"King Dick" and "Chicks Rule." All images courtesy the artist and Jack Hanley Gallery
It’s been often remarked that we draw an unnecessary and sometimes arbitrary line between the worlds of “art” and “craft.” Staffordshire figurines—the kitschy ceramic models of adorable pups and napping shepherdesses that were must-haves for any 19th century home but are now mostly consigned to old ladies’ dusty mantelpieces—sit firmly on the craft side of the divide. Or they did, until artist and professional restorer Amy Douglas began repairing broken ones and transforming them into works that transcend the high art/folk art divide.
Douglas’ figurines are displayed in a show called The Art of Salmagundi at New York’s Jack Hanley Gallery. The word “salmagundi” is derived from old French, and refers to an assembly of miscellaneous things into a scrambled whole. And Douglas' figures do assemble many qualities—kitsch and comedy, old and new, the whole and the broken. "I re-work these old, broken and unloved figures,” writes Douglas, "they have lost heads, arms and are usually found in junk shops. How they are broken dictates what I can do to them . They so often have character or a story and I like to think I add to this and continue with a new narrative, by seamlessly intervening with my applications and imagination.” As a trained expert, all of her alterations are made with conservation-grade materials, so she’s not “damaging” the broken antiques she works with.
Some of her pieces closely resemble the innocent figurines we imagine Staffordshire figures to be, others, like King Dick, which features a man wearing a royal uniform and straddling an engorged penis while gripping a golden dildo in one hand, tackle subjects that would never be seen anywhere near your grandmother’s mantle. Another piece features a goat-like couple and is titled Our Dating Profiles Matched, a phrase that very few owners of Staffordshire figurines have probably ever uttered. "This brings the pieces into our modern times, linking the past to the present,” says Douglas. "The titles give indications to present day scenarios or just quotes and quips that I have heard. I am nosey and listen to what people say on the bus."
For more information on Amy Douglas’ work, click here.