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...jen o'connor's...Artful Adventures & Daily Inspirations

I Love Art, Adore the Handmade and Treasure the Vintage. I am the Fun Mom, the Silly Friend and the Writer who wants to make more room for beauty in the everyday.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Collected and Shared

Ironstone seems so elegant to me, yet so very practical in its origins. I think of it as pretty, sturdy, and full of years of good service. It suits painter Jennifer Lanne and she has collected it passionately for years.

It is about her 18th Century home adding a soothing luster and charm. Bowls play host to nests, pitchers stand sentry atop cupboards, and beloved platters and plates are fashioned into wall displays. Vignettes change with the seasons. My current favorites are a dolly crib filled with a stack of luncheon plates, at the ready for a tea party, and a series of dishes topped with nests to welcome spring.

Here she is with her favorite piece. Her beloved collection inspires her work and, it has inspired me to re-decorate! (see previous post on "Platter Serves Up Re-Do") .

Here "A Delicate Situation" showcases a cadre of ironstone milk jugs and pitchers.

Always hungry to feed my curious mind, Jennifer's recent paintings of her collection were just the encouragement I needed to do a bit of on-line research. I knew very little...only that ironstone was made in England and sold to the colonies as an alternative to more fragile china. In a few clicks, I found my way to the wonderful website of the White Ironstone China Association.

There I learned that English potters were working in the late 1700s and early 1800s to to develop this porcelain substitute, and wanted to find something that could be mass produced. The result of their experiments was a dense, durable stoneware that was harder than earthenware and stronger than porcelain. This early work was called by many names...semi-porcelain, opaque porcelain, English porcelain and our chosen moniker, ironstone china.

The initial patent was issued in 1813 and held for fourteen years by inventor Charles James Mason of Staffordshire. By 1827 a number of other potters had already experimented with his formulas. All of these wares were decorated with transfer patterns or fired on, brush-stroke painted designs.

This pitcher is my favorite piece of Jennifer's early transferware...."Worth a Thousand Words"...I do love her playful titles for her original paintings. Now back to that history lesson....

By the 1840's, England began to export undecorated wares to the American and Canadian markets (earlier examples of undecorated ware would have left the factories as "seconds"). The English potters soon discovered that the "Colonies" preferred unfussy, plain and most of all, durable china. My sister Roseanna also has an impressive collection of Ironstone, like those sensible settlers, she prefers the undecorated wares, from this period.

Patterned and decorated wares did arrive on the shores of America.
I learned that in the 1850's-1860's huge quantities of china were sold to the agricultural communities and called "thrashers' ware." These dinner, tea and chamber sets were embossed with wheat, prairie flowers and corn in order to appeal to the farming community. I have been told that these dishes were used to feed those that helped with the harvest.

"Just Desserts" shows a trowel and shovel example of this "Thrashers' Ware"...and a favorite motif of Jennifer's for her farm home.

I think I love ironstone even more now that I know a bit more about it...and this piece, "Linen and Lace" captures me.

"Blue Ribbon Eggs" cheers does thinking about Jennifer's collection she has gathered and shared in her new work!

To learn more, please visit the site of the White Ironstone China Association. This avid group of collectors who share their love and knowledge on their shared passion. They are a great resource and can be found at
To see Jenifer's latest collection of paintings honoring her collection, e-mail me.
And to think, the way I've just described ironstone....durable yet beautiful, functional and still shapely...and surely full of years of good service I just might want to be more like it as I approach 40!
xxoo Jen


Laurie Meseroll said...

wow--that's so weird!--I spent the morning figuring out where I could stash some of mine... I started buying ironstone at the Woodstock fleamarket back when I could get plates for $1 a piece but really haven't bought much for years--especially since my grandmother gave me her collection of tealeaf. Then a couple of weeks ago I went to an auction just to buy gaudy staffordshire. When no one was bidding on the ironstone (okay, so the roads were closed because of the snow) I ended up buying close to 1,000 pieces--I'm serious! It was just crazy--full rows for $5! I'm going to send jennifer lanne pics...(I know she's not going to believe me)

Theresa said...

I LOVE Jennifer's paintings!!!! I also love ironstone dishes... my first purchase was last summer of a plate with brown flowers on it. It was a one and only and I just loved the way it looked sitting there all by it's lonely self. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for more ironstone with brown transfers... they really are my favorite.



P.S. WOW Laurie!!!! Congratulations on your big find of ironstone... and for only $5. I'm so envious. :)

Lana said...

I, too, collect ironstone. It's beautiful and yet utilitarian, elegant but simple... I just love it! And I just love Jennifer's paintings, especially her paintings of ironstone and blue eggs. Thanks for the history lesson Jen!

Dara said...

I absolutely love ironstons too!!! I don't have a ton...but use what I have either as display for other things or at special dinners. I love using the big cups and bowls to display fun trinkets (even doll parts). Thanks for all of the historic information. Jennifer Lanne's paintings of her ironstone collections are fabulous....just like her!!!!! I can't wait to see more!!!!!

kate said...

ohhhh...more of jennifers paintings! i love all her pieces, whether florals, landscapes or ribbons and pitchers. i NEED the wonderful bowl with birds and the painting of her chair too! going back to you site to shop! thanks for sharing the history of the ironstone, i had no idea.

Rosanne said...

Jennifer's paintings make me so happy. I have at least one in every room to make me smile. They just keep getting better. I have a few with ironstone and they are my favorite. I would love a few pieces of ironstone with brown flowers on it to be a part of my ever changing decor.

Thanks Jen for the history of ironware.....makes it even more special. hit the lottery!!!


Debbie Baumann said...

I am a great fan of Jennifer Lanne and today I received a history lesson, it! Thanks, Jen, for sharing!!

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