MOTHERING SUNDAY by Eric Knowles
It’s a certain sign of encroaching old age when not only does Christmas appear to come around every six months, but that the same should also hold true for Mother’s Day (if you manage to remember either, of course)
In spite of the all-pervading doom and gloom, things took a decidedly cheerful turn in the Knowles’ household this very morning when the post arrived including a Mother’s Day card from our son which had been requisitioned and despatched without any requirement for the normal reminder a few days previously from yours truly.
Regrettably, the usual Sunday lunch is currently taboo and any likelihood of the arrival of flowers has long since been dismissed as entirely unlikely.
As for my own dearest Mama – well she is, fortunately, happily ensconced in a care home ‘Up North’ close to the beautiful Pendle & Ribble Valley countryside and, although strictly out of bounds under the current strictures, she remains both upbeat and feisty.
It has to be said that both my parents - sadly my father passed away last summer – have to share a significant portion of the blame for my lifelong interest in antiques and, in particular, ceramics.
As a child both my brother and I were required to undertake coach and bus rides to nearby places of historic interest, as well as truly great museums.
The venues for these enforced expeditions included the likes of Shibden Hall in Halifax – the home of Anne Lister that featured in the recent Gentleman Jack television series, and the Castle Museum in York where the recreation of a Victorian street known as Kirkgate proved to be of significant influence on a certain nine-year-old.
For many years my parents were active members of the Northern Ceramic Society, attending both meetings and weekend seminars where lecturers included the likes of the late Terry Lockett, David Holgate – the leading authority on New Hall porcelain - and Geoffrey Godden, who together with Terry were responsible for your correspondent being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts some twenty years ago.
However, returning to my formidable mater, whose ‘pot-o-holic’ tendencies meant that I never had to spare too much thought as to what sort of gift should accompany her Mother’s Day card; not for her the fripperies of flowers or chocolates – guaranteed delight could be elicited by the presentation of a Coalport Japan plate, a Caughley strainer or perhaps an early 19th century earthenware children’s plate.
The last of these ultimately became somewhat problematic to acquire, as her collection eventually exceeded three hundred pieces, and I could never be certain whether I was buying a duplicate or not…
Should you also have an interest in children’s plates, my mother’s collection has been bequeathed to Towneley Hall in Burnley, and will be put on display to the public at an exhibition at some point during 2021 – so keep checking out my Facebook pages for the definitive date.
As storage space in her care home room is somewhat limited her interest is now restricted to the receipt of Northern Ceramic Society publications, as well as the equally splendid Pilkington Lancastrian Pottery Society newsletter, courtesy of the most excellent duet of Barry and Angela Corbett who act as both editors and archivists with an enthusiasm I wish I could bottle and sell at Burnley Market for a pretty penny.
With this in mind, I am left to sift through the stunning images on ScottishAntiques.com, as photographed by our very own David Bartholomew – known to some as ‘Snappy David’ – in order that I should be able to choose what amounts to a fantasy Mother’s Day gift.
The fact that her taste is somewhat eclectic, by virtue of encompassing both British and Oriental porcelain, stoneware and pottery, somewhat counter-intuitively narrows the potential choice to 18th century porcelains. That said, I know full well that anything from the Georgian era would still be well received with her legendary broad smile and limitless capacity for convivial conversation – those who know her can all confirm the latter and hence we are availed of the reason why there is a surfeit of two-legged donkeys in her part of North East Lancashire. I realise that this colloquial anomaly could well be lost on some of my overseas readers – if so, please do ask a British friend who will be able to provide an explanation.
Anyway, to business, and I am immediately reminded that Mother’s collection of porcelains (which, I should add, is presently in secure storage) has no shortage of blue and white pieces; I may therefore lean towards to finding her something colourful, or polychromatic if you wish to be mindful of the proper description of such things in ceramic circles.
As a result I find myself drawn to the Bow porcelain section of our website, in the knowledge that some of Mother’s own not-insignificant investments have appropriated several wares from the business once based on the Eastern extremity of London, and which was styled as the New Canton factory back in 1750’s - a time when imported Chinese porcelains otherwise dominated our domestic market.
The sheer volume of oriental-inspired porcelains produced at Bow can never be underestimated, and the fact that so much has survived into the present day is testament to this fact.
So, it’s no surprise that the first piece to catch my eye is a stunning porcelain coffee can (which can be viewed here), decorated in soft-coloured enamels chosen to emulate the then-prevalent famille rose palette, used on ceramics being imported from China.
Today the exact pattern used on this piece is referred to as Flower and Rock, and features an asymmetrical composition with red/pink chrysanthemum flowers and gnarled branches issuing from rocky forms; it simply begs to be picked up (though never by the vulnerable handle) and lovingly caressed.
At this point in proceedings you may be tending towards the assumption that yours truly has rather lost the plot, but then again you may feel a common bond that is both intensely personal and wholly inexplicable when it comes to handling beautiful and utterly desirable ceramics.
If you are able to identify with such sentiments you will also know that it is unwise to ever make known the money one may be prepared to spend to acquire such loveliness, as those who do not share our mutual understanding will simply never be able to rationalise the expenditure of a few hundred pounds to end up with what is, essentially, a second-hand mug.
That said I also find myself attracted to the (considerably more expensive) figure of a dancing man, bearing in mind that until her mid-teens my mother was an accomplished ballet dancer as well as achieving certificates - with honours – which permitted her to actually teach tap dancing. It must have been a grave disappointment for her to come to terms with the fact both her sons appear to have been born with two left feet…
The porcelain figure which has caught my eye is very much deserving of the title ‘exotic’ (yes, I did say ‘exotic’), and is a true delight to behold.
He is known as ‘The Turkish Dancer’ and is resplendent in intricately-patterned and colourful robes, detailed in gilt, whilst also sporting a long puce jacket and matching turban (see here on our website).
He is shown poised on a base supported by four scroll-form feet, his arms raised in an enigmatic gesture and his face detailed with rouged cheeks and ‘Cupid’s bow’ lips which give him an unmistakably theatrical air; this gentleman is obviously a dandy from the imposing and awe-inspiring Ottoman Empire which held sway over the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond for hundreds of years.
We have already touched on the asking price for this piece as being fairly significant, and although – ahem - it would cost me over twice as much as the coffee can to purchase, it gets my vote as the perfect (albeit only fanciful) Mother’s Day gift – a formidable Turk for an equally formidable Mother!
Love You, Mum
Do stay safe dear readers, keep smiling - and for goodness sake each and every one of you, keep washing those hands!
Eric Knowles FRSA