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Arthur Wesley Dow (1857 - 1922)



December 15, 2006
New York, NY, US

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measurements note
6 x 9 3/4 x 1 in. (15.2 x 24.8 x 2.5 cm)

ca. 1909

designed by Arthur Baggs
derived from a woodblock print by Arthur Wesley Dow

incised Upbreathed from the marshes a/message of range and of sweep
impressed twice with firm's cipher

glazed earthenware


Private residence, Marblehead, MA


Wendy Kaplan, The Art that is Life: The Arts & Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920, Boston, 1987, p. 256 (for a Marblehead vase decorated with a similar landscape motif)
Nancy E. Green and Jessie Poesch, Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts, New York, 1999, p. 135 (for the other known example of this motto plaque)
Nancy E. Green, et al., Arthur Wesley Dow: His Art and His Influence, New York, 1999, p. 58 (for a Marblehead vase decorated with a similar landscape motif)


In addition to the well-known pottery made at Marblehead, Arthur E. Baggs also produced architectural tiles, some of which were suitable for framing. Such is the case with this rare landscape tile, designed by Baggs about 1908. Marblehead Potteries had just separated from the original Handicraft Shops, which were founded in 1904 to provide occupational therapy for a sanatorium. Baggs was recruited in 1905 directly from Alfred's School of Ceramics and Clayworking where he was studying under the tutelage of Charles Fergus Binns to teach patients in the pottery workshop. By 1908 his technical production was considered first rate and his surface design much admired for its "conventionalized," abstract aesthetic. His approach can be traced to art educator Arthur Wesley Dow whose study of Japanese art and subsequent teaching of its principles influenced generations of potters, teachers and artists. Dow's Ipswich Summer School, only eighteen miles from Marblehead, was one of the most important schools of the Arts and Crafts period. Though direct contact between Dow and Baggs cannot be documented, there is no escaping Dow's influence on the young potter. This oversized tile with its poetic motto evokes the marshes of Massachusetts, filtered through an affinity for the Japanese aesthetic.

Dow's theory, based on the Japanese principles of light and dark contrast, simple line, open space, and muted colors, was disseminated through his own teaching and through his manual, Composition, first published in 1899, which simplified design into easy lessons. One of his students, Marshall Fry, became a colleague at the Teacher's College of Columbia University. In 1901, Fry also began teaching design at the Alfred Summer School, connecting Dow's design method with Binns' emphasis on ceramic technology. He and several other converts, including Hugo Froelich at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, promoted Dow's ideas in publications, most notably Keramic Studio, which was available to teachers and hobbyists alike. Baggs, Fry, Froelich and other Dow colleagues also belonged to the same professional societies and exhibited their work side-by-side.

This landscape plaque reflects Dow's own distinctive marsh woodblock prints, as well as images from Composition and Ipswich Marshes, a series of prints published between 1901-1906 for distribution in schools. Baggs was apparently familiar with these design sources for he used the marsh scene as a band around the shoulders of at least three known large yellow vases. This "Marshes of Ipswich" plaque is one of only two examples known. The other was included in the traveling exhibition, Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts in 1999. The diagonal stream emphasizes distance as it slices into the flat marsh color accented by familiar haystacks. The dark trees on the horizon balance the solid line separating the image from the rare literary motto inscribed below. Arthur Baggs obviously internalized Dow's aesthetic to produce this quintessential and rare example of a Marblehead tile.

-Marilee Boyd Meyer

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American Renaissance

December 15, 2006, 12:00 AM EST

New York, NY, US