Paul Scott | New American Scenery Series28 Apr 2021
Paul Scott presents a solo exhibition this May Scenery, Samplers & Souvenirs. This exhibition features new artworks which update historical transferwares for the 21st century, including a selection from his New American Scenery series, alongside the Spode Works Closed series and English Scenery series. The exhibition also features work made as a result of his Gardens of Lyra collaboration with Spode and Fortnum & Mason. This blog explores the New American Scenery series in further detail in Paul Scott's own words.
New American Scenery & Transferware
In the late 18th century, blue and white Staffordshire transferwares were developed to imitate painted Chinese export porcelains. By the early 19th century printed patterns had expanded to include images of the Grand Tour and of Empire. A particular dark blue version of the genre became popular in the United States, & from Liverpool, Staffordshire potters exported huge quantities of decorated wares depicting American subjects & landscape. Later that century these were to become highly collectible. … Collector William Cowper Prime asserted that transferware "ranks in historical collections with the vases of Greece…men will say that these show the tastes, these illustrate the home life, of the men and women who were the founders and rulers of the American Republic". The collecting mania resulted in a second wave of imitative wares that were hugely important to the economy of the Staffordshire potteries well into the 20th century.
Paul Scott has been investigating these transferwares as well as the contemporary landscape of the United States for a number of years. An ongoing dialogue between documentary, historical, travel and artistic research has led to the creation of a new body of artwork, New American Scenery. In it, Scott references archives, objects, the motives, & thinking of original collectors as well as the post industrial landscapes of 21st century America. The artwork deals with issues surrounding globalization, energy generation and consumption, capitalism and immigration, racism and other legacies of history. Antique tablewares are re-worked by selective erasure, re-glazing, & the addition of newly printed decals. Others works involve newly commissioned ‘pearlware’ forms and traditional restoration processes.
Scott’s American travels & research were supported in the United States by the Alturas Foundation & Ferrin Contemporary. Further research in archives at Wedgwood, Spode and in the V&A was supported by Arts Council England.
Souvenirs of Portland and California
'Portland has another reputation alongside its radical image. That of the whitest large city in America in a state with a constitution that once barred African Americans from living there. An 1850s law required black people to be “lashed” once a year to encourage them to leave Oregon and members of the Ku Klux Klan largely controlled Portland city council between world wars. Housing was effectively segregated in large parts of the city….. Many of today’s protesters say their support for racial justice in a city where the police department has a history of disproportionately killing African Americans is driven at least in part by an attempt to atone for Oregon’s racist past.
….In the summer of 2020, Trump’s dispatch of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) taskforce reinvigorated the protests in Portland as federal agents in camouflage snatched protesters off the streets in unmarked vans and severely beat others.
The mayors of Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta + 11 other cities wrote to the Trump administration accusing the president of an abuse of power … “Unilaterally deploying these paramilitary-type forces into our cities is wholly inconsistent with our system of democracy and our most basic values,” they wrote. The mayors also said they were disturbed at the actions of federal agents in Portland, calling their failure to wear proper identification and the snatching of protesters off the streets “chilling”…' (#ChrisMcGreal @guardian 26 Jul 2020)
In 2020, hundreds of fires raged across California, forcing tens of thousands of residents, who were already facing blackouts and the coronavirus pandemic, to flee their homes. The flames, sparked by lightning and stoked by a searing heatwave and ferocious winds, moved quickly, overwhelming the state’s firefighters and first responders.
‘Since the early 1970s, California’s annual wildfire extent increased fivefold, punctuated by extremely large and destructive wildfires in 2017 and 2018,’ Williams and his colleagues write in a paper published in Earth’s Future. ‘This trend was mainly due to an eightfold increase in the summertime forest fire area and was very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human‐induced warming.’
Michael Mann, a climate expert and professor of Earth sciences at Penn State University, says in the American west climate change has increased the risk of fire weather fivefold and doubled how much land has burned. Wildfire frequency, he says, has quadrupled since the 1980s. Asked how such fires could be countered, he replies: ‘As long as we continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere, and create warmer, drier conditions in California, there is little question that we’ll see a worsening of wildfires…. The only true solution is to stop burning fossil fuels, generating greenhouse gases, and warming the planet.’ Last year, the world’s leading climate scientists said the world had barely a dozen years to act to make massive changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels. ‘There is no documented historic precedent,’ said the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- The Independent Newspaper 02/11/19
Whilst many of the works within my New American Scenery series are based on early 19th century transferwares, there was a resurgence of the genre in the late 19th and early 20th century, on the back of the blue and white collecting mania of the time. The main producers of this new wave of printed wares were Wedgwood, Spode, importers/agents Rowland Marsellus and Jon Roth. Also involved later in the 20th century were Johnson Bros. Many of the wares were produced as ’Souvenirs Of….’ Wedgwood and Spode were important in creating products for Colleges, Universities and other organisations, whereas Rowland Marsellus acted as agents and
commissioners, making souvenirs to be sold through department stores. These wares were made by a number of different pottery companies in Stoke on Trent. The R&M engraved copper plates used in production then changed hands as factories went out of business, so some patterns (as with the British Anchor ‘California’ plate) then later re-emerged with a different backstamp.
