Dinnerware Museum comes to SOFA

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Victor Schreckengost, primitive pattern dinnerware, 1955 (Courtesy of The Dinnerware Museum)Growing global interest in design could chip away at inspiration in a commodity driven world.

The Midwest regional design of Viktor Schreckengost is as irresitible as prime rib. Schreckengost died in January 2008 at the age of 101. Besides minimalist, whimsical dinnerware, the Sebring, Ohio native designed riding lawn mowers, bicycles and coffins.

He changed the trucking industry in 1932 by placing the cab over the engine. The extra cargo space helped truckers make extra money during the Depression.

Schreckengost’s work was a classic example of form, always followed by function.

And his form was open to all kinds of ideas.

How will the individualistic spirit stay alive in dinnerware design? “Whetting Your Appetite” is a unique exhibit that features 46 pieces from the four-month old Dinnerware Museum in Ann Arbor, Mich. The exhibit is up Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the 20th annual SOFA (Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art and Design) CHICAGO at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall.

The Dinnerware Museum is curated by Ann Arbor-based ceramics historian Dr. Margaret Carney. Carney has a personal collection of more than 1,000 pieces of plastic, metal, glass, wood and paper dinnerware.

“There’s two different fronts on that (maintaining an individual voice),” she said in a phone conversation last week from Ann Arbor. “The major designers most people know if they like design for dinnerware, those people have passed. Eva Zeisel. Victor Schreckengost. His brother Don Schreckengost. Russell White. A lot of those people that are household names are gone.

“But the current people that are coming in are individual artists. Maybe they’re not yet designing for industry, but those kinds of people are in our exhibition. Like the Kate Maury (who teaches at the University of Wisconsin/Stout ) who did the centerpiece which is a glaze with birds and candles in it. People are doing things with biodegradable material.”

Kate Maury’s candles

Carney is founding director of the Ceramics Museum at Alfred University at New York State University and has taught ceramics world history.

“I did exhibits there for 12 years,” she said. “My favorite exhibits had to do with dinnerware and involved collectors and designers and people that made the molds. My husband is a ceramic engineer, too.”

Carney said she was “adopted” by industrial designer Zeisel, who died in 2011 at the age of 105.

There must be a longevity gene in dinnerware design.

“I talked to her about this (museum) project,” Carney said. “When she died I decided I wasn’t going to live to 105–I’m not comparing myself to Eva Zeisel –but it was time to do it.”

Carney’s collection spans from Chinese Song Dynasty bowls (960-1279) to present time.

She has TV dinner trays (now a popular Tuesday night specialty at a Phoenix, Az. restaurant), picnic sets and the Chow-Chow Feeding Train, a 1940s children’s plastic dining set.

I gotta get one of these.

I hate moving day.

Transporting 46 dinnerware pieces from Ann Arbor to Chicago can be a challenge.

“Plates and dinnerware are the easy part,” Carney answered with a laugh. “The hard part is that we have a David Oliveira wire scribble sculpture that looks like a drawing when you don’t see it in person. It’s all 3-D wire. It’s 20 pieces. I’m more worried about bringing that because it is more fragile than china.

David Oliveira wire sculpture, Portugese, 1980

“One of the first purchases we made Sandy Skoglund’s Cocktal Party, which was the giant photograph she did years ago also with an installation in Texas with people covered with cheetos at a cocktail party. Way before photo shop. We bought that archival photograph because I love her work and it leapt into the dinnerware realm.” (The Skoglund photo is not coming to Chicago.)

A tasty road trip alert is the three-pronged Dinnerware Museum show that opens Dec. 6 at the Museum on Main Street in Ann Arbor.

Carney said, “That will include ‘Whetting Your Appetite’ from Chicago, then there is a middle part called ‘Setting the Table,’ which includes celebrity dinnerware I bought from the Liberace Museum. And on loan from Henry Ford (museum). He used to go with three other guys called ‘The Four Vagabonds.’ They went camping sometimes in the Adriondacks (1915-24) . They took Syracuse china and Onondaga pottery (made in Syracuse) They had wonderful film footage.”

The Four Vagabonds were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, poet-naturalist John Burrroughs.

These are not the Four Vagabonds. This is Sandy Skoglund’s “The Cocktail Party.”

“The third part of the exhibit will be the blending of historic and contemporary,” she said. “That has to do with the one art form that nobody’s done that I know of. People have done the soup tureen things, teapots and tulip holders. But this one has to do with the luncheon snack sets that were popular in America from the 1940s to the ‘60s. You had a tray or a plate and a recess place for a cup or a tumbler. Ladies sat around with those on their laps with their little sandwich or soup. This part of the show is ‘Getting a Snack’.”

You may still be able to see that during tea time in the lobby of the Drake Hotel.

“I’ve invited eleven of the students I had at Alfred and The Ohio State University where I taught ceramic history for five years,” she said. “And they are making contemporary luncheon snack sets, a genre’ which no one makes today. I’m hoping to revive it as an art form.”

It is nice to see someone step to the plate on this issue.

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