Union Porcelain Works Figure Group

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Description
This parian, or unglazed porcelain, figure group was made around the 1880s by Union Porcelain Works of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. The firm was established around 1861 by Thomas Carll Smith (1815-1900), a successful business man; banker; and the President of the Georgia Alabama Investment and Development Company, involved in such concerns as local railroad building. Union Porcelain Works produced electrical insulators and porcelain house trimmings, but found its greatest success in fine porcelain dining and decorative wares. The company operated until about 1922, making it one of the longest operating porcelain factories in the United States.
The statuette consists of a male Caucasian figure wearing a Liberty cap seated beside a large eagle in a nest, seeming to hold down an African American male. What appears to be a figure of a Chinese man is either attempting to climb into or is falling from the nest. No documentation has been found to shed light on the meaning of this startling figure group, or to suggest why or for whom it was made. Large numbers of Chinese immigrants began moving to the eastern United States in the 1870s. By 1880, a local newspaper estimated that 1,000 Chinese lived in Brooklyn, where the Unions Porcelain Works factory was located, making it one of the largest Chinese populations on the East Coast. While local community response to this influx was mixed, prejudice toward the newcomers was common. It is possible that the quite conservative Thomas Carll Smith responded to the changing demographics in his own back yard by encouraging the creation of ceramic pieces that have negative connotations regarding the Chinese.
Date made
late 1800s
date made
1880s
maker
Union Porcelain Works
place made
United States: New York, Brooklyn, Greenpoint
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 11 1/8 in x 8 in; 28.2575 cm x 20.32 cm
ID Number
CE.75.122
catalog number
75.122
accession number
317832
Credit Line
Mrs. Franklin Chace
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
Art
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History