These artworks are made using original souvenir wares were purchased from antique stores, by auction or on eBay… I have then erased parts of the pattern, re-glazed them, re-fired the now blank glazed spaces, then added/collaged decals on top, before re-firing again.
Souvenir of Portland & Washington/Trumpian Legacy No:2
Whilst I intended to use the print made for my Souvenir of Portland series on Rowland Marcellus type souvenir wares, it was necessarily speculative in nature, as the intended substrates are antique plates and not readily available to purchase… I sensed that I needed to make a decal that was adaptable so that it could possibly be applied to different forms. The original artwork is a digitally collaged composition created from images taken by photographers Dave Killen and Nathan Howard in Portland, with ‘cloned’ clouds adapted from Spode’s Italian pattern. The decal has been subsequently used on two different souvenir plate designs… but as I was considering tableware forms one day in the studio, I started layering different decals onto this huge platter. It became clear that this screen print (intended to be juxtaposed with the intense detailing of a Rowland Marsellus design) was a strong image on its own, in an unaltered form. In addition the image of armed American law enforcement officers seems more universal in 2020 and early 2021 than just the city of Portland. Black Lives Matter protests in response to the police murder of George Floyd continued in many American cities for months, then the calamitous Trump insurgency saw those same police and troops employed again in Washington in February 2021.
This print is melted into the glazed surface of a large, damaged Davenport platter, probably made in around 1850. It carries its history within its form, a crack stapled together at some point, another which appeared in re-firing is repaired with a Kintsugi type gold line. The form and its surfaces reference our heated times, the fragile nature of American democracy, as well as the wealth created for a few by the deliberate festering of hatred and discontent….
Near the Oxbow (After Thomas Cole)
Thomas Cole was the most important American landscape painter of the 19th century, but was actually born near Bolton in the north of England. He was a key figure in some of my research because of his role in the depiction and dissemination of romantic American landscapes, but also because his interest in landscape began as a child copying transferware patterns… his first attempts at drawing,
were made from cups and saucers, from them I rose to copying prints and from copying prints to making originals.Letter from Thomas Cole to William Dunlap, quoted in Along the Juniata Thomas Cole and the Dissemination of American Landscape Imagery, Siegel, Nancy. Juniata Museum of Art/University of Washington Press 2003 p 29
In 2019, during one of my last research visits to the United States, I went to visit the famous viewpoint in Massachusetts used by Cole in his famous Oxbow painting, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York.
The painting has been interpreted in relation to Western expansion and the Louisiana Purchase of 1804, a land deal with France that resulted in America acquiring some 827,000 square miles of territory west of the Mississippi. ‘...many believed that it was a divinely ordained obligation of Americans to settle this westward territory. In The Oxbow, Cole visually shows the ‘benefits’ of this process. The land to the east is ordered, productive, and useful. In contrast, the land to the west remains unbridled. Further westward expansion, a change that is destined to happen, is shown to positively alter the land.’
In his Essay on American Scenery (1836) Cole expressed ambivalence about this ‘divinely ordained obligation’, known as the doctrine of ‘Manifest Destiny’. While he accepted that the wilderness would inevitably be tamed - ‘where the wolf roams, the plough shall glisten’ - he mourned its passing. There is a prophetic tone (perhaps a proto-environmental awareness) in his final paragraphs:
I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away - the ravages of the axe are daily increasing - the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation... another generation will behold spots, now rife with beauty, desecrated by what is called improvement.
- Thomas Cole, quoted in 'On the Threshold Paul Scott, New American Scenery', an essay by Jo Dahn, https://cumbrianblues.com/wp-c...
Alas the road up to the viewpoint was closed as it was ‘out of season’… As I headed back to the main road I caught a glimpse of the river through the trees. Peering through the woodland a huge industrial plant was visible on the far river bank…. I found the Keep Out, No Trespassing & No Parking signs nailed to the trees particularly disturbing … It brought to mind Thomas Cole’s own words:
The most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilised nation…Essay on American Scenery, Thomas Cole (1835)
The screen print was created as a response to the experience and the degradation of Cole’s rural idyll. Putting the print on a broken platter seemed entirely appropriate, whilst the gold of the Kintsugi alludes to the ongoing plundering of nature creating a sort of wealth at the expense of the whole.
- Paul Scott, April 2021
You can view Paul Scott's May 2021 exhibition Scenery, Samplers & Souvenirs here.