Friday, November 7, 2014

Celebrating Churchill in Ceramics

As one of those many who believe that Sir Winston Churchill was the greatest personage of the 20th Century,  some recognition was required that this month of November is the 140th anniversary of his birth on November 30,1874.  What better way to memorialize him than through the many ceramic items that have been issued with his likeness over the decades.  

The collection of items above are among just a few that the Royal Doulton pottery firm of England issued bearing his face and figure during Churchill’s lifetime and after.  Two items should be noted,  the former British Prime ministers is almost always depicted with a stump of a cigar in his mouth and a bow tie.  The item at left is a  Doulton “Toby jug,” with the handle made up of the traditional English bulldog and the British flag.  The items at right are two full figures that could be stood on a shelf or used to hold and pour cream or syrup.  Note the lip in the hats.
Churchill, of course, achieved his greatest leadership in his face off against Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany.  The next Doulton Toby shown here, designed by Ray Noble, shows a cigar-less Winston with the handle composed of the faces of his wartime colleagues.  From top to bottom they are, General Eisenhower,  Field Marshal Montgomery, Josef Stalin of Russia, and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.  The juxtaposition of Ike and “Monty,” is interesting since in life they did not get along.

A number of pottery items have been designed around famous speeches Churchill made during and after World War II.   The somewhat crudely done statuette shown here is of Winston flanked by the bulldog once again. It was modeled by Douglas V. Tootle for the Kevin Francis pottery in Staffordshire, England.   On each side of the base is a word.  Together they read “blood, toil, tears, sweat.”   Those words became famous in a speech by Churchill to the British House of Commons on May 13, 1940.  Three days earlier he had replaced the Hitler-appeasing Neville Chamberlain and on the 13th he asked the House to declare its confidence in his leadership, while predicting that the future would bring blood, toil, tears and sweat.  The motion passed unanimously.
The next ceramic jug shows a full bodied Churchill, cigar and bow tie with his arm around the symbol of England, the lion.  The Latin inscription on the base, “Tantum Mirabile Est.”  Translated it means “So Much is Owed.”  It makes reference to another famous Churchill speech.   He delivered it on August 20,1940, during the “Battle of Britain” when Royal Air Force pilots were fighting a pivotal air battle with the German Luftwaffe as Hitler was planning to invade the British Isles.  In commending the bravery of the British pilots, Churchill said:  “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” On the base is another quote from the man:  “The Nation Had the Lion’s Heart, I Provided the Roar.”
The ceramic bust of Churchill shown left was the product of an anonymous American pottery showing the Prime Minister at his pugnacious best with scowl and cigar.  He was always a popular figure with Americans and he frequently cited the fact that his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was an American, born Jeanette Jerome in Brooklyn.  A strikingly beautiful woman, she often has been credited with inventing the Manhattan cocktail at the bar of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

The next statue showing Churchill giving a speech at a podium and flashing his famous “V for Victory” sign is actually a whiskey decanter issued by the Ezra Brooks Distillery. It memorizes a speech he delivered  at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946.  With U.S. President Harry S Truman in the audience, Churchill condemned the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe and declared:  “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”  The speech has been considered an opening volley in the Cold War that lasted some 45 years and the term “Iron Curtain” became common parlance.

Not all Churchillian ceramics are politically inspired.  The British particularly are noted for depicting their royalty and other major figures on rather mundane objects.  The object at right is an example. It shows Winston in his night clothes, including pajamas, night cap and smoking jacket — with cigar.  Take off the tasseled red cap and below a tobacco jar was revealed.  Another pottery piece depicted Churchill in his naval uniform.  He served as Lord of the Admiralty during World War One and frequently was seen wearing navy duds.  This item is an egg cup.

Contemporary use of Churchill’s face and form in pottery tends toward the humorous.  The black and white image of the man on a coffee cup comes from the pseudonymous English graffiti artist known as “Bansky.”  He executes his art with a distinctive stenciling technique that often is transferred by others to commercial items.  Known for his satirical approach to government and society,  Bansky here has given us a sympathetic and perhaps nostalgic picture of Churchill.  The impression left is one of a man both strong yet not devoid of humor.
The final Churchill ceramic is from the hand of Noi Volkov, a Russian now living in the United States.  He is a potter and painter whose recent exhibition was entitled “Reforming the Masters — Unleashing the Humor in Art.”  His specialty is taking famous paintings, adding items and fashioning them all into teapots.   This depiction of Winston is just so.  Note the spout sticking out of one ear.  The handle, citing Churchill’s naval background, is the handle.  The ridiculous top hat is the lid.   While its utility as a teapot may be in question, Volkov has given us a evocative face of the famous man.
These are just a small sample of the ceramic images of Winston Churchill to be found.  My library has a book that contains dozens more.  It is called “Churchill:  Images of Greatness,” by Ronald A. Smith, dating from 1990.  Collectors will find it a great source of information about a wide range of Churchill memorabilia. 


1 comment:

  1. Hi. I have the Ezra Brooks bottle and would like to sell it. Anyone interested?