Everyday History

Everyday History

Published on Friday, July 29, 2016. This article appears in the June/July 2016 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Department One Piece
Author Staff
Molly Hatch Paragon

Paragon, 2015, 63 earthenware plates, paint, underglaze, glaze, 11k gold luster, 90 x 70 x 1.5 in. Photo: John Polak, courtesy of Todd Merrill Studio Contemporary, New York

Can functional pottery be contemporary art? Can it be fresh, yet encourage people to appreciate the past? Those are questions Molly Hatch takes on.

The western Massachusetts artist trained as a potter and has a deep affinity for everyday objects. Not that she has limited herself to functional work – “I’d always made conceptual bodies of work alongside those pots,” she says. But, to some degree, even her conceptual work has been in service to the ordinary, the utilitarian. Her goal has long been to uphold “the importance of the everyday object as an art object – as a contemplation,” she says.

Her reverence for tableware, together with her fascination with historical patterns, is now something of a calling card. Unveiled in January at the Fog Design+Art 2016 fair in San Francisco, Paragon is a “plate painting” that draws on Chinese ornamental patterns from the archives of Owen Jones, 19th-century architect, designer, and influential design theorist.

In recent years, Hatch has created plate paintings for museums such as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and has collaborated with curator Susan Brown at Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, on source imagery for the plate painting Recite (2014), on view at the Clayarch Gimhae Museum in South Korea, through December 31. With each project, she says, the goal is to interest new viewers in the history that underlies seemingly mundane patterns – and to highlight often overlooked forms. “That’s the ultimate moment,” says Hatch, of the purpose behind her work.

“If I were just making work by myself in a corner, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying.”

Note: This article has been revised to correct inaccurate information that appeared in the June/July 2016 print edition. Hatch did not create a plate painting for Clark Art Institute; she worked with Clark curator Kathy Morris on the book A Teacup Collection: Paintings of Porcelain Treasures.