Breaking tradition: Ceramics by Michelle Erickson

Editorial Staff Art

One upcoming highlight of the New York Ceramics Fair is a lecture and demonstration by ceramic artist Michelle Erickson, who was featured in our September 2009 issue. On Saturday at noon Erickson will show visitors how an early 18th-century Moravian squirrel bottle was made—a subject which she explored for the 2009 issue of Ceramics in America, and which coincides with this year’s loan exhibition at the show, Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware. Erickson’s expertise in 17th- and 18th-century English ceramic technology—she is a partner with Rob Hunter in the ceramic reproduction and restoration firm Period Designs—has led her to experiment with creating new forms of ceramic art that borrow from the traditions of historical wares. The fascinating array of works on view in her booth at the fair and on her website affirms Erickson’s dedication to mastering the technical history of her medium, but it is her ability to channel new meaning through her art that gives it relevance to the history of decorative arts.

Below are just a few examples of Erickson’s ceramics, shown side-by-side with historic examples.

“Made in China” pickle stand and an example by the American China Manufactory (Bonnin and Morris), 1770-72 (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Very few examples of objects by Bonnin and Morris—the first porcelain manufacturers in America—exist today. Erickson had the opportunity to examine pieces up close that were the inspiration for her pickle stand, which explores the role of porcelain as a luxury commodity, as well as the appropriation of Chinese art in the West.

Squirrel bottle, Salem North Carolina, 1804-1829 (Private collection, photo by Gavin Ashworth), and “Killer Squirrel (2nd Amendment Squirrel).”

Marrying the pose of a toy army soldier with the color and form of a traditional Moravian bottle, Erickson adds a menacing twist to the whimsical figure.

“Paradise Lost” and Dish with Pamona, French, c. 1600 (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

A large and textural piece, “Paradise Lost” (titled in Arabic on the face of the dish) borrows from allegorical works by Bernard Palissy and his followers. Here a fecundity figure is replaced by Liberty who is  depicted among the wreckage of war.

Meissen monkey band figure (M.S. Rau Antiques) and “GW” monkey band figure.

Drawing on the tradition of 18th-century political satire and the figural groups popularized in French and German porcelain, Erickson created a five-piece monkey band that caricatures members of the Bush administration. Here “GW” blows his own horn.

Liverpool jug (Antiques Associates) and “Timepiece”

Using a traditional jug form, Erickson references anti-slavery wares produced in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Wedgwood’s jasperware medallion “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”. Here images of child soldiers are junxtaposed with luxury goods that speak to the economic conditions of third world nations.