Gregg Moore: Soil, Stone, Bone

Harrison and Reed+Smith Gallery

Apr 5th - May 26th, 2019

While exploring the concepts of the transmutation of matter that exist in both our food and the dishes from which we eat, Gregg Moore conceived a bone china bowl made of bones collected from the same farm where our food originates. The idea for this piece is a result of a deep and ongoing collaboration Moore established three years ago with Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Their extensive, reciprocal dialogue, trial and error, repeated prototyping, plating and testing, produced a bone china recipe that exactly matches the recipe created in the 18th century by famous inventor and designer Josiah Spode. The bone china acts as a connection to cultural and material histories and highlights the importance of locality in both cuisine and cultural objects. Uniting materials (bones from the Blue Hill kitchen), an important craft construct (a historically relevant ceramic recipe) with the skill of both chef and the artist, elevates the experience of dining to a new level.

First Friday Reception: April 5, 5 - 8 pm                                                                         Dinner in the Gallery: May 20, 6:30 - 9 pm

Artist Talk: Monday, May 13, 12:30 - 1:30 pm

SOIL, STONE, BONE, an essay by Kate Thomas, K. Laurence Stapleton Professor of English at Bryn Mawr College

In early Colonial America, when winter closed in, farmers and their cattle were shut inside. As the earth slept, the farmers swapped the plow for the potter’s wheel, making vessels from clay dug from their own land.  What they made were basic earthenware forms, rustic enough for the British to turn a blind eye to their rule that ceramics be imported.  And so the same hand that had cultivated the meat and plant life on the farm turned the pots that served and stored food.  The farmer was a potter.  The potter was a cook.  The cook was a farmer.  The farmer was a potter.

This history reminds us that pottery emerges from the place where everything on the farm — and therefore in the cycle of life — meets and makes sense: where soil and stone meet air and rain.  The cow’s muzzle touches the earth as she eats clover.  The pig’s strong snout unearths acorns.  The gander’s webbed foot presses, his beak twists and uproots tender grass.  Our human hands turn and return the soil, closing the earth to receive the dead.  Opening the earth to receive life.  Here, where pottery comes from, is also where we — plant and animal — come from, and to where we return.  For dust thou art.  But while all pots are made of earth and the workings of its geologic clock, the art of pottery reaches past cyclical lifespans.  When soil, stone, and water are fired, they seize at the meeting point of mortality and immortality.

With immortality comes aesthetics.  Potters have always reached for formulae that expand the potential for beauty.  Across the eighteenth century, European potters sought the secret to the strength and translucence of Asian porcelain, testing all manner of compounds for their clay.  It was in a porcelain factory in Bow, East London, that potters Thomas Frye and Edward Heylyn first mixed bone ash into clay body and what is now called “bone china” came into being. The invention rose out of waste-product; Bow was the center for cattle slaughter and the porcelain factory stood side-by-side with knackers’ yards.  A diet of meat produced plate of bone.

Gregg Moore is the son of a butcher.  He is creative partner to a chef.  That chef is also a farmer. That farmer’s cattle are in Gregg’s pottery.  And so Gregg’s ceramics mark the dynamic intersections of farming, cooking, eating, and being together.  The fissured edges of a loam-dark charger remind us that the delicate root of the radish pushed downwards through soil so that its green leaves could break the earth’s crust and meet the sun above.  When we lift his drinking cup to our lips, we can see through the cup to the hand that holds it, a metaphysical reversal in which flesh appears through bone.  This is pottery that brings depths to surfaces: the grass the cattle ate whitens the china; the imprints made by grazing, pecking, and rooting tell us who dined before us; the break in the clay reminds us that you and I are earth.  These are mortal, immortal forms.

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Read about Professor Thomas' fascinating analysis of bone china as historical text beyond the printed book.