Consider Rockwell Kent's paintings of land and sea as modern American mindscapes—poetic distillations of remote places that probe the mysteries of life. Kent hoped viewers would lose themselves in contemplation before his haunting visions.1 "Essentials only ought to go into painting," he insisted. "I want the elemental, infinite thing; I want to paint the rhythm of eternity."2 He perceived the earth and heavens as psychological force fields imposing their nature upon man to make him what he is.3 Critics recognized a "stark strength" and "mystic imagination" pulsing through his paintings of Monhegan Island, Newfoundland, the Alaska Territory, and Tierra del Fuego.4
Y ou can only imagine what the china connoisseur in Edward Lamson Henry's 1889 A Lover of Old China might think upon encoun-tering a plate made by one of the three contemporary artists shown here. We, on the other hand, might be equally disconcerted by the notion that there could be anything contemporary or even modern about a transfer-ware plate. In fact, when modern ceramics come to mind we are bound to envision a simple functional shape, obviously created by hand, coated in a glaze of a rich but subtle hue. That is the legacy of the studio pottery movement that began in Britain in the early twentieth century with ceramists such as Bernard Leach, Lucy Rie, and others. And yet the three artists profiled here are making us take a second look at a medium that has grown stale with familiarity over the last hundred years.
Late in the 1970s, sailing in the Grenadines, my wife Brigitte and I stopped at the small island of Bequia—an Arawak name meaning “island of the clouds.” It has now become a tourist stop. Port Elizabeth, its principal town, today advertises a “charming waterfront; take a stroll from the vegetable market, follow ‘front street’ with its many shops, boutiques and restaurants, keep going along the beach walkway, maybe stop for a drink at the Frangipani or Gingerbread.” Passing time has not erased the memory of walking that waterfront, stopping in the manner of meandering tourists at a stationer’s shop and coming upon, piled in a bin, a small stack of paintings by Canute Caliste, six dollars apiece. We bought them all.
It was quiet in the galleries last September as I took a final walk through the Wadsworth Atheneum before the grand unveiling of our eight-year project to bring back its glories. I wondered how our members, patrons, the press, and the public would respond to all that we have done here. It has been a long haul, full of ups and downs in the economically stressed city of Hartford, Connecticut, as we renovated and upgraded the museum’s aged buildings so that its world-class collections could be reinstalled.