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Snarling dragons and medieval maidens invade museum



nmagreen-5982766-3331876The first museum to mount an exhibition of its kind, the Nevada Museum of Art presents Monsters and Maidens: Amphora Pottery of the Art Nouveau Era, opening Saturday, Nov. 14. Featuring snarling dragons and sea creatures, medieval maidens and lily pads, the exhibition is a rare opportunity to view the intricate and delightful works of the Amphora Pottery Company, created between 1892 and 1918. This first-ever museum exhibition of Amphora Pottery consists of approximately 20 pieces of porcelain and ceramic vessels including vases, planters and urns from the extensive collection of Dr. Byron Vreeland.

“In the United States, the popularity of Amphora Pottery soared during the late nineteenth century as demand for decorative objects increased,” said Ann M. Wolfe, curator, Nevada Museum of Art. “It is surprising–given its popularity–that this unique and sometimes bizarre form of pottery remains relatively unknown today, except by a handful of collectors. We are excited to bring these more unusual and rarely seen works to the spotlight.”

Greatly influenced by the artistic and literary movements of the time, including Art Nouveau, Symbolist and Secessionist Art, Amphora Pottery came about due to a rare combination of historical and political events in late nineteenth century Bohemia. Following the country’s inclusion into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an influx of skilled German immigrants combined with Bohemia’s Celtic origins, its thousand-year history and rich culture fueled the creative synergy that resulted in the birth of the Amphora Pottery Company in 1860. It was founded by Alfred Stellmacher in Turn-Teplitz, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).

Thousands of remarkably imaginative and delicately crafted ceramic vessels were created. Renowned for their high quality, the works produced by the company were frequently recognized at world fairs and expositions, resulting in increased access and popularity across the globe.

Amphora Pottery is made using a die—or model—carved from clay and polished smooth. The die is then fired and used to create a plaster-of-Paris cast that is filled with refined clay and swirled to create a half-inch thick model. Once the inner model dries, the cast is removed and the clay is carved, glazed and fired. It is believed that the pieces in existence today are practically impossible to reproduce due to the prohibitive costs and time involved.

Female faces were a popular motif used in Amphora pottery as many portrait pieces were influenced by themes and motifs from mythology, literature and religion, portraying women as magical nymphs, dancers and virgins. Insects and fantasy creatures, such as dragons, were also frequently portrayed.

Highlighted works
Among the most sought-after of Amphora portrait pieces, the rare Spider Woman vase (pictured above) depicts a woman with closed eyes and long golden tresses, whose face is framed with a butterfly headdress, golden crown and spider web. Four opals have been affixed to further ornament the piece.

Amphora Pottery Company, Bat Planter, circa 1900. Ceramic. Collection of Byron Vreeland.The Bat Planter (right) is one of the rarest and most ambitious objects made by the Amphora Company due to its large size and the intricacy of its design and ornamentation. Advertisements for the Bat Planter appeared in many German-language magazines around 1905. Only four examples of this piece are known to remain in the world—one of which is in the National Museum in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

“Monsters” from the sea—such as squid, crab and octopus—were popular motifs for vases that were eagerly sought by collectors enamored with dragon-type imagery.

Monsters and Maidens: Amphora Pottery of the Art Nouveau Era will be on exhibit Nov. 14 through Jan. 17, 2010, at the Nevada Museum of Art, Donald W. Reynolds Center for the Visual Arts, E. L. Wiegand Gallery, located at 160 West Liberty Street in downtown Reno. The galleries are open Wednesday through Sunday. Cost: Museum members free; $10 adults; $8 students/seniors; $1 children 6-12; free for children under six. For more information, please call 775-329-3333 or visit www.nevadaart.org.

This exhibition features stunning examples of Amphora Pottery from the Southern California collection of Dr. Byron Vreeland. The Nevada Museum of Art is grateful to Dr. Vreeland for generously participating in this project and for lending the objects for this exhibition.

The Nevada Museum of Art is a private, non-profit organization supported by the generosity of its membership as well as by sponsorships and grants. Through creative programming and scholarship, the museum provides the opportunity for people to encounter, engage and enjoy a diversity of art experiences. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., late on Thursdays until 8 p.m. The galleries, museum store and Café Musée are closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and national holidays.

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