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    A Bevy of Breakables
by N. F. Karlins
Sweetmeat tree
ca. 1740
at Mark J. West, London
Moon flask ewer
ca. 1750
Qianlong period, China
at Cohen & Cohen, London
Stoneware vessels
by Wilhelm Kage for Gustavberg, Sweden, 1959-60, at Form 1900, New York
George Ohr vase with folded rim
at Perrault-Rago Gallery
Clarence Cliff
English, early 1930s
from Banana Dance Ltd.
The first annual New York Ceramics Fair, Jan. 20-23, 2000, featured top-flight material from more than 40 dealers. The congenial setting of the National Academy of Design, its beaux-arts gallery space given over to small booths, enticed visitors to relax and spend time and money.

About half the dealers were English, half American, with a few from the Continent. Ceramics, both Asian and Western, from the 15th to the 20th century were available, but that was just the beginning. Glass and enamels were on view, too -- Mark J. West (London) had a rare clear glass 18th-century sweetmeats tree, and Leo Kaplan Ltd. (N.Y.) had a selection of Russian enamels.

Almost every major 18th- and 19th-century English manufacturer was represented in depth. Staffordshire dogs were everywhere. Howards of Aberystwyth (Wales) had enough to stock an entire kennel. Elinor Penna Staffordshire (Old Westbury, N.Y.) had a complete set of 12 numbered black-spotted spaniels along with a matching rabbit (ca.1850).

At Jonathan Horne (London), a beautifully painted miniature pair of dogs that seemed to sit up and beg could only temporarily distract visitors from his collection of early, robustly decorated ca. 1700 slipware. Only 75 years later but eons away in aura was a Chelsea-Derby harvest mug with delicate sprigs of flowers and gold trim at Highgate Antiques (London).

As to be expected, Chinese export ware was also in abundance. Santos of London had a unique set of mounted immortals in porcelain and Famille Rose enamels. Also rare and remarkable was a moon flask ewer decorated with European figures surrounded by bats and cranes -- Chinese symbols of longevity -- presided over by a foo dog finial, at Cohen & Cohen (London).

Continental wares of note include an array of spare, glazed stoneware pieces from Scandinavia at Form 1900 (N.Y.). Art Nouveau works from France and Belgium, especially those by Theodore Deck, caught the eye at French Art Pleasures (Rueil-Malmaison, France). A pair of early 19th-century Jacob Petit of Paris white porcelain lidded ewers, whose surfaces were alive with tiny florets, were showstoppers at Janice Paull (Kenilworth, Warwickshire).

American ceramics ranged from some interesting early pieces of historical note, like an English plate commemorating General Lafayette's 1824-25 visit to the States, made for the American market, at William R. & Teresa F Kurau (Lampeter, Penn.), to the wild crimped and folded glazed vessels of George Ohr, "the mad potter of Biloxi, Miss.," at the Perrault-Rago Gallery (Lambertville, N.J.). Several American galleries had contemporary pieces. The John Natsoulas Gallery (Davis, Ca.) showed works by Richard Shaw, David Gilhooley, and Marilyn Levine, and the Oriental nudes of relative newcomer Esther Shimzau.

Whether you prefer Meissen figures or "bizarre" and "fantastique" Clarice Cliff ware, there was something for you at this show. Overall, the prices seemed modest to reasonable. The range was huge -- $14,000 for a wonderful chthonic 16th-century Japanese green ash-glazed tamba jar with cat's claw lines (Momoyama Period) at Erik Thomson (Bensheim, Germany) to only $185 for a cheery 1920s English chintz ware cup and saucer in the "Marigold" pattern at Joyce Settel Ltd. (Quogue, N.Y.).

During the fair, a special loan show of 25 pieces from the Chipstone Collection of English Pottery was on display, and a series of lectures on various types of ceramics were offered to the public.

N. F. KARLINS is a New York-based art historian and critic.