By Charlotte Jul, skribent, editor and curator, 2006
Vasegaard’s tea set consists of eight individually shaped items: the cups are round, the tea caddy is rectangular, the teapot is six-sided and the cake dish is eight-sided. Strange as it may sound, the angular tea set forms a harmonious whole. The inspiration from China is evident in both the teapot and the tea caddy, but then china is a Chinese invention, isn’t it?
In general, it’s impossible to avoid the oriental inspiration in the work of Danish ceramic artists. Gertrud Vasegaard’s generation as well as present- day designers have a tendency to look to the East. The affinity with clean-cut Scandinavian functionalism is obvious. In Danish ceramics, Japanese severity is transformed into functional form and sensuous quality. For as a Dane would say, a pot is useless if it can’t pour!
First brood of ceramic artists
Gertrud Vasegaard was in the first ceramics class to graduate from the School of Decorative Art in Denmark in 1930. A third-generation potter, she learnt the art of pottery at an early age, and for several years, Gertrud and her sister shared the same career and workshop on the Baltic island of Bornholm. Later on Gertrud’s daughter Myre, also trained as a ceramic artist and shared a workshop with her mother.
Starting in 1945, Vasegaard was on the staff of the Bing & Grøndahl porcelain factory for ten years. This was where she designed her tea set. The ferruginous clay left small black dots in the glaze of the tea set after firing. Vasegaard insisted on keeping these dots, although it was commonly thought that they were a sign of poor quality. Vasegaard was proved right in the end: the ‘imperfections’ give life and texture to the set despite their industrial origin. The unruly dots signal that the tea set was shaped by hands - and should be used by hands.
Gertrud Vasegaard is also well-known for her decorative style. Her rhombuses and oblique, angular lines in particular have set a fashion. Her life work and her professional approach to her craft have influenced many contemporary Danish ceramic artists like Ole Jensen, Ursula Munch Petersen and Bodil Manz. Examples of Vasegaard’s considerable production are exhibited at the Danish Museum of Art & Design.
Did you know?
In the 1930s hotel owner Jonas Jantzen on Bornholm had a small closet standing in his hotel. From here he sold Gertrud Vasegaard and the sister Lisbeths ceramics to hotel guests and other interested parties. The closet contained about six items at a time.
The sisters in many ways became pioneer women by virtue of their workshop on Bornholm, where they created ceramics in their own style. The island subsequently became a gathering point for pottery and glass artists, and in 1997 came the Glass and Ceramic School in Nexø.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Design and Arts, 2006
Ceramics have always been one of Denmark’s strengths. Clay is a natural resource that has always been available, and we learned very early on to use it to our benefit. Jutland pottery follows a traditional design that has been crafted and used uninterrupted for many hundreds of years and the peninsula’s large porcelain factories were Denmark’s first industries to produce significant design products on a large scale. Ceramics is a living tradition that is steadily developing today: contemporary ceramic artists have found new methods that adopt lessons from tradition and break the boundaries.
Gertrud Vasegaard was a leading figure in this respect, drawing inspiration from China in particular and using it to renew Denmark’s local tradition. Her work is founded on craftsmanlike skill and knowledge that made it possible for her to translate this inspiration into something completely different.
The Tea Set from 1956 was not only inspired by China in its design but also in the intricate details. Porcelain factories used magnets that extracted the iron particles from the clay, as the small marks would make the object, according to sorting standards, into second-class goods. Vasegaard believe that the natural marks from the iron gave life to the objects and managed to persuade Bing & Grøndahl to leave iron particles in. This process of creating a design or effect through a process is very significant within art and design and it is a quality that has always been given high status in China and Japan. However, in Europe, for a long time artists were very concerned about cleansing design from all forms of human traces. Vasegaard’s tea set was produced by Bing & Grøndahl and became very popular, and at the same time becoming a major inspiration for contemporary and younger ceramic artists.