The Walters Art Museum is planning an exhibit that highlights the ceramic art form known as majolica.
Majolica Mania, as the exhibit is called, will take over the entire Hackerman House, the former Thomas-Jencks-Gladding mansion at 1 West Mount Vernon Place, now restored and part of the Walters campus. It will open March 13 and run through August 7.
Majolica is a type of clay pottery that is coated with enamel, ornamented with paint and glazed. The Walters’ exhibit will feature 350 examples that show the many ways it has been used over the years, and the ties it has to Baltimore.
“The Walters is honored to be a part of this wondrous exhibition, which brings to life one of the great under-recognized ceramics of the 19th century,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, the museum’s Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director, in a statement. “There’s an intimate connection to the history of this pottery because majolica was also produced in our great city. Majolica Mania is an opportunity for us to connect to that shared past and to reveal the stories of the laborers, many of them women, who created the ceramic.”
Included in the exhibition are works by the Chesapeake Pottery and the Edwin Bennett Pottery, two American majolica makers founded in Baltimore. The Edwin Bennett Pottery created a nearly three-foot-tall planter, supported by griffins and glazed in pale blue, that was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and will be on view in Majolica Mania.
Although Majolica was wildly popular in the 19th century, production dropped after the lead glazes needed to make it shiny were outlawed for being potentially poisonous to artisans.
Curated by Jo Briggs, the Jennie Walters Delano Curator of 18th- and 19th-Century Art at the Walters, and Susan Weber, Founder and Director of Bard Graduate Center, the exhibition explores the vibrant colors of the ceramic’s lead-based glazes and the variety of shapes the pottery took, from plates to planters to larger works of art. Other themes of the show include majolica and the natural world; foods and fashions; class; labor; immigration, and the human cost of producing majolica.
As part of telling story of the human cost of producing majolica, the exhibit will honor the women and children who became ill or died as a result of working with the toxic glazes needed to make it. The exhibit includes a ceramic memorial by contemporary artist Walter McConnell that was commissioned by the Walters and Bard Graduate Center. It also includes stories of the workers, with pictures of the factories and towns where majolica was made.
Besides highlighting local potteries, Majolica Mania features works from major British manufacturers and designers such as Minton, Wedgwood, and George Jones, as well as leading American potteries including Griffen, Smith and Hill Company of Pennsylvania, and the Arsenal Pottery of Trenton, New Jersey.
Loans from museums in Great Britain, including the Royal Collection, and Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the Maryland Center for History and Culture and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will be on view along with works from private collections, many of which have never before been publicly displayed.
Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated, three-volume catalogue published by Bard Graduate Center and the Walters, with essays examining the design, production, and dissemination of majolica worldwide.
Admission to the Walters is free. More information about the Walters and Majolica Mania is available at thewalters.org.