The New York Ceramics Fair, Jan. 17-20, 2002, at the National Academy of Design, 1083 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10128.
A portly man, his Barbour coat flapping open, lugged a gray shopping bag marked The New York Ceramic Fair past the guard. "You coming back?" the guard said, poised to rubber-stamp the man's wrist. "We're spent out," the pottery fanatic replied as he whisked out the door, wife in tow.
At the opening night preview of the Ceramic Fair, a well-groomed crowd cherry-picked hors d'oeuvres off platters and sipped white wine. With 40 dealers in attendance, the labyrinthine galleries of the National Academy of Design appeared as one giant china shop.
New York dealer Craig Basmajian, of Fenichell Basmajian, presented French and English Aesthetic movement plates and platters to Greg Kuharic, Sotheby's 20th-century decorative arts expert. Kuharic, a gifted potter as well as respected scholar, admired the pink and brown transfer ware.
Across the way, Ewa Cohen, one half the elegant British duo Cohen & Cohen, presented an "exceptionally rare" blue and white birdcage from Jiaging, ca. 1820. At 17 ½ inches high, this Chinese interpretation of a Delft original was priced at $77,500.
"Next week we are off to Palm Beach, for the Antique Fair," Cohen said, her plum silk blouse rippling as she strode back to her booth.
Tucked among the early Chinese Export ware, the petit Parisian Danielle Wieder of French Art Pleasures anchored a corner filled with examples of Art Nouveau. The sum of $40,000 would buy you a splendid pair of vases with a peacock-feather decoration by Auguste Delaherche.
Around the corner, Leo Kaplan, of the Madison Avenue Leo Kaplan Gallery, sat peacefully watching the action. His wife Ruth, son Alan and daughter Susie -- wearing a spectacular Dutch necklace made from a Firestone tire -- had filled their booth with a range of goods, from English Agateware to Russian Enamel. The Kaplans win a prize for the most daring object in the show -- an erotic Staffordshire cup, ca. 1780, representing an erect member of the male anatomy. A real conversation piece for $5,800.
Leslie Ferrin, of the Croton-on-Hudson Ferrin Gallery, brought her contemporary artists to the show. The well-known Massachusetts potter, Mark Shapiro, stood beside his stoneware teapots, nicely priced at $300. Mara Superior, who is also from Western Massachusetts, discussed her high-fired porcelain platters. She uses a technique similar to Chinese Export, but with the glaze applied over the colors, muting the palette to soft cobalt, greens and reds. Her work ranges from $1,000-$10,000.
Diana and James Garrison Stradling held court across the way. They specialize in pre-Civil War Americana. Mr. Stradling said, "We are private, private dealers, by appointment only." If one is lucky enough to garner a meeting at the Stradling's Park Avenue headquarters, ask about American pressed glass, or any other early phase of glassmaking. With 37 years in the business, the Stradlings epitomize scholarship and have published books and articles on pottery and ceramics. A sandwich mold blown pitcher was priced at $5,900.
Two of the most extraordinary displays are on the top floor. Plucky potter Michelle Erickson has filled her glass cases with work just out of the kiln. She applies 17th- and 18th-century ceramic techniques to her modern creations. An astonishing pair of tulip vases cost $11,000.
Chelsea dealer John Elder displayed a ravishing array of contemporary ceramics, from a Sam Chung teapot for $300 to Janis Mars Wonderlich's Twilight Zone Nursing Mother at $3,800. He is clearly a dealer to watch.
On the way out, the modest exhibition of glass items from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., caught my eye. A case of porcelain punch bowls, teapots and 18th-century roosters bore a placard indicating donations from Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. A hotly anticipated auction of American Furniture from the Copeland estate hits the auction block at Sotheby's this Saturday.