Our "super" bowls
What if the stories of historic artifacts were told by the play-by-play announcers who explain football games on television? That's the question posed by a few museums from across the country who are participating in a tweet-athon on Super Bowl Sunday. In addition to sporty puns about art and history artifacts and a Pinterest board featuring artifacts in team colors, the museums are also showing off their favorite bowls in honor of Super Bowl XLVII. We thought we'd do the same.
Deputy Chair and Curator of the Division of Home and Community Life Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld tells the stories of four of her favorite bowls in the Home and Community collection. Education Specialist Erin Blasco shares two delicious bowls from Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.
This bowl is a beautiful example of cut glass made in the United States. It's part of a 1917 gift to the Smithsonian by the manufacturer, T. G. Hawkes & Company of Corning, New York, at a time when many ceramics and glass makers donated their products to the National Museum to highlight the art and industry of their work. Though natural history and anthropology artifacts were the focus of the National Museum’s earliest collecting efforts, household goods, such as ceramics and glass wares, were added to the collections to demonstrate technological and artistic advances in a wide range of industries. This bowl is cut and engraved, and then mounted in sterling silver—a newly fashionable style at the time.
In early 1709, porcelain makers in the small town of Meissen in the German States discovered a method for creating high quality porcelain. This bowl was part of a Meissen tea and coffee service and was used to take the last dregs of a beverage before a cup was refilled. Most likely, the service was for display and didn’t see much use.
Part of what makes this bowl intriguing, Lilienfeld says, is that it was collected by Dr. Hans Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States who began to collect 18th-century Meissen table wares, like this bowl, in the late 1930s. Objects like these were of great interest to Dr. Syz—his career in psychoanalysis convinced him that cultural artifacts make us more aware of human creativity and connection among people and his collection reflected that belief.
This side of the bowl depicts Königstein Fortress, which lies south of Dresden, Germany, and still exists today.
On this side is the Sonnenstein castle near the town of Pirna, on the banks of the Elbe. The scenes painted on the bowl at the Meissen Manufactory were inspired by engravings executed in 1726 by Johann Alexander Thiele.
This bowl celebrates the energy of the Jazz Age—the music, nightlife, and architecture of New York City. Designed by noted American industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost and manufactured by Cowen Pottery in Ohio, the first "Jazz" bowl was commissioned in 1930 for Eleanor Roosevelt, then the first lady of New York State. It was so popular that the firm starting producing them for sale in limited numbers.
"The Hong bowl is fascinating because it shows the area in Canton, China, where foreign traders, including Americans, were made to live and work in the 18th century," explains Lilienfeld. "Hongs" were office, warehouse, and living spaces for foreign merchants and centers of trade for highly desirable goods such as teas, silks, and porcelains.
Look closely to spot the Stars and Stripes outside the American factory on the bowl. The flag’s presence suggests that the bowl was made in or after 1785, following America’s entry into direct trade with China in 1784 (note that the Chinese artist painted the stars in blue on the white porcelain background, probably for technical reasons rather than in error). Flags from France, Britain, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden also can be seen outside their respective factories.
Punch bowls depicting the hongs were exotic souvenir items, brought back to America by the East Coast entrepreneurs who sailed to China as independent merchants. Punch bowls were a must-have at festive male gatherings in the clubs, societies, and private homes of the port cities on the American East Coast in the late 18th century.
The museum is lucky to have this bowl at all. The Smithsonian acquired this bowl in 1961. Before coming to the museum, the bowl had been broken and repaired and then heavily damaged in a 1958 fire. After the fire, a ceramics restorer reconstructed the bowl from the shattered fragments. Once it came to the Smithsonian, conservators performed a radical restoration, referring to very similar Hong bowls held in collections at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum in Delaware, and the Reeves Collection at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
My favorite part of the Super Bowl is the food, and I’m not alone. The average American consumes an extra 1,200 calories on Super Bowl Sunday. Hosts of Super Bowl parties build "snack stadiums" with guacamole grass and pretzel goal posts. Politicians place Super Bowl bets paid in food. For example, when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills in 1993, Texas senator Phil Gramm received buffalo chicken wings (a Super Bowl staple first created in 1964) from New York senator Alfonse D’Amato.
The "touch down!" snack bowl from the 1990s shows just how important Super Bowl food is—it has to be both delicious and attractively presented. It also reveals that many of us consume Super Bowl snacks as part of a social occasion, the type of gathering for which you might consider purchasing themed tableware for sharing snacks with friends. The cactus-shaped snack bowl reminds me of how Mexican-American food has conquered the world in the past 50 years, with foods like salsa, guacamole, and burritos becoming American staples.
Both of these snack bowls are on exhibition in Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000, indicative of how much American food and eating habits have changed in the last 50 years.
Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld is deputy chair and curator of the Division of Home and Community Life and Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Sports, art, and history fans, don’t forget to follow #MuseumSuperBowl on Twitter and Pinterest.