David Rago reminisces about his 50+ 12 months realtionship with the champion of ceramics himself, Robert A. Ellison.
In case you’re within the public sale enterprise, you make home calls. Consequently, throughout my 50+ years as a supplier and auctioneer on this area, I’ve been in additional than my share of properties. If time permits, whereas ready in a lounge or different frequent space, I at all times be sure to have a look at the spines of books filling the cabinets, or the perimeters of file albums and CDs. Desires stands out as the window to at least one’s soul, however a glimpse at Jimi Hendrix or Gustav Mahler albums may be the subsequent neatest thing.
The identical is true of the artwork individuals select to gather. Glass patrons typically aren’t pottery individuals, and Grueby collectors are normally of a distinct breed than these gathering work by, say, George Ohr. It’s not only a matter of 1’s eye, however at the very least as a lot of 1’s mind and temperament. Generally these classes are broadened by associated work, like a Rookwood collector additionally shopping for ceramics mirrored by early Weller and Roseville. Or maybe somebody needs to kind an encyclopedic grouping of Arts and Crafts period artwork pottery, wherein case an artist like Hugh Robertson may be a member of a bigger ensemble. Such predilections say a lot a few consumer’s tastes and tendencies and have helped me over time to each discover what they need and open their eyes to the work of different artists or corporations.
After which there’s Bob Ellison.
The primary time I met Bob was in my dad and mom’ kitchen in 1973. I used to be an 18-year-old faculty pupil and part-time pottery supplier, and Bob had responded to an advert I ran within the Antiques Dealer, which within the early days had a powerful following for ceramics. I had no concept this temporary assembly would mark the start of a fifty-year friendship.
Bob, it turned out, was an artist; I used to go to his fifth flooring walk-up on Allen Avenue (I walked up these stairs 100 occasions carrying bins. I used to be a lot youthful then…) and marvel on the sneakers he wore when portray, the tops of them layered thick with a rainbow splatter of oils, not in contrast to his canvases. I can nonetheless see his studio partitions, white areas the place the canvases had hung, “framed” by a technicolor halo of flung pigment. Summary Expressionism was, to my teenage eye, really summary to the purpose of being unfathomable, although this proved to be solely certainly one of many issues about which he would educate me. Our two-decade age distinction was quite a bit to at least one so younger, however the relationship slowly matured from paternal, to avuncular, to fraternal with every passing 12 months.
Bob was not a standard collector, if such a factor ever existed. It’s essential to do not forget that, early on, all of us operated in one thing of a void as a result of so little info on American artwork pottery was obtainable. We’re presently spoiled by the lots of of books and 1000’s of articles on the topic which have since been printed, however in these early years of the revival of curiosity within the Arts and Crafts Motion, data was normally exhausting gained by trial and error. However, as I got here to know, one’s eye for artwork is at the very least partly genetic, and Bob was blessed with two of the perfect.
Whereas most early collectors centered ardently, if not fully, on photo-realistic Rookwood, Bob tended in direction of the much less literal Arts and Crafts-inspired ceramicists like George Ohr, Theophilus Brouwer, William Grueby, and the like. Additional, whereas most early collectors had been drawn solely to American work of the interval, Bob noticed the connecting internet between French and American makers reminiscent of August Delaherche and Grueby, Ernest Chaplet and Hugh Robertson, and the English brothers Martin and George Ohr. He additionally occurred to purchase among the most lovely Rookwood. Consequently, his was one of many few collections that took a extra spherical method to defining the ceramic arts of the period, and in way more depth than all however a handful.
Nowhere is that this extra obvious than within the three separate donations he made to the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in Manhattan, starting in 2009. The primary grouping centered totally on pre-war American ceramics, representing on the time a very powerful and thoughtfully curated assortment on public view. His subsequent present was fully of European ceramics of the identical period, together with masterworks by Chaplet, Guimard, Dalpayrat, and the Martin Brothers. His final donation captured the panoply of natural varieties, American and European, from the nineteenth by way of the twenty first centuries. Viewing all three collections would supply one a crash course in twentieth century western ceramic historical past, and a window to Bob’s thoughts and soul.
One may suppose that, after freely giving a lot of his assortment, there couldn’t be a lot left. One can be fallacious. This current sale provides one other glimpse of the fruits of passionate, knowledgeable accumulating, and the dedication of 5 a long time in pursuit of the uncommon and the attractive. I had no concept, half a century in the past in my dad and mom’ kitchen, that I’d proceed my relationship with Bob, posthumously, by being entrusted with these lovely objects.