Porcelain test vase

Porcelain test vase

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Before becoming an international phenomenon, the Arts and Crafts movement began with the ideas of British artisan William Morris (1834-1896) and writer John Ruskin (1819-1900). Morris and Ruskin believed that the growth of cities isolated urban workers and that mass production negatively affected artisan crafts. They proposed to solve these issues by returning to a medieval-inspired village model where everybody participated in a community lifestyle. In the United States, artisans adapted these ideas into the studio art pottery movement. Unlike their British counterparts, who often focused predominantly on social issues and therefore made objects that incorporated Gothic and Renaissance motifs, American craftsmen developed a cohesive and novel aesthetic.
These miniature porcelain vessels were made by Adelaide Alsop Robineau (1865-1929), one of the most influential American ceramists working during the Arts and Crafts movement. At the turn of the century, women in the ceramics industry worked primarily as decorators. Even comparatively progressive potteries like Newcomb and Rookwood employed male potters to “throw,” or physically build, their vessels. Robineau not only threw, carved, and glazed her own ceramic objects, but she preferred to work with porcelain, a particularly fickle and high-firing clay body. Although renowned for such artistic contributions as “The Scarab Vase,” Robineau was equally instrumental to the movement through her published journal, Keramic Studio, which featured her designs and suggestions.
Robineau used these petite vessels as a glaze testers. Historically, porcelain factories used either a feldspathic self-glaze or the mineral cobalt to decorate porcelain bodies, as very few other glaze compositions can withstand the 1,200 °C (2,192 °F) to 1,400 °C (2,552 °F) temperatures used in porcelain firing. Cobalt glaze, which turns to a distinct blue color in the kiln, was commonly used in Chinese export-ware and accounts for the widespread historic preference for “blue and white” porcelains. Robineau evidently overcame the technical challenges of developing high-firing porcelain glazes in a myriad of colors. Nonetheless, testers served an important role for the artisan, who allegedly spend over one thousand hours carving “The Scarab Vase.” Since porcelain is glazed only after its initial carving, Robineau’s production of these tiny pots was a fundamental part of her work.
Currently not on view
Object Name
place made
United States: Missouri, University City
Physical Description
monochrome, blue (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic (overall material)
overall: 2 5/16 in x 2 1/8 in; 5.9055 cm x 5.3975 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Robert A. Hut
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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