Tag Archives: Ruscha 313

Icons, Aesthetics, and Commerce

The phrase commercial art pottery isn’t quite an oxymoron, but the relationship between commerce and art is at best complex and often at odds.  Still, some companies have tried to produce and sell pottery that has aesthetic value beyond the most basic utilitarian purpose.  In most cases, companies have found it difficult or impossible to create art pottery that has long term economic success.

Ruscha shape 313 and Scheurich shape 271 would be two notable exceptions, but they took rather different roads to becoming icons of W. German pottery.

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Shape 313 was designed by Kurt Tschörner, introduced in 1954 and produced (with variations) until Ruscha closed.  Shape 271 was designed by Heinz Siery, introduced in 1959 and produced at least into the 90s.

Although 313 was one of the early, defining shapes in the W. German era, it’s not really accurate to call it a “new” form.  Indeed, all forms are variations on what’s known, what’s been done, but Tschörner took what had been done and introduced further exaggerations and turned a utilitarian shape into sculpture.  Line, form, and proportion were matched to create a form that was at once bold and whimsical, sleek in line but determined and strong with that forward-thrusting “mouth”.

And the form was clearly a success with the early decors of Milano, Domino, and others.  There were, however, just as clearly some conflicts between design and production, which meant conflict between art and commerce.  This is revealed by changes in the form.  There are at least three shape versions of 313, possibly more.  The differences between the first and last versions are clear, with the last version being more upright, less exaggerated, and generally sturdier, thicker in design.

However, there are more subtle design changes that can only be seen with close, side by side comparisons, and it’s not yet clear if there were several gradual changes or if several small changes were made at once before the more radical changes proved necessary.  One of the early changes can be seen in the handle, particularly where the top meets the body.  The earliest production featured a rather thin, elegant handle, but this strategic point was soon thickened.

This suggests that the original design was too fragile and perhaps too included too many problematic angles.  Every pottery item faces several difficult hurdles, starting with simply coming out of the mold cleanly, then enduring time drying, firing, being handled multiple times by cleaners, decorators, and packers.  It appears likely that the very first version had issues at several or all of these points.

(It’s worth noting that some early versions were made with dark red/brown clay.  These tend to be even smaller with finer lines than the usual white/buff clay items.  The same has been true with other Ruscha shape comparisons, so it appears to be a quality of the clay itself.  Why they didn’t use it more often is unknown.)

In a sense, Ruscha 313 was designed for the aesthetics and adapted for economics, caught in the gap between desire and reality, theory and practice,  a victim of its success.  By comparison, Scheurich 271 was designed with an eye to the commercial and other practical aspects from the beginning.

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The form has many of the elements already established as part of the 1950s style, slanted top, angular handle, and waisted body, in this case a convex waist.  However, none of the elements are particularly exaggerated, and the ratios are all whole numbers, pleasing but safe, no challenge to the eye or mind.  The result is distinctive without being different.

That makes it a definitive product for Scheurich.  While some companies seemed to focus on forms, Scheurich focused on glazes.  The “best” Scheurich forms are the ones that act as displays for the glaze.  The form is good and pleasing but doesn’t take the eye away from the glaze.  The average Scheurich form is just that, average.  Many are bland or even poorly proportioned, but shapes are more than anything else….numerous.

Scheurich often did minor variations on a form over the years to produce a mind-boggling number of shapes, sometimes with the same number.  That makes 271 particularly unusual in the Schuerich line because it kept the same shape and the same number for decades.

Ruscha 313 began with a focus on the aesthetic element that proved difficult to maintain, and this was perhaps a sign that Tschörner wasn’t as well-versed in pottery as he was in glass.  Otherwise, he might have taken the problems into account the way Siery did with Scheurich 271.  However, that would have meant never have the original or slightly modified forms of 313, which would be a great loss.  And it may well have been the success of the form that forced Ruscha to increase production, so that the success of the original aesthetics made the commercial aspect more important……causing the diminishing of the aesthetics in the eventual, longest lasting version of 313.

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So Ruscha 313 and Scheurich 271 took different approaches, although both were attempts to create some balance between aesthetics and commercial production.  Both were successful enough to allow the companies to experiment, and for commercial potteries, there is no success without commercial success.  And the commercial successes allow companies to try out lines that may flop, may become icons, or may find themselves in that middle ground.  As with philosophy, so it is with art pottery, and there is much to say for finding a balance on the middle road.

