverpool potter whose pottery produced Rockingham pottery, yellow Queensware, and ceramic canning jars. East Liverpool was widely known as a major pottery center; the city produced nearly half of all American domestic, restaurant, and hotel china by the late 19th century.

By 1880, KT&K was the largest pottery in East Liverpool. The pottery equipped at least one of its ironstone kilns with natural gas, in the process claiming to be the first pottery in the world to take advantage of this modern fuel. The KT&K management was also forward-thinking in establishing an in-house design-and-decoration shop instead of using outside sources for this work.

KT&K had, by 1888, constructed another eight-kiln plant and bought out another pottery. The company also constructed a separate plant which was to be involved exclusively in the production of fine porcelain, or bone china. Bone china was so called because the ware was made of the ashes of calcined animal bones, which enhanced both the whiteness and the translucency of the ware. English potteries had been producing bone china for centuries, and it had been made in Trenton, New Jersey, another important American pottery center. Before KT&K's efforts, East Liverpool potter John Burgess and his son-in-law, Willis Cunning, had briefly attempted porcelain production, but their operation had been shuttered by East Liverpool City Council, which declared the odor of burning bones to be a health hazard.

The porcelain plant was KT&K's entry into serious competition with the fine porcelains--especially Belleek--which were produced in Ireland, England and France. In November 1889, KT&K's porcelain plant burned down after just a year and a half of operation. The plant was soon rebuilt, and Lotus Ware art porcelain appeared on the scene in 1892.

Lotus WareEditar

The responsibility for Lotus Ware was mainly shared by two men. An Englishman named Joshua Poole had arrived in East Liverpool after having worked for the Belleek pottery in western Ireland. Isaac Knowles was interested in making beautiful art porcelain, but he also wanted to ensure its structural integrity. Joshua Poole's training was essentially that of a ceramic engineer, and this was a considerable aid to Knowles' search for the ideal blend of beauty and strength. Poole was therefore was in charge of designing the bodies of many Lotus Ware pieces.

The other man responsible for Lotus Ware was a German immigrant named Heinrich Schmidt. Schmidt was a decorator, or "fancy worker" in late 19th-century pottery slang. Schmidt had worked at Germany's famed Meissen factory. He was responsible for concocting the recipe for Lotus Ware slip, or liquid clay. He chose not to write down the recipe, keeping it only in his head and trusting no one else to make it. It was Schmidt who demanded that KT&K sell no imperfect Lotus.

Lotus Ware first appeared on the world stage at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where it earned every single fine porcelain award. European potteries, unused to serious competition from America, were especially taken aback by the success of Lotus Ware.

Stylistic InfluencesEditar

Moorish, Persian and Art Nouveau motifs were popular at the time, and they appeared on Lotus Ware. Art Nouveau commonly idealized the natural world, and many Lotus Ware pieces were adorned with the twining tendrils, leaves, blossoms, shells and coral branches common to Art Nouveau decoration. These were most often formed and applied by hand, but occasionally pâté-sur-pâté ("paste upon paste") was practiced. Pâté-sur-pâté is an extraordinarily difficult ceramic technique in which unfired, semi-solid clay is carved by hand before it dries and crumbles. The Moorish and Persian influences evident in Lotus Ware included ornate arched shapes, stylized swirls, and an excess of minute detail such as netting, fish-scale patterning, and tiny enamel-like dots which appeared almost as inset jewels on the ware's surface.

TechniqueEditar

Ever resourceful, Schmidt invented a decorating technique in which he allowed the slip to reach the consistency of jam or jelly before decanting it into a tool modeled after a baker's pastry bag. He then constructed plaster of Paris molds on which the designs were worked out and allowed to dry. These were then gently removed from the molds, attached to the main body of the ware with fresh slip before further painted decoration, glazing and firing took place.

Lotus Ware appeared in only three colors: pure white, celadon and a deep shade of olive green. In addition to the three-dimensional hand-applied decoration, many pieces were hand-painted. All Lotus Ware pieces bore classical names like Syrian, Thebian, Grecian and so on, as KT&K attempted to position it in the public's mind as classic, high-quality ware.

Financial Losses and the End of Lotus WareEditar

Only about one of every dozen Lotus Ware pieces survived the harsh firing process. As a result, KT&K may have spent as much as ten dollars for every dollar Lotus Ware brought into the company's coffers. It is unknown exactly how many different forms Lotus Ware took, but it was all art porcelain: vases, ewers, pierced potpourri holders, candy dishes and the like.

Despite the heavy financial losses incurred by its production, KT&K continued to produce Lotus Ware until 1896. Lotus Ware had become not merely a product, but a bold statement that American potteries could compete with such European stalwarts as Limoges, Wedgwood, and Minton.

Today it is estimated that only about 5,000 pieces of Lotus Ware survive. East Liverpool's Museum of Ceramics [1] has the largest public display of Lotus Ware in the world.

ReferencesEditar


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