Vases and Winter Flowers

We’ve finally had the January thaw, albeit one month late, with daytime temperatures zooming unexpectedly up to the fifties. Friday night they plunged again to single digits, arriving with wind gusts to seventy miles an hour and multiple bolts of lightning ripping the night sky. A lot of the snow melted during the thaw, but there are still several feet covering the ground. We may have had illusions that spring was here, but today there is no mistaking that we are deep in winter.

My chilled mind dreams of flowers. The only plants blooming in the solarium are the parlor maple (Abutilon), its papery blossoms a cheerful orange/red, and the three crowns of thorns  (Euphorbia milii) that are showing off their tiny pink and pale yellow blooms. I enjoy these flowers but hunger for more, especially with snow expected tonight and tomorrow. So, indulgently, I buy myself a bouquet of white tulips, snitch a vase from the studio (it’s supposed to be for sale), and set the simple arrangement on the kitchen table. Happiness.

Potters have been making vases for thousands of years. From the Latin vas for container or vessel, it is traditionally taller than it is wide, often adhering to the Golden Mean. Filled with flowers, whether casually or carefully arranged, or holding a single stem, vases of flowers enhance dining tables, hotel lobbies, guest rooms, religious ceremonies and celebrations everywhere. Over the years, the form has come to be used solo as a decoration, sometimes status symbol, and often holds pride of place in an interior. As much and perhaps more than the teapot, vase making is a right of passage for potters.

Julia Galloway who juried 500 Vases: Contemporary Explorations of a Timeless Form writes in her introduction, “A vase is typically thought of as an object that enhances something – a tulip or a dinner setting. Yet the best vases transcend service and stand on their own as art. Creating a vase that can speak for itself take hard work and definite vision, and that’s part of what makes the form challenging and exciting.”

Like all the books in Lark’s 500 series, 500 Vases is a pleasure. Galloway has chosen a wide range of interpretations of the form: Christine Schiff’s “Ancient Vessels Grouping,” stamped with feldspar chunks; Hayne Bayless’ extruded flower bricks, perfect for massing single stems of daffodils or tulips; Simon Levin’s anagama fired vessels, generously thrown (I have one of his pitchers, perhaps it’s time to acquire a vase?); and Heidi Fahrenbacher’s humorous Flower Bed. The vases are plain and fancy, carved, stamped, glazed, unglazed, and created using all the methods available to potters.

I do not know if people who are not makers look at volumes like this. I think even if you are not a potter it would be a delightful wish book, a shopper’s delight. But for those of us who do make, it is a stimulating opportunity to see what others are doing, to be inspired, and to contemplate. And though there are not many words, not much to actually read, it is a book to spend considerable time with, studying the images, and returning to it periodically.

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