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Review by Remi S. Dyll
British Ceramics, 1675-1825: The Mint Museum

Brian D. Gallagher. British Ceramics, 1675–1825: The Mint Museum, with contributions by Barbara Stone Perry, Letitia Roberts, Diana Edwards, Pat Halfpenny, Maurice Hillis, and Margaret Ferris Zimmerman. Charlotte, N.C.: Mint Museum, in association with D Giles, Ltd, London, 2015. 272 pp.; 230 color illus., notes, bibliography. $79.95.

The Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, is named for its building’s origins as a U.S. mint. Built in 1835 to a design by architect William Strickland, the two-story Greek revival Charlotte Mint branch opened its doors two years later and began producing coins from North Carolina gold. Use as a mint continued after a fire and rebuilding in the 1840s, but with the advent of Civil War, production ceased forever. Slated for demolition in the 1930s, the mint building was acquired from the U.S. Department of the Treasury by a coalition of private citizens and moved a few miles south of downtown Charlotte. In 1936 it was dedicated as the Mint Museum of Art, the first art museum in North Carolina. In 1968 the museum added a wing to house the Delhom Gallery and Institute for Study and Research in Historical Pottery and Porcelain.

In British Ceramics, 1675–1825: The Mint Museum, Brian D. Gallagher, the museum’s curator of decorative arts, along with a team of contributing scholars, presents two essays and more than two hundred of the finest examples from the museum’s collection. The essays discuss the collectors, patrons, and curators who made a public collection possible, focusing on key figures in the creation of the Delhom Gallery: M. Mellanay Delhom (1908–2003) and Daisy Wade Bridges (1932–2015).

Barbara Stone Perry’s introductory essay, “In the Beginning: Ceramics at the Mint,” details the origins of the collection. Miss Delhom, a resident of Chicago, had, out of personal passion, amassed one of the largest collections of British and Continental ceramics in the country. Bridges worked for Wedgwood in New York City, where she developed a lifelong love of pottery and porcelain. In 1960 Bridges left the firm and moved to Charlotte with her husband, becoming a devoted supporter of the Mint. In 1962 the two women met at the Wedgwood International Seminar in Chicago and quickly developed a relationship based on their common interest. Bridges encouraged Delhom to offer her collection to the museum in Charlotte, and in 1963 Delhom gave the Mint twenty-five examples of English ceramics. In 1965, with the counseling of Bridges, she agreed to sell the balance of the collection—2,080 pieces—to the museum over a fifteen-year period. Delhom subsequently accompanied the collection to the Mint as curator of ceramics. This large acquisition inspired a number of other benefactors to support further accessions, and several of them gave their ceramics to the museum. These gifts added Spanish and Italian maiolica, French faience, Dutch Delftware, Native American wares, and North Carolina pottery, among other wares.

The second essay, “Fit for a Queen,” by Letitia Roberts, vividly paints Delhom’s life story. The author easily draws in the reader, describing Delhom giving a talk at a ceramics forum in Pennsylvania on a most unpleasant September day in 1973. The tent was airless, and the hot, damp weather invited countless mosquitoes. Apparently Delhom was unfazed and easily delivered her presentation. Roberts, who suffered, observed, “This was a lady to be reckoned with—a lady whose very persona inspired questions that demanded answers.” Born in 1908 in Fort Worth, Texas, by the age of twelve Delhom embraced theosophy and began studying oriental history, religion, philosophy, and design. She attended Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and at nineteen moved to Denver to study dance and acrobatics. At thirty she settled in Chicago, and at thirty-two made her first ceramic purchase, a porcelain Song dynasty piece. Thereafter, she joined ceramic organizations, including the Wedgwood International Seminar, American Ceramic Circle, English Ceramic Circle, and Oriental Ceramic Society. In the meantime, Chicago’s Shangri-La Restaurant employed her as a bookkeeper and hostess, positions that helped subsidize her growing collection. Delhom collected both British and European ceramics but concentrated on fine eighteenth-century English pottery and porcelain, with creamware a favorite.

Gallagher and contributing scholars Diana Edwards, Pat Halfpenny, Maurice Hillis, and Margaret Ferris Zimmerman provide well-written entries on selected examples of the Mint’s pottery and porcelain. The catalog is divided into sections on earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain, each with text explaining clay production in England. In part 3 several porcelain manufactories are discussed. Within each part, entries are arranged chronologically and illustrated in color. The catalog features exquisite objects from the major centers of production: Wedgwood, Chelsea, Worcester, and Staffordshire. A sample to whet readers’ appetites includes a William Littler earthenware sweetmeat dish, circa 1765–1770, a 1723 stoneware loving cup, and a pair of Derby soft-paste porcelain vases with landscapes, circa 1760. The essays and catalog are each followed by detailed endnotes, and the bibliography is extensive.

The text is more descriptive than analytical. The engaging essays by Perry and Roberts might plausibly have been combined into one, as their narratives occasionally overlap. However, the tale-telling is fascinating, and it would be a shame to miss Roberts’s firsthand recollections of Delhom.

In 1972 Delhom formed the Delhom Service League, and today it remains an active affiliated organization of the Mint, bringing together its members to study ceramics, from ancient to contemporary. The league generously supported the funding of this catalog, which accompanies the ongoing exhibition, “Portals to the Past: British Ceramics, 1675–1825,” at the Mint Museum Randolph. Together, they handsomely celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the museum’s acquisition of the Delhom Collection of British and European ceramics.

Remi S. Dyll
Bayou Bend Collection

Ceramics in America 2016

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