At first blush, clay seems too earthy a compound to lend itself to the precise geometry and hard edges of Art Deco. But ceramic vases and other objects thrown on a wheel are nothing if not geometric, their forms being endless riffs on one of the most basic shapes in nature, the circle.

In fact, the symmetry of circles worked quite harmoniously with the Art Deco aesthetic, as so much Art Deco pottery of the 1920s and ’30s so clearly shows. The simplest examples were made for the dinner table by manufacturers such as Bauer, whose ringware was introduced in 1933, and Homer Laughlin, whose Fiesta line started in 1935. In each case, concentric circles at the outer edges of plates and saucers echoed the ordered, decorative flourishes of Art Deco furnishings and household items, from easy chairs to radios.

Some examples of pottery from this era idealize and modernize traditional Asian forms such as ginger jars, while other pieces use stacked horizontal circles to create dramatic vertical profiles resulting in entirely different geometric forms, as in a vase that flares from bottom to top so that it resembles an inverted triangle.

Beyond its shape, pottery can also be given an Art Deco look via the designs that are painted and glazed on its surface. To use the example of the inverted triangle, the shape of such a vase can be further accentuated when decorated with, say, the image of an open hand fan, itself decorated with triangles, semicircles, and symmetrical floral designs. Sometimes the colors in these sorts of decorations were iridescent and metallic, but they could also be cheerful and organic, as in the vases and pitchers produced by the Newport, Shelley, and Doulton potteries of England. One of the best known innovators from this group was Clarice Cliff, who designed her first pieces for Newport in 1928.

A parallel trend in Art Deco ceramics were porcelain figurines, created by companies such as Robj of France, Rosenthal of Germany, and Lenci of Italy. In some respects, these figurines were similar to the Art Deco bronze pieces of the same era, particularly those by Rosenthal, but artists working in ceramics had more choices when it came to color than those working in bronze, for which the palette of cold-painted hues was severely limited compared to the glazing choices available to ceramists.


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