Louise Rosenfield has amassed an outstanding collection of contemporary American functional ceramics. She has posted images from a large portion of her collection online (almost 3,300 pieces featuring the work of 791 ceramic artists).
Ben Carter interviewed Louise Rosenfield in a 2017 Podcast – part of his “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler” podcast series. In that interview, Louise describes how her experiences making ceramics informs the way she collects ceramics. Rather than rehash what inspired her to collect ceramics, I encourage you to listen to Ben’s interview with Louise.
When I spoke with Louise, we focused more on what motivated her to open her private collection to the world, albeit virtually. We also discussed how to best access the online collection. Finally, we spoke about Louise’s plans for her collection of functional ceramics.
The Online Rosenfield Collection
Louise is remarkably candid about her collection and objectives. It’s refreshing and energizing to speak with someone so enthusiastic about her activities.
Louise told me she has always been interested in sharing her utilitarian ceramics with other people. “The whole purpose of utilitarian ware is usage – people need to use plates and cups and bowls, not just look at them,” she says. “It’s wonderful that artists also add beauty and creativity to a functional piece. But ultimately, beautiful pieces in my collection should be held in one’s hand and enjoyed physically, intimately, through use. Utilitarian pieces that aren’t used are dead. There’s nothing like drinking coffee from your own, special mug, feeling the fit of the handle and the warmth of the liquid inside as you cuddle the mug in the palm of your hand.”
“One of my goals has been to educate the Dallas community where I live about the possibilities of ceramics,” Louise told me. “Many people believe the finest ceramics you can get are from local craft fairs. There are fine ceramics at craft fairs, but people don’t necessarily know that there are artists who display ceramic pieces in art galleries and even museums. There are amazing ceramics and most people simply aren’t aware they exist and don’t know where to find them if they are aware they exist. I’m very interested in educating people on how to find outstanding ceramics and the artists who produce them.”
Louise continued, “All along I’ve had students interested in the pieces that I’ve collected. My collection is a resource for students. But that resource has been limited to students who live in the Dallas area. Not everyone can come to Dallas and look at my collection. So I put my collection online to share it with a wider community.”
Tips on Accessing Images in the Online Collection
The Rosenfield Collection website has filters on the top right that allow users to find works of individual artists (listed alphabetically), by forms (e.g., bowls, cups, jars, etc), by firing method (e.g., high fire oxidation), and by technique (handbuilt, slipcast, wheelthrown, and wheelthrown and altered).
Typically, when you filter for forms, firing method and/or technique and select an individual piece to view, you will also see a link on the top right stating “View more objects by [artist name].” Go ahead, click that little link. Be brave.
Items you view online have been numbered by type of work and sequence of addition to to the collection. Louise told me she employs the following indexing scheme:
- B = bowl (although I’ve found some bowls listed as SW (service ware))
- C = cup
- CP&S = cup & saucer set
- C&S = cream & sugar set
- E = ewer
- J = jar
- P = plate
- PV = pouring vessel
- OT = other
- SW = service ware
- T = teapot
- V = vase
When Louise first purchases an item, she brings it home and uses it for personal use. (Yes, she actually uses these items!) After some time, she will add the item to the collection, referencing it numerically. For example, if Louise transitions a plate from home use into her collection, she’ll label it “P” plus the next sequential number under “P.” If the previous plate is labelled P885 then the new plate is added to the collection as P886.
The Essence is Variety
I asked Louise if there are any particular pieces that she would like me to highlight. “Not really,” she responded. After we spoke for a bit, I realized the essential beauty of her collection is its variety. Spend a few minutes scrolling through her collection and you can’t help but be amazed at the sprawl and scope of artistic innovation. It’s like a Texas of contemporary functional ceramics.
What’s In Store for the Future?
Louise told me a fantasy. “When I thought about what I would do with the ceramics I’ve collected, my fantasy was to donate the entire collection to a restaurant. The restaurant patrons could then use the pieces when they dined. When they break, they break. At least they will be used.”
Louise tells me that her fantasy is coming true. The Everson Museum has decided to build a museum cafe and she will be donating her collection for use in that cafe. In her imagination museum patrons will enter the cafe, view interesting cups and plates displayed along a wall, select their cup from the shelf and fill it with a beverage to enjoy in a cozy cafe setting. Louise wants people to use the collection.