Author: Reagan, Gabrielle
Date published: June 16, 2010
Journal code: SYNT
Adelaide Alsop Robineau's masterwork, the Scarab Vase, continues to influence ceramicists 100 years after it emerged from the kiln. What you may not know is the incredible journey it took from clay to kiln to the lower level of the Everson Museum of Art, 401 Harrison St., where it continues to awe onlookers.
In 1910, when the high-fired porcelain vase was first pulled from the kiln, it came dangerously close to topping Robineau's scrap pile. Base to lid, the 16-inch vase had several cracks that she was told were impossible to repair.
Fueled by those doubts, Robineau filled the cracks with paste, applied a pale turquoise glaze, and fired up the kiln. At the base she inscribed the title, "The Apotheosis of the Toiler," a testimony to the 1,000-plus hours she spent working on the piece, many of which were dedicated to the intricate stylized beetle design Robineau perfected using a small dental pick.
The scarab beetle, an Egyptian symbol of hard work, patience and immortality, is the perfect motif for Robineau's most excellent vase. The jewel-like vitality of the glaze and lacework pattern of the scarabs earned Robineau a Grand Prize at the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Turin, Italy in 1911.
Ninety years after Robineau wowed the world with her masterwork, the Scarab Vase was described in Art & Antiques magazine's March 2000 feature, "Top Treasures of the Century," as the most important piece of American ceramics of the last 100 years.
"With the Scarab Vase, Robineau became an American icon in ceramics," says Everson senior curator Debora Ryan.
As one of the few women of her time to create pieces from clay to kiln rather than simply painting a piece of porcelain a male artist had formed, Robineau's vase and technique represented a European concept of ceramics.
The Everson's original purchase of 16 Robineau pieces in 1916, including her early Viking, Crab and Poppy vases, helped establish the nascent Everson and sparked its focus on and passion for ceramics. Scarab Vase was purchased directly from her husband, Samuel Robineau, in 1930, shortly following the artist's death.
"One hundred years later, the vase still has the same importance," Ryan notes. "Artists continue to visit the Everson and learn from the piece."