Animal Magic
Karen Parr-Moody

The year was 1988 and the spirit of the late artist, Andy Warhol, emerged through the strangest of mediums: cookie jars. Collectors traveled from as far away as Paris, descending upon the glamorous galleries of Sotheby's in New York City to see them in Warhol's estate sale. There they bid thousands on cookie jars that originally sold for only a few dollars during the 1940s and 1950s.

Among the animal motifs in the Pop icon's collection of 175 pottery jars were pigs, mice, goats, sheep and one chubby panda. Many of these were from McCoy, as is sheep cookie jar in the photo, right, found at GasLamp Too ($95; Booth T-101). The sale, which amassed $247,830, was a watershed moment. Beforehand, McCoy fans were members of a niche group. Afterward, the Warhol auction sent the status of McCoy pottery into the stratosphere — in addition to its prices, which many new collectors were willing to pay.

From the sale we learned that there was Pop Art merit in cookie jars and also in animals. These cookie jars featured animals that were unlike the regal horses taking part in fox hunts that had been traditionally depicted in oil paintings. No, these were literally horses of a different color. They were Pop themselves — charming, fun and whimsical. And the last century has provided a virtual menagerie of such creatures.

One of the more fanciful genres of collecting is that of carnival chalkware. This "poor man's porcelain" includes animals that were comprised of mold casted figures made out of calcined gypsum. Such items were given out as carnival game prizes during the Great Depression through the 1950s.

The collie in the photo, left, is a fine example of carnival chalkware ($45; Booth T-350, Arcade Vintage). Such dogs were often airbrushed, a process introduced to chalkware in the 1920s, with only the highlights being hand-painted. The glitter that trims the dog's nose and ears dates it to the 1930s; glitter began to be applied to chalkware during the 1930s.

Alex Lockwood, who co-owns Arcade Vintage with his wife, Genie, loves chalkware's little details.

"While they were mass produced, you can still see someone's touch in the spray painting and glitter on each one," Alex said. "I really love that — how perfectly they are formed, yet how casually they are decorated."

Italy is a country known for a long history of pottery and ceramics, so it should come as no surprise that animals have been used as motifs by the artisans there. Deruta, located in the center of Umbria, has been a center of Italian pottery for 600 years and produces pottery pieces with a variety of motifs, including birds, deer and hares. From that region's Galletto style of pottery comes the tradition of the 19th-Century 'galletto verde' (green rooster).

Another animal that emanates from Italy is the turtle; one example is the hand-painted and glazed terra-cotta turtle stool in the photo, above right ($185; Booth T-105). Leave it to an Italian turtle to carry a tufted pillow on its back, complete with rope and tassel swags. The charming fellow would be perfect for a garden, ready to support a plant or a cool drink.

Another fabulous item that came out of an Italian kiln is the cat in the photo, left ($168; Booth T-101). Such cats were popular in the middle of the last century for their faces that were hand-painted in a childlike fashion. They have come to be known as "spaghetti cats" in the antique world and are collectible for their fun texture and whimsical faces.

 

 

 

Terriers are as popular a motif in home décor as they are a breed of dog. The vintage kitchen towels in the photo, right, are quite a find: They feature a Scottish terrier twosome for every day of the week ($20; Booth T-267). Whoever made these did so lovingly, carefully stitching each day's name in a different vivid color of thread.

Animals never cease to capture our imaginations. Whether used as an accent, or as a menagerie, animal motifs add instant whimsy to any style of décor. And when they possess a hint of Pop Art, so much the better.

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