Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beer-Drinking Monks

Unglazed AE Tile plaque showing monks. About 6" long.
The general topic of this post deserves a far longer discussion than I can give it right now, I am afraid, but I wanted to share (i.e., show off) this cute little plaque I recently purchased. Made by the American Encaustic Tiling Company in Zanesville, Ohio, sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, it shows a nice little grouping of monks. Floating somewhat loosely in the front right corner is the end of a beer barrel, because, as everyone knows, monks drink beer, right?

Somehow, the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was deeply suffused with a dose of fascination with the Gothic--really, a fascination with the visual style of the late middle ages. William Morris in the UK and the Roycrofters of upstate New York both engaged in craft printing in a kind of conscious Gothic mode. The Pembroke Press of Chicago, in 1925, produced a handful of limited edition books, and marketed them in bindings that used authentic medieval manuscript leaves.
Manuscript binding: Queen Ysabeau
(Pembroke Press, 1925)
I've always been interested in recycled books, and it's hard not to find the ways that the Arts and Crafts movement recycled Gothicism--both literally and figuratively--interesting as well. And it mystifies me, somehow, to picture such recycling going on in Zanesville, which I know as an Ohio industrial river town, and not much of a cultural center at all.  But the Zanesville potteries seem to have been as active, in their own way, of recycling Gothic elements in Arts and Crafts ways as anyone else. The AE Tiles I usually see for sale are often very much in the Art Nouveau style, with flowing lines and floral motifs, but this tile plaque is a little more Arts and Crafts, not least on account of the monks--though the border has its obvious Art Nouveau elements.
Weller Dickensware Mug, ca. 1905

A more consistent Arts and Crafts effect is produced by the striking Weller Dickensware mug seen in my second picture, also made in Zanesville, probably around 1905. Weller hasn't quite yet gotten the Arts and Craft street cred of Grueby or some other concerns, probably because they used some mass production methods, but they put out some very attractive Arts and Crafts wares, I think. The Dickensware line has hand incised designs and hand-applied slip decoration, as here: the body of the mug is moulded, but a real artist has been at work.

But as both examples show, part of the American Arts and Crafts vision of the Gothic involved a strong link between monks and beer. Much of the modern appeal of Belgian beer, presumably, links up somehow to the famous Belgian monastic breweries, but I am not entirely sure just how the linkage worked in these Zanesville-produced examples. A topic for further research, perhaps.

As a part time home-brewer, maybe I should just keep these items in my collection. Certainly, I suppose I should really make the effort at some point to drink a beer from the Weller mug that shows a monk drinking beer from a mug. Or find a monk to drink from it.

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