International Museum of Dinnerware Design

The International Museum of Dinnerware Design (IMoDD) was established in 2012 and is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The IMoDD’s stated purpose is to “collect, preserve and celebrate masterpieces of the tabletop genre created by leading artists and designers worldwide.”

Homer Laughlin China Co., Fiesta ware designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead, 1936, IMoDD collection

I connected with the IMoDD founder and curator, Dr. Margaret Carney, to ask her about the Museum. She told me:

“Our collection is about 9,000 objects strong even though we were just founded in 2012.  It includes many materials, but ceramics is our major focus (we also collect glass, paper, metal, fiber, paper, lacquer, wood, etc.).  Our ceramics include functional (of course), but also fine art that references dining such as Bill Parry’s Knife Fork Spoon sculpture set.  We are all about good design, so we have manufactured ware by the leaders in designing for industry such as Eva Zeisel, the Schreckengosts, Russel Wright, etc.

“While we are currently located in Ann Arbor, we have been doing pop up exhibitions because commercial real estate is very expensive.  We have had 4 exhibitions at SOFA Chicago at Navy Pier. We are willing to relocate the International Museum of Dinnerware Design to wherever we can receive the strongest support in terms of endowment and a dedicated exhibition and museum facility.  Our current membership comes from all over the US and a bit abroad.”

In addition to her work at IMoDD, Margaret founded the ceramics museum at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, and taught ceramic world history there for 12 years. She obviously has wide expertise on topics relating to ceramics, both contemporary and historical. Her Ph.D. expertise is Chinese ceramics, from Neolithic times onwards, but especially Tang and Song eras.

I asked Margaret to pick out some interesting items from the IMoDD collection, and explain what makes them so special and interesting.

Roy Lichtenstein designed place setting, 1966, promised gift of Susanne and John Stephenson, IMoDD

“I am attracted to the Roy Lichtenstein set because they were designed by the Pop Artist AND they are on heavy restaurant ware manufactured by Jackson China.  ALL food looks good on these dishes.  You can see that from the pandemic comfort food series of virtual images I posted last year which had ordinary comfort foods posed on these great dishes.

Furthermore, I love the work of Hui Ka-kwong, who went to school at Alfred, was a wonderful person, taught at Rutgers forever, and taught Roy L. everything he knew about ceramics. The set is a promised gift from ceramicists John and Susie Stephensen (John has since passed). I am all about people connections.  As you know, ceramics is a very small world.”

Cizhou ware ewer from Julu Xian, IMoDD collection

“I love the Cizhou ware ewer from China’s Song dynasty (960-1279).  I wrote my doctoral dissertation about “China’s Pompeii.”  Julu and the surrounding area were inundated by a flood of the Yellow River in 1108 A.D. It happened so suddenly that chopsticks and bowls remained on the tables, buried under the silt of the Yellow River for hundreds of years. The buried marketplace wasn’t fully rediscovered until about 1918 when farmers in the area were digging wells during a drought.  The ceramics began to surface at that time. They are in collections all over the world. I LOVE the simple organic form, and the slip with a clear glaze over it.  No decoration necessary on this form. I am working on organizing a major exhibition of pieces from the buried city. My dissertation dates to the 1980s when I lived in China for several years and they NEVER let me visit Julu as I was a foreigner AND Julu was a closed village. They invited me back in 2018 when they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the buried Song dynasty Julu.  They invited me back as the world’s expert AND translated my dissertation, gave me an honorary title AND have begun excavating the site for the first time in nearly 100 years.”

Leopold Foulem, Teapot, IMoDD collection
Kate Maury’s Lamb O’God  covered butter dish, IMoDD collection

“Kate Maury was a student of mine (ceramic world history) at Alfred.  The grad students were required to take my class.  Her work is monumental for the dining room table and belongs in the Smithsonian Institutions Renwick Gallery.  It makes dining a beautiful celebration and ritual.  Imagine serving your butter in the oversized lamb covered butter dish.  She’s a wonderful person and teacher.

“I love work that has meaning or is just fun, so that would include Beth Lo and David Gilhooly.  I was sad when Gilhooly seemed to stop working in clay for a while.  His work makes one smile. Beth Lo’s images of children are nods to her Asian heritage and they show children as symbols of innocence, potential and vulnerability. She’s a wonderful artist.  I’ve never met her.”

David Gilhooly (American, 1943-2013), Frog Fruit Loops, 2010, IMoDD collection
Beth Lo, Porcelain take-out boxes, IMoDD collection

Margaret concludes, “Every time I acquire (bequest, gift, purchase) a major new piece for IMoDD, and then get to share it, it is like sharing a precious new baby with the world.  I learn so much from everyone with whom I communicate.  So many lifelong friends now.  I am trusted with their creations, to exhibit, educate and care for them. Quite a honor.”

Poke around the Museum’s website. There is some very fun stuff there. It will lighten your spirits:

Sandy Skoglund archival photograph, The Cocktail Party © 1992 Sandy Skoglund

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