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The Inspiration for our Field of Iris Pattern

Perfectly Imperfect

Japanese tripychs, Greek Mythology and fields of Iris inspire this pottery line.

The Iris is the signature flower of Emerson Creek Pottery. One of our very first patterns, it challenges the brush into a series of 6 strokes that stylizes the flower. Irises come in so many varieties and versions, but my favorites have always been the Japanese Irises. The uprights of the flower are small, often diminutive while the ‘flounce’ (the down petal) is often rounded and full. Some of the most beautiful Japanese irises are on the triptychs in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian museum, in Washington, D.C. The gallery was founded by Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), a railroad-car manufacturer from Detroit who gave to the United States his collections and funds for a building to house them.

Many of us who were going to the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, would make the quick hour drive to DC to visit the art galleries. I found myself in the Freer repeatedly studying the simple yet cultivated lines of the Oriental artists, particularly the luxuriously golden Edo Period.

As the daughter of Thaumus and the Ocean nymph Electra, Iris was the messenger of the gods and the wife of Zephyrus, the west wind. But in Japanese art, the Iris becomes the epitome of delicacy and innocence, often symbolizing culpable femininity in contrast to the stately Pine Tree.

At first, in the early years of decorating pottery, a singleton was painted in deep cobalt blue, later our pottery bore a threesome with two buds. At the time we were painting in only deep blue on the tawny grey stoneware body. These pots have become collector items, only a few remain in the owner’s Museum Collection. Later deep green was added for the staccato strokes of the iris leaves.

For a few years we were painting a fluffier English Iris version with the petticoat petals that came in soft blues, pinks, mauves, lavender, rust and yellows. Since Iris was considered the personified Goddess of the Rainbow, it follows that her flower would come in so many colors. But we returned to the sophisticated Japanese Iris in 3 colors of blue and wrapped it round the pot into what became the Field of Iris. This pattern has undergone a few more subtle changes in color, once purple, then lavender and now blues.

I have since come across an iris variety which was described as a Siberian Iris. I don’t know if this is the correct name but it has been a treat to paint. Leaves and stem are akimbo to one another, often stretching out across water ways and or shadows into the sun. One of the Iris varieties that totally floored me is the Iris cristata. While wandering along a streambed deep in the forest, I happened across a colony of them on an island. All of 3 inches tall, the diminutive purpley blue flowers stand boldy in masses on the moist forest floor. I felt like Jonathan Swift.

My garden has always had irises blooming, the early, mid and late versions. But one year, when studying on the making of potpourris for my many roses, I learned that Orris root is from the Orris Iris. It is an exotic smelling iris, a mix of a somewhat vanilla and somewhat woodsy treasure box smell. The Orris Iris root was dried, powered and used as a fixative in Colonial times for potpourri. I have grown this lovely silvery blue white Iris and slivered the root to dry. The root also has the fragrance of the flower, yet a bit earthier.

It does seem that the iris lends itself with such grace to all of our pottery lines – dinnerware, bakeware, kitchen ware, lamps, clocks, bathroom accessories, etc. Something in the strength and delicacy of this special flower speaks to our customers’ hearts.

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