Thursday, September 18, 2014

Michael Moses Pottery and the Lovecraft Cthulhu Box

The stars are right!  Here’s a ceramic piece that mixes Georgian era mourning themes, H. P. Lovecraft, and Chinese styles in an eclectic production worthy of its own inclusion in Weird Tales. 
An old friend of my mine, Michael W. Moses the art ceramicist had just gotten a new piece of ceramic out of the kiln the other day.  He allowed me to photograph it in a little tableau that sets off its complex mood and little surprises quite nicely.   The body of the box is just over four inches at its widest and varies from just over one and a half inch deep to over two and a half inches deep.  The lid is five and a quarter inches wide and under an inch deep.  Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get to the fun.
This offering is a cylindrical lidded box with an asymmetric cant to the rim so it’s not a perfect cylinder, but bent slightly.  It’s painted in a type of blue-and-white ware that is evocative of 17th and 18th century Chinese export ware as well as period Continental imitators (such as Delftware) of this type of ceramic.  The box has been meticulously hand-painted all over and I mean on every surface!  The style is not in the typical heavy, solid blue, but in a softer watercolor style, which is semi opaque due to the underglaze paint being applied directly to the bisque body in delicate layers. 

The top of the lid features a classic, misty Georgian mourning scene with the iconic urn and weeping willow, but it is perked up with a little Japanese pine tree in the right.  Notice also on the far left, in place of the typical obelisk, there is a strange stone menhir beside willow.  Setting off the vignette there is a wide border of white nothingness that frames the image – again very Japanese with the effective use of white space.

The outside of the box is an interpretation of a cyclopedian wall, which could well be from Machu Picchu or R’lyeh.  Actually, the wall could also be in the mood of an abstract Japanese or fabric ceramic pattern as well.  This wall echoes the Georgina themes as the wall around the graveyard, yet is much more ancient.  If you look closely at the wall, you will see curious little things on it:  creatures, mazes, and even scenes of other places or times. 

When you open this box you find a bit of a surprise inside because it has a fully illustrated interior.  The inside wall of the box has a lot of curious plants growing around it.  Is it undersea life?  Is it alien plants from another planet or are they actually animals like corals or crinoids?  I do know that each plant unique, individual and there are about 40 of them.  We’ll probably never know their origin or names.  Notice how the plants fade in an out slightly as if they were underwater or showing through another dimension or in a slight fog from a moor.  The bottom of the interior has a polyhedral tile set into the floor with a very long inscription in an unknown language; it’s not even possible to determine the orientation of the text.
Do you think that’s the end of the surprises?  Nope, flip the lid over and get a view of H. P. Lovecraft’s creation, Cthulhu (Cthulhu Pantocrator? Phagiomundi?) with yellow eyes (the only other color on the whole piece).   You see that that Dread Cthulhu, surrounded by impressionist stars,[1] and is peering at you from what might be the porthole of a ship, from the bottom of a well, or from the viewer of a Tillinghast Resonator[2].  Note that the rim of the inside lip has a jaunty dash decoration. 
OK, one more bit hidden joy is found on the bottom of the work.  Along with Michael W. Moses’ inscription and signature, is a pretty unknown type of winged arachnid within a border, it may be cryptozoological, but it probably isn’t poisonous or going to lay eggs inside you, probably.  Note that the roundel is glazed but the rest of the bottom of the box is bisque, which gives a different texture.   

Mr. Moses has layered on historical styles, periods and interpretations all on one box.  Each design is original, unique, and hand-painted.  It is not transfer ware or machine made.  This is part of his second line of pottery where he uses a commercial blank rather than the typical hand-built body you see in his works.  He says the great thing about pottery and ceramics is that they can survive for thousands of years, unless a glacier in the next ice age grinds it up.

Michael started making blue willow type porcelain about 30 years ago and it has resurfaced in his work again in his new series of Delft-like wares.  Unlike Delftware, this ceramic is no base coat of white tin glaze, instead the bisque body is already snowy white.  The blue is painted directly onto the bisque using an underglaze paint and then a clear overglaze is applied over the whole.  The whole thing is fired to cone 7 or so. 
This art design is copyright Michael W. Moses 2014.  Go to his blog to see this work in progress before the final firing.  You might be surprised that the false colors end up blue and the green as clear.  Each piece of his work is individually serial numbered, but note that when I got there and photographed the piece before the serial number was written.  For that matter, he hadn’t even finalized the name of the piece yet.
After I took the initial photos, I got playing around with the Cthulhu Box and put together some tableaus to show off what a good decorator it would make.  I added in a few props such as a candlestick from the late 1600s, a brass late Ottoman pen & ink set, a pair of 1840 double lens “D” sunglasses and case, some Star Hibiscus seed pods (because they looked interesting) and the interesting water glass is actually just a modern green bubble glass.  I didn’t realize that the picture would be a little distorted, but in the end, but I can always claim I meant for that effect.

Another blue and white work
So if you need a stealth creepy piece of art for your study, beside table, boudoir, or just a collector of art, this box should fill the bill.  It’s a unique hand-painted work inspired by a mélange of historical ideas and artistic styles.  Michael W. Moses’ pottery can be seen on Etsy, and his blog on line.  All you have to do is Google “Michael Moses Pottery” to get a large number of image hits.  You’ll enjoy his cryptozoological plant/animals and other works of his fertile mind. 
  [1] The Tillinghast Resonator is a lab device from the H. P. Lovecraft story, From Beyond, pub. 1934, which allows the unseen world to be revealed.  Read the story here:
  [2] The star background behind Cthulhu really puts me in mind of Van Gogh’s painting, The Starry Night,

Links of interest
Michael Moses’ blog article featuring this piece:
Another Michael Moses piece, featured on Propnomicon back in 2011:
Plant symbology was important in mourning iconography:

For those of you who made it this far, a little movie:

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