Keys to the Company: Ruscha

cropped-catswho.largecanvas.jpgA Few Things to Know About Ruscha (1948-96)

1. Vases with no handles are numbered in the 800 sequence; jugs in the 300 sequence; and two-handled vases most likely to be in the 60 sequence.

2. Early work tends to have hand “painted” marks that often include the company name. Later work will often have an embossed “Ruscha”. In between, it was

The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn't handle.
The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn’t handle.

common to have only numbers or number and country.

3. Ruscha mostly used white/buff clay but did use red clay from time to time, apparently most often in the late 50s to early 60s. The same shape in red clay tends to be slightly smaller with finer detailing than a version with white clay.

4. Many top form designers and glaze artists worked at Ruscha at

ruscha.333.mug

one time or another, including Kurt Tschoerner, Otto Gerharz, Hanns Welling, and Adele Bölz

5. Otto Keramik owns some of the molds, including the steer/bull and has issued items in various glazes. In most cases, new versions are fairly easy to pick out if you are familiar with older glazes. However, they seem to have reproduced a few early glazes well, not

surprising since Otto Gerharz Sr. developed many of them at Ruscha. (Contemporary volcanic glazes tend to be “flatter” than originals and may have less distinct coloring.)

6. My understanding is that Scheurich now owns the Ruscha name. Since Scheurich has taken advantage of interest in vintage items by re-issuing some of their own successes, they may try to use the Ruscha name in the same way. Always buy pottery based on quality, not “name”.

bianca.ruscha.2.5.177. The iconic Ruscha 313 form was revised at some point, although when remains unclear. Shape changes made the 313 easier to produce in larger numbers, which is likely a main reason why the revised version is more common. Some of the later glazes, however, are still spectacular.

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Photos used show an original form 313, a later version of shape 333 (Ruscha did re-use some numbers.), and a Quadriga plaque….Bianca not included.

Kurt Tschoerner Ruscha Designs

The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn't handle.
The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn’t handle.

Some of the earliest designs that Kurt Tschoerner did for Ruscha show his experience with glass and strong influences from Murano glass. This is clearly seen in the original and iconic 313 shape and bowl shape 417, both circa 1954.
The curves on these items are elegant and well-proportioned, but they are better suited to handmade glass than to molded pottery. That may well be why shape 313 was eventually redesigned with lines more like a ceramic pitcher and less like Murano glass.
Full documentation of which shapes Tschoerner designed for Ruscha and possibly for Otto Keramik is still lacking, so it’s difficult to judge when and how Tschoerner

Ruscha bowl shape 417.
Ruscha bowl shape 417.

adapted to pottery design, but the glass-like curves disappear from West German pottery fairly quickly. Luckily, pottery has the potential for great shapes of its own and some things can be done with molds that can’t be done by hand, so even though certain elements were lost, their place was taken by other excellent aesthetics…when at their best.

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Ruscha 313, Iconic and Redesigned

I still consider the introduction of the Ruscha shape 313 in 1954 to be the beginning of the golden age of West German pottery.  The Kurt Tschörner from was elegant, whimsical, daring and a delight to the eye with its spout thrust forward and every line following that forward line.  It captured everything that the post-war pottery seemed intent on doing, lifting spirits and looking forward.  I’ve been pushing the 313 as an icon for over a decade, and the idea has caught on.  There is, however, a problem because there are two versions of the 313.

Somewhere in the 1960s, the form was modified.  Imagine someone

The original 313 form with its low, forward shape and a sharp angle where the handle meets the throat.
The original 313 form with its low, forward shape and a sharp angle where the handle meets the throat.

grabbing the top of the vase and pulling upward.  The resulting “pitcher” is not only a bit taller but a bit less “forward”, less elegant, less whimsical.  So why change what seemed to be one of the perfect art pottery forms?  I suspect that the answer is an old one, commerce.

The redesigned Ruscha 313, less forward thrust and room to fit a finger under the top of the handle.
The redesigned Ruscha 313, less forward thrust and room to fit a finger under the top of the handle.

All of the things that made the original

313 special would almost certainly have made it difficult to produce.  Several of the angles were such that they probably didn’t come out of the mold well on a regular basis.  That would mean some were lost then, while others would require additional hand sanding to be worth glazing.  Also, the handle was probably prone to breaking somewhere between the kiln and the store shelf.

Quite possibly, the 313 was a victim of success, and it may have been the need to produce greater quantity that required the redesign.  The later version is certainly a fine form, and some of the glazes are among the best of the era, but it’s really only the original that’s the true icon in terms of form.  (No word on who did the redesign.)

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