Some hear the phrase ceramic figurines and think of cheap bric-à-brac: cherubic children wearing floppy hats, squirrels with fluffy tails and sleepy barn owls. But in the small German town of Meissen, the town’s namesake porcelain manufacturing plant/studio produces couture ceramic art and figurines (among other things). It’s where 18th century “modelleur” artists like Johann Joachim Kaendler transformed ordinary objects like vases and teapots into distinctive works of art. Nearly 300 years later, Kaendler’s fire-gilded handled teapot with Snowball Blossoms is still in demand. Meissen recently made a new limited edition of 50 pieces.
Connecting the Meissen past to the present is American artist Arlene Shechet, who recently spend a six-month residency at Meissen learning its techniques and using its tools. Her one-of-a-kind Meissen sculptures are being shown for the first time in the U.S. at the RISD Museum. Talk about pressure. Her work is being shown alongside a number of pieces from the museum’s historical collection of Meissen figurines and tableware (dating back to the 18th century).
L to R: Meissen Couture Teapot with Snowball Blossoms; Arlene Shechet, Sexy Baby Eyes, 2012, Glazed Meissen porcelain; 5 1/8 x 4 3/8 x 4 in, loaned by the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.