Purchased with Purpose: Amphora Pottery

Durow Trust Fund: Decorative Arts/Collection Connection

Purchased with Purpose: Amphora Pottery

by Anna Cannizzo, Durow Curator of Collections and Decorative Arts


When I became the Durow Curator of Collections, I was surprised at how often I was asked what the “Durow” part of my professional title means. I am always delighted to respond with an explanation of who Frederick Schnattschneider Durow and his wife Marion Hughes Durow were and how they came to leave their gift, which endows my position. A principle part of my work is to help carry out the purpose of the Trust which provides funds for “the acquisition of glass and ceramic ware…and for the exhibition, care, maintenance, education and promotion of activities of this section of the Museum with particular emphasis on Germanic and Bohemian ware....” With that in mind, Director Brad Larson assigned me the opportunity to create a yearly rotating exhibition in the Sawyer Library gallery that aligns with the Trust’s purpose. My inaugural exhibition titled: Poetry in Pottery: Collection Highlights will also commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Museum receiving the Trust enabling us to honor and celebrate their remarkable gift.

While planning the exhibition, the purpose of the Trust became my touchstone and created an ideal opportunity to advocate for an acquisition utilizing its funds. With the support and approval of our Board and collections staff, I recommended purchasing pieces of Bohemian Art Nouveau pottery made by the Riessner, Stellmacher and Kessel Amphora Porcelain Works (RStK), often referred to as “Amphora”, which was produced in the historic Turn-Teplitz region of Bohemia. I selected pieces by a maker that is not represented in the collection, and that would suit the period of the Sawyer Home with interiors designed by Tiffany Studios. Because Louis Comfort Tiffany was one of the most renowned artists and designers of decorative arts and is most associated with the Art Nouveau movement, I thought these examples would be a fitting choice.

Amphora typically conjures thoughts of pottery from ancient Greece or Rome. However, during the Art Nouveau movement, Amphora is indicative of iconic Bohemian decorative arts. Alfred Stellmacher (b. 1837) was a pioneering ceramicist in the region who won the Gold Medal at the Paris World Exhibition in 1889. Several years after his achievement, he appealed to relatives to help form a new porcelain company. In 1892, Amphora was established with Karl and Hans Riessner and Rudolf Kessel (son-in- laws) and Eduard Stellmacher (son). Karl Riessner, who studied at the Art Academy in Prague managed finances and Hans Riessner, who attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts was technical director. Rudolf Kessel managed trade issues and Eduard Stellmacher, who studied at the Arts and Crafts Academy in Dresden, was the artistic director. Eduard’s brother-in- law and classmate, Paul Dachsel, was also a creative designer. During initial production, Amphora pieces emulated the Orientalist and Neo-Baroque styles famously designed and created by Alfred Stellmacher. In 1893, the company received the highest award at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the Gold Medal at the San Francisco Exhibition which led to increased sales and additional factories.

By the late 1890’s Amphora’s creations portrayed the unmistakable style of Art Nouveau represented by sinuous lines and curvilinear forms. Whimsical and natural motifs became prevalent subject matter and were portrayed in the form of plants, flowers, maidens, animals, and mythical creatures. The art pottery was often finished with dazzling glazes and gold highlights. Perforated designs and jeweled accents known as “Gres-Bijou” uniquely adorned the pottery and Amphora’s collections received numerous awards from 1893 through 1904.  Designers, Paul Dachsel and Eduard Stellmacher left the company to create individual companies after 1904, and then Hans Riessner directed artistic designs. However, Amphora would not produce the superior work like it had during the peak production years of 1895-1904. The company was nationalized by the Czechoslovakian government in 1945.

Poetry in Pottery: Collection Highlights will be on view in September in the Sawyer Library gallery. The Amphora pieces purchased courtesy of the Durow Trust pictured on the Facebook post will be on view along with other examples from the Museum’s collections.


Facebook Images:

Vase, Reissner, Stellmacher & Kessel (RSt&K) Amphora, attributed to Hans Riessner, Model #8175, c. 1905, ceramic, Durow Trust Fund purchase, OPM #2019.24.1

 Pitcher, Reissner, Stellmacher & Kessel (RSt&K) Amphora, Model #2072, c. 1900, ceramic, Durow Trust Fund purchase, OPM #2019.24.2

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