Mint Museum of Craft + Design / Mint Museum of Art

Mint Museum of Craft + Design

Charlotte, NC



Mint Museum Acquires Rare Rookwood, Kataro Shirayamadani's Dragon Vase


When Barbara Perry, Curator of Decorative Arts for Charlotte, NC's Mint Museum of Art, visited a Michigan collector of American art pottery last fall, her intent was to borrow several exceptional Rookwood Pottery pieces for her upcoming exhibition On the Surface: Late Nineteenth Century Decorative Arts (May 26 - August 12, 2001). Upon being shown a rare Kataro Shirayamadani Dragon Vase (c. 1892), she all but forgot her original mission. ':It was simply one of the most extraordinary Rookwood vases I had ever seen," recalled Dr. Perry.

"The Dragon Vase, purchased by the Mint Museum, is a classic example of Shirayamadani's best work," agreed David Rago, an expert on American art pottery. "While most Standard Glazed Rookwood ware is dismissed by contemporary collectors because if its Victorian sensibilities, there were a few of the company's artists who elevated the craft both because of their exceptional skills and their capacity to look beyond the restriction of conventional taste."

Rookwood Pottery was established in 1880 in Cincinnati, Ohio by Maria Longworth Nichols. Her intent for the pottery was to fulfill the dictates of the Arts and Crafts philosophers - John Ruskin, A.W. Pugin and William Morris - in returning to hand craftsmanship and the creation of an aesthetic environment for the betterment of society. Rookwood became the finest and most successful of the American art potteries.
Rookwood vases were well potted, finely glazed and exquisitely decorated. Their look was imitated by many other potteries.

Kataro Shirayamadani came to America as part of an entourage sent by the Japanese government to promote interest in Japanese trade. He appeared at the Thirteenth Cincinnati Industrial Exposition in 1886, where he met Nichols. One year later he joined the Rookwood staff, bringing an exquisite sense of design and an extensive knowledge of Japanese iconography.

Shirayamadani created some of the most spectacular dragon paintings on Rookwood vessels as illustrated in Dragon Vase. The slip decoration imparts a relief effect under the gloss glaze. The vase combines the naturalistic painting of the leaves and seed pods of a wisteria vine foliage with the imaginative presentation of the dragons, whose faces take on human characteristics.

"Shirayamadani used the entire vase surface for his designs, unlike most period decorators who focused primarily on the front of a vase and treated the back as an afterthought," remarked Rago. "Further, he integrated elements of his Eastern training and the fluid lines of Art Nouveau to add life and a creative spark to his efforts. The painting is crisp and detailed, the subject matter encompasses the vase, and the design is at once ancient and contemporary. There are only a handful of such vases in private and museum hands."

"We have a representative American art pottery collection thanks to the major donations in the past from collector Daisy Wade Bridges," stated Perry. "It's simply thrilling to add a masterpiece such as Shirayamadani's Dragon Vase to our holdings."

